More than a Mother: Finding Meaning in Life After Divorce

Divorce can be one of those experiences that permanently and irrevocably alter your sense of identity. For women, who experience happiness and a sense of success based on their perceived successes in their own interpersonal relationships (as opposed to men who feel successful based on what they have accomplished professionally, rather than personally), the identity crisis can be especially severe.

Women sacrifice their sense of self at the altar of the marriage and the family, and are generally happy to do so. We’ve been raised thinking that our marriages are our shot at a sort of happily ever after, and we throw ourselves completely into family. By the time we’re emerging from the crumbling foundation of the marriage, we wonder where we went. The “me” I used to be—the girl who hiked the Appalachian Trail, was the champion of her college debate team, a summa cum laude graduate, a karaoke bar aficionado, a champion guitarist, an aspiring poet, a British literature enthusiast, a save-the-world do-gooder, somehow disappeared at some point between the hustle and bustle of the 9-5, and the demands of a marriage and a family. Where did she go? Can I even find her again? …Do I want to?

When their marriage fails, many women tend to throw all of their energy into their children, rather than making a real attempt to re-establish themselves. After all, it’s much easier to think about what the kids need than what you need.

Probably the place that this is most evidence is on Facebook, where millions of women, rather than posting pictures of themselves or writing about their thoughts and feelings, post pictures of their children and update their statuses to reflect the “adorable” thing little Mikey did this morning. It’s easy to talk about nothing but your children, but are you not something separate and apart from your children? By supplanting your children in the middle of a space that is supposed to represent, albeit somewhat superficially, who YOU are to the outside world, you become nonentity, a nobody who isn’t separable from the smiling face of the little baby in a wide brimmed hat, sunglasses, and overlarge pearls. Are you your child?

Children are a major accomplishment and a joy in our lives, but they are by no means our only accomplishment or our only source of joy. It’s easy, at a time of mourning, to focus on what’s positive and build the positive up to a disproportionate place in our lives. Our children’s needs, wants, and whims can be consuming, if we let it be, and it’s often easier to be happy in activity than sad in inactivity. We still can’t let ourselves be swept up in the act of motherhood, if for no other reason than that our children age (and so do we), and it’s a far better thing to figure out who we are now, in the present, than figure it out years from now when all the kids have left childhood (and us) behind. You are, after all, so much more than just someone’s mother.

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