After the Divorce: Dealing with Personal and Family Issues

After your divorce is over, you enter a new phase in your life. You may feel happier than you have felt in a long time, free of the tension and strife that plagued your marriage. Life after divorce can represent a time of personal growth, rediscovery, and new opportunities.

On the other hand, being single again can be an intimidating and lonely experience — particularly if divorce was not your idea and you are unprepared for life on your own or if you have sole custody of your children. Even if you sought that custody arrangement, having full-time responsibility for your children seven days a week, night and day, can be overwhelming, not to mention exhausting.

Being easy on yourself

To help you adjust to all the changes in your life, avoid piling unreasonable expectations on yourself. Just do what you must to tie up the loose ends of your divorce; otherwise, take a breather and regroup mentally and physically. Although you may have big plans for what you want to do with the rest of your life, give yourself the opportunity to recover from what you've just gone through.

In other words, being a little lazy — letting your house get messier than it usually is, eating fast-food dinners once in while, skipping a few workouts at the gym — is okay. Pressuring yourself to make important decisions right away, before you can think them through with a clear head, may cause you to make some mistakes you'll regret later on.

On the other hand, you need to maintain those habits that make you feel good about yourself and about life in general. If you get too lazy, you may slip into a funk you can't crawl out of, which will definitely interfere with your ability to get on with your life as a single person.

Taking time to reflect on what happened

Try to put your recent experiences into perspective. Take time to understand why your marriage didn't work out and how you may have contributed to your marital problems. Otherwise, you may end up making the same mistakes twice. Keeping a journal is a good way to do this and therapy can be a big help, too.

Accept the fact that your life is no longer the way it used to be and it never will be again. This doesn't mean that your new life has to be a disappointment — it's just different. Try to identify some benefits to your being single again (they may be hard to find at first, but they do exist). For example, you have more privacy and time to yourself, your relationship with your children is stronger, and you can sleep better because you're no longer stressed out by your divorce.

Finding a support group

Consider joining a divorce support group. Its members can help bolster your confidence through the inevitable down times as you rebuild your life and can provide you with advice and feedback when you encounter problems you're not sure how to handle.

Becoming handy around the house

Being divorced usually means having to take on new household chores — cooking, grocery shopping, balancing the checkbook, home repairs, mowing the lawn — chores your ex-spouse used to do. If you need to get up-to-speed quickly on unfamiliar household tasks, relatives and friends may be willing to give you a quick lesson (don't be ashamed to ask them for the help you need). Reading how-to books or taking classes are also good ways to acquire new skills. Soon you'll feel proud of what you can accomplish on your own and gain confidence in your ability to learn even more.

Finding activities you and your children enjoy

If you are a noncustodial parent, being with your kids may be awkward for all of you at first. Seeing you living in a new place and not having you in their everyday lives may feel weird to your children.

To help everyone feel more comfortable and adjust to the new situation, try to avoid making every get-together a special event. Simple activities such as a trip to the grocery store, a bike ride, doing homework together, or watching a video — the kinds of things you used to do with one another — take some of the pressure off and helps reassure your kids that not everything in their lives has changed.

You can reassure your kids that you're still an active parent by attending their school's open house, attending their recitals or sporting events, or joining in their scouting activities. Even if you live out of town, making it a point to show up at least a couple of times a year to lend moral support means a lot to your children and assures them that they're very important to you.

If you are a noncustodial parent, don't be upset if your kids don't act overjoyed to see you when you pick them up, but then seem sad to leave you. Their initial nonchalance may be their way of protecting themselves emotionally, or it may reflect their confidence that you will always be in their lives and divorce hasn't changed your love and concern for them. Don't make assumptions about the ways your children are responding to the changes occurring in their lives. Instead, observe your children and try to understand the true reasons for their behavior.

If your children are living with you but spending some nights with your former spouse, give your kids time to get used to their other parent's home and the different rules your ex may expect your children to follow. Your children may have a hard time falling asleep when they spend the night at your ex's or may act reluctant to spend time there at first, but most likely they'll adjust fairly quickly to their new living arrangement.

Working at rebuilding a sense of family

As you recover from your divorce, rebuilding a sense of family with your children is important. This is particularly critical if your marital problems have affected how your entire family functions.

Whether you are a custodial parent, a noncustodial parent, or share custody with your spouse, your children need to feel that they're still part of a real family, which is essential to your child's sense of self-worth. To help maintain a sense of family, hold on to as many family rituals as possible, such as attending religious ceremonies with your children or arranging for all of you to spend holidays with your extended family.

Think about establishing new family customs (going on an annual family vacation or taking up a new hobby with your children, for example) to make them feel as if some benefits to their new life do exist and to help your children enjoy spending time with you as a family.

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