Resetting Your Priorities in the New Year as a Single Parent

WHOLE-prayerties

It’s all too easy to blame your ex-partner for things that aren’t working in your life. I know that I’d like to have the last few years back and do a couple things differently. And I know that seeing my ex refurnish the house, her house, while I’m struggling to find a house again, is painful. But guess what? It’s not her fault. Ever.

I am responsible for my own happiness. Full stop.

That’s a hard line I’ve come to rely on as I’ve been turning everything around about my life, my divorce, and my parenting. It is NEVER about her.

Taking Inventory

When we take our own inventory in life it’s a good thing. (The 12-step programs have given us fantastic resources and frameworks for digging into what’s not working in our lives.) It’s when we take someone else’s inventory that things get a bit more muddled. Their issues, desires, and failings are really none of our business. (Kid’s lives have a slightly different relationship, but we’ve even got to watch our “assessments” of our kids.) My ex-wife and her joys or lows are really none of my concern. And when I pay attention to her life [how’s she doing… wait, she’s got a new living room set… how’s her boyfriend working out…] I’m really doing both of us a disservice.

I could focus on her. I could retrace things about our marriage and divorce that could’ve, should’ve, would’ve been done better.  I could dig into my own issues and seek forgiveness… Except… That time has passed. The only forgiveness I need at this moment is from and for myself. Divorce is ultimately an individual experience. No amount of counseling, friendships, or new relationships can take us our of the sorrows, joys, and struggles of resetting every aspect of our lives. Books, blogs, therapy, friends, exercise, they all help, but the real work is done on a much deeper level.

I’ve been asked on several occasions about this blog. One friend said to me, “It’ll be great when you’re over your divorce. It seems like your still obsessed with it.” I found her statement funny at the time, but now I understand what she was getting at. She was reflecting her own issues. She was sharing about her divorce pain, not mine. Even as she was checking-in with me on some level, she was really talking about herself.

I’m well over my divorce, it’s the parenting part that I won’t ever be over. And that is where my focus has to reside. Not on her, or the divorce, but on myself and my relationship to my kids. (I know I repeat this idea, like a mantra, but I need to hear it.)

And…

And I need to continue to explore the ideas of love and trust for myself. When I pull back the covers a bit on my failed marriage, I am really seeking to understand more about myself. It’s a bit voyeuristic at times, but I’m not that interested in her or her feelings. I really have no way of knowing all the emotional swirlings that were going on in her mind as things broke down between us. I can only account for my own actions, my own feelings in the moment, and my current reflection back on *my* role in the process of loss and separation.

Sure, the pain of being divorced comes up from time to time, but it’s primarily around the loss of time with my kids. She is much less important to my life and well-being than my kids. In fact, other than taking care of my own health (mental, spiritual, and physical) there is nothing more important in my life than the care and feeling of my two kids.

My positive approach to life is how I show up for my kids. They are watching us. They are learning from our actions.

The real kicker comes when I catch myself assessing my ex-wife’s success or failure post-divorce. That type of thinking *would* indicate an obsession and inability to move on from the relationship. These type of thoughts come in minor flashes now, but they used to come in broad strokes that would re-chart the course for an entire day, when I wasn’t vigilant about rejecting them. There is no value, none, in taking someone else’s inventory. This life is not about them, it’s about me. I can be distracted by focusing on others, or circumstances outside my control, but that is a dark path that leads to depression and feelings of despair.

Get this message: I am responsible for my own happiness. Full stop.

As I began writing this blog in 2013 I knew it would not be easy to reframe all of my “work” in a positive light. However, just the act of starting the 100% positive goal began a process that transformed my own experience of live after divorce. When I started I still had resentment, I still felt like I had been wronged, I still had long periods of sadness surrounding the loss.

What emerged as I kept revisiting all of my feelings from this positive perspective is my own positivism. What I learned in the process of writing all of this “divorce” stuff was that it wasn’t about the divorce, it was about me. This blog is about my recovery of joy. Even in these hard times, I worked to see the good. As things began to get worse I doubled my efforts. The positive voice began to become my inner voice. The letting go of negativity towards my ex-wife was the biggest single step in my recovery process. And knowing that my kids were affected by all of our interactions, I saw the positive changes in their lives too.

We can’t imagine what is going on in another person’s life. We try. But we know that our projections are not real. In redirecting that inventory-centered mind on ourselves we can take charge of what we can know, what we can change. The act of writing this blog has allowed me to reclaim my own joy.

I am one of the happiest people I know. I’ve always been this way. A friend on the street a few weeks ago asked me, “Were you this happy as a kid?”

“Yes,” I said. “I’ve always been the one who shouts across the room to greet someone I care about.” I had just hailed him from 50-yards away.

“A lot of people don’t see themselves that way. A lot of kids I’m teaching these days have no sense of their inner voice. It’s as if they don’t have one. As if they don’t remember themselves as kids.”

Taking the High Road

Here’s what I know. My ex-wife has nothing to do with my happiness or success. My positive approach to life is how I show up for my kids. They are watching us. They are learning from our actions. How we deal with hard times will inform and set their own internal compass for later in life as they run into challenges. In resetting everything in my life on my own experience, I learned that my positive approach to living in the present moment was the most powerful parenting lesson I could give them.

I am someone who claims to be spiritual but not religious. To me, what this means is I take more comfort in the Serenity Pray than I do in the Lord’s Prayer. I prefer friendly company or contemplative solitude to church. And while I’m not sure how spirituality will play out in my kid’s lives, I know that I show them every day what it means to be a self-fulfilled and happy person.

I am joyous. I am alone. And I am always hopeful.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

back to Positive Divorce

God, grant me the serenity,
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things that I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

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image: prayer ties, tifanie chaney, creative commons usage

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