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Navigating the Divorce Obstacle Course

Split? Break-up? The Big D? What to call it is probably the least difficult thing about divorce.

As I learned last year, there are countless demons to face and challenges to overcome during a divorce. I was surprised to find that many people will openly discuss them if prompted. For me, it was comforting when people shared bits and pieces of their experience because it gave me reassurance that life existed on the other side.

While I haven’t quite made it to the other side, in my journey, I’ve discovered that there is one particular topic that people don’t talk about as openly as others: morphing to a new identity.

The emotional toll of morphing to a new identity — going from spouse to single woman, from full-time mom to custodial parent — has been one of the hardest transitions for me. Add to that, the complexity of “my kids’ friends were my friends’ kids” and it makes it even harder. When my seemingly sound network of friends started to fall apart, so did my kids’ network of friends. That realization was heartbreaking, and for a period of time I desperately worked to correct it.

A few (well-intentioned) things I heard post-divorce from my social circle:

“I was going to invite you to dinner but everyone invited was a couple. I didn’t want you to feel uncomfortable being the only single person.”

“We’d like to come to dinner but I think (my spouse) would feel uncomfortable because it’s just you and the kids now.”

“I was going to send you an invitation but I didn’t know if you had the kids or if they were with (their dad).”

Ouch. Even months later, writing those things still stings today. While it was hard to be removed from the network of friends upon whom I (and my kids) came to rely, I had to make a tough choice. Did I hang on or let go? Was this even a choice I had to make?  I wasn’t really sure.

Don’t get me wrong, there were friends who helped me through the darkest of days, but they were not necessarily the people who I thought would be there for me. So who were they, and what happened to my circle of friends?

Like most of you, I’ve heard the cliché, “It’s during times like these that you learn who your true friends are.” I heard this a lot from the people who stood by me while I navigated the legal and emotional divorce obstacle course. But, I disagreed with their assessment because generally speaking, I think clichés are, well, clichés. And they are certainly not always an accurate depiction of what is happening.

I believe that during tough times, friends do what is most comfortable and natural for them, which doesn’t necessarily align to what is most comfortable and natural for us. While this concept was another tough realization, this was my silver lining: I had wonderful people in my life; some were people that I knew but didn’t know very well, but to whom I should have been giving more of myself. It was a great lesson.

So I made a choice. I simply chose to recognize and accept each situation for what it was with no hard feelings; I restructured my family and friends; and I found opportunity for growth. And boy, did I grow!

In the midst of my unraveling network, I took the time to start discovering me. I took the time to examine my finances and opened myself up to make new friends. I slowly learned how to properly and adequately embrace my past and new life. Most importantly, I learned – at varying degrees – how to forgive, forget, and to fully understand that there are many different ways to love and to live.

I’ve also found truth in my journey, one of which is whether you are a married, divorced, single, custodial, stay-at-home, or working mom, we all want the same thing – happy, healthy kids and a supportive group of friends with whom to share the joys of parenthood and life.

And while we’re here, let’s pause for a moment: did you see all of those labels?

Technically I am divorced, but I refuse to check that box. I refuse to label myself because my marital status does not define me, nor does my parenting situation. In my mind, I am the same as you. I am a daughter. I am a friend. I am an employee. I am a mom, which is to say, I am an ally and a champion for my kids.

It all takes time.

Morphing to a new identity, rebuilding a network of friends, and reinforcing friendships that stood the test takes patience, time, and energy. Admittedly, I don’t always have those things, and at times the process is slower than I’d like it to be, but it’s rewarding and I’m confident that it will be worth the effort and the wait.

Life is a process of beginnings and endings. It’s filled with moments that force us to let go of the familiar and face the future in a different way. Starting a new job, losing a role model or someone you love, and relocating to a new city are just a few examples of other big life changes. What are some of your tips on how to manage through them? Below are some of my (easy!) tips.

  • Just say yes! Invited to do something? Say yes! You’re starting new, so it’s important to open yourself up to new people, activities, and places. You never know what you’ll find.
  • Make new friends, but keep the old. This is a line from an old Girl Scouts song I used to sing as a child. After a big life change, you may find yourself in a new social pool or culture. It’s important to recognize that your life has changed but your friends’ lives have not. Finding new friends who share a similar situation or who are open to your new situation is key. Find them. Reach out to them. Insert yourself (gently) into their lives and let them do the same. As for old friends, they are still important too, so maintain ties but be open to how it your relationship with them might look and feel different. And finally, probably the most important…
  • Recognize the progress. When you are struggling, recognize the progress and stay positive. A (new!) friend told me that progress is often a glimpse into the future, and it looks wonderful.

About Jennifer Woodbury Duval

Jennifer Woodbury Duval
A right coaster now living on the left, Jennifer Duval is a mom to two rambunctious boys, and works full-time in the communications department at a Fortune 500 company. Fueled by logic, she is a no-nonsense type of gal who doesn’t buy into the latest trends, but does like to try new, trendy restaurants. An avid reader, she also loves coffee, chocolate, Zumba, and discovering new places.

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