Does every divorce leave a newly single parent feeling hungover? Well, probably. Dealing with your own post-divorce emotions while also helping your children adjust to their new normal can be challenging, to say the least. My advice over my own post-divorce years usually includes the following: Everyone’s divorce hangover is different and recovery times vary widely, but the emotional headache is real. The good news? You eventually will recover and be able to move on with your life. But what do the real experts say? What’s the healthiest method for getting over a divorce — and helping your kids do the same?
Recently, SheKnows spoke with therapist Sarah Tranakos (who is also divorced) and Katie Weber and Kelli Taylor, partners at a divorce-mediation firm, A Modern Divorce, regarding what they have observed from clients who are recovering from divorce hangover. Here’s some what they had to say, plus advice I’ve gleaned from my own experience researching, writing about, and just plain living through divorce.
Prepare for a year of firsts
The year after your divorce is a major time of learning and firsts as a single parent: first holidays after divorce, first birthdays, first parent-teacher conferences, first sporting events, first family vacations. Before you’re in the situation and having to decide how you want to react, think about how you want this particular “first” to go. And afterward, put as much time into processing what went well and what you might like to do differently moving forward.
Develop your compartmentalization muscle
You probably know you need strong core muscles, but what about your compartmentalization muscle? Tranakos tells SheKnows, “You cannot move forward until you compartmentalize the past. This is a fundamental and integral part of the healing process and provides you with the ability to move forward.”
One of my divorced friends advises: “Take the past and visualize putting it all in a big box and carrying it up to your attic. Close the attic door and lock it. If you feel the need to dig into your past, unlock that door and find that musty old box, open it and reflect. However, as you are reflecting on the contents of the box, be sure to set a time limit to avoid the trap of stewing and overthinking things. Once you are done reflecting, close the box, place it back in your attic and lock the door.”
This is especially important when figuring out how to help kids through a messy divorce. The reality is: Your children are watching and learning from you each day. Are you focused on rehashing all the details of your past? Or are you showing them the need to focus on the future?
Plenty of parents are guilty of caring for their children, partners, homes and jobs all before taking care of themselves. But, perhaps especially for moms, healthy self-care is essential to prioritize when recovering from a divorce hangover. If you were the birth mother of your children, you could view this time in many respects as you did your pregnancy: focus on exercise, eating well and getting enough sleep.
Self-care should also include ensuring that you’re taking control of your financial health. This can start with outlining a household budget and planning a retirement fund. Weber and Taylor tell SheKnows that it’s important to “do the hard stuff first… it will ultimately reduce your stress level once you have a clear plan for how to manage your financial details post-divorce.”
For many newly divorced parents, taking care of yourself is a learning process that may require setting some new boundaries. Of course that’s easier said than done, but it’s also essential — after all, your children need a healthy mom who can engage with them in a positive way on a day-to-day basis.
Focus on giving back
When your emotional hangover is getting the best of you, step outside yourself by volunteering and doing acts of kindness for others. If possible, include your children in this with you. This will become a special experience when you can all share in the important lessons and points of reflection from helping those who are in truly in need as the worries and challenges you’re facing post-divorce are put into perspective.
Clean out the clutter
There’s no better time to invest in some tiny boxes and Kondo your life. That said, cleaning out the clutter of your home is a balancing act; during a divorce hangover, your emotional state may cause you to overcorrect — and purge everything that your former spouse ever touched. So, before cleaning things out, reflect on which items you actually need, and whether there are certain objects that should be set aside as possible keepsakes for your children. When you do finally clean out the rest, it will can feel like you’ve lifted the weight of your past off your shoulders.
Embrace your new normal
Embracing your new normal is a process, and the precise path you take to get there will be entirely unique to your situation.
No matter where you are in your divorce “hangover” recovery, there is hope. It will just take a bit of soul-searching and personal reflection — plus a dash of humility — to let go of the negative emotions and make room for the good things the future holds.
As a friend once told me: You don’t realize the weight of what you have been carrying until you realize the weight of its release. Tranakos agrees, adding that “in six months, this change will not feel so overwhelming and all-encompassing. Over time, you will develop skills that you do not have right now. You will see a future, and you will be able to put things in perspective. This is a learning process as well as a grieving process, with stages of growing, understanding and healing for both you and your children.”
Just remember: Whatever you’re facing in this moment, it will get better — and your divorce hangover will eventually subside.