Are you lying to yourselves, divorced moms? Does your head tell you things like “I’m a bad mom” or “There must be something wrong with me?”
If so, it’s time to stop! You don’t have to believe everything you think.
In fact, you shouldn’t believe everything you think. Your thinking could be distorted, and this is where the lies come in. If this sounds crazy to you, as it did to me when I first heard it, let me share an example from my own life after divorce experience.
After my divorce, we stopped having family dinners despite my belief in their importance. My boys spent far too much time on the computer and watching TV, but I didn’t have the energy to enforce our agreed upon guidelines. Discipline and routine seemed to have disappeared.
When I shared my concerns about my poor parenting and its affect on the kids with a friend, she said, “Just relax about all this stuff. Cut yourself some slack. These things are temporary, and you’re a good mom. Your kids will be okay.”
That sounded good on the surface, but inside a little voice was saying, “If she only knew how I really was, she wouldn’t be saying that. I should be able to handle these things better. I am a bad mom. And what if my kids are permanently scarred as a result? It will be my fault.”
For some reason, I spoke those thoughts out loud. My friend said, “You don’t have to believe everything you think. Why don’t you try my version instead?”
I had just enough space between thoughts to consider that maybe she had a point. After all, I didn’t intend to be a bad mom; I was just a divorced mom with too much to do and no reinforcements at the time. I was doing the best I could. It was possible that I was telling myself a lie!
With that small event a few years ago as the catalyst, I’ve learned to think differently about myself. And you can, too. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started.
- Drop the belief that by putting yourself down you’re protecting yourself. Trying to belittle yourself before others can belittle you usually backfires and often results in the very criticism you were trying to avoid. Trying to shield yourself from pain by anticipating it and fearing the worst doesn’t work either; it only makes you feel bad now. What you’re really doing is lying to yourself, which is hurting you and probably your children as well.
- Question your thoughts. When you’re berating yourself, labeling yourself unkindly, or making dire predictions about the future, give yourself a little space to question the thought. If it isn’t true right that minute, it’s possible that your thinking is distorted and you’re lying to yourself. Don’t believe everything you think.
- If a thought makes you feel bad about yourself (and it’s not something that you can do anything about), it’s probably not true. This gets into the whole “guilt vs. shame” distinction, but the bottom line is this: if you did something you feel bad about, and you can take an action to make it right, do it. You’ll feel better about yourself even if it’s difficult initially. But if it’s something you are (like my “I’m a bad mom” statement), it’s probably not true. You can drop that thought and find one that feels better.
- Choose a thought that makes you feel better (and still feels true for you). You may not be able to go all the way from “I’m a bad mom” to “I’m a great mom” in one moment. But you may be able to change “I’m a bad mom” to “I wish I had handled that situation differently. But I’m doing the best I can, and I’ll be better prepared next time it comes up.” Or you might tell yourself “I’m not perfect, but I’m a good enough mom.” You might even use some humor to lighten your mood. One of my favorites is “It’s just more fodder for my kids to tell their shrinks when they get older.”
- Check things out with a trusted friend (or a professional). A third party with a little distance from the situation can give you a different (and probably more accurate) perspective. If you’re worried that you’ve scarred your kids for life by forgetting to send in birthday treats, you might find that a still-married friend has done the same thing. If you fear that your child’s chances at a professional basketball career are ruined because you can’t afford the travel team, a parent with older kids might help you gain perspective there as well. (If they’re that good, the scouts will find them!) Divorce support groups (online or in person) are another source of different perspectives and a great way to know you’re not alone.
- Be gentle with yourself. To borrow from the medical profession, first do no harm. Self-compassion is a wonderful tool in almost all circumstances and a great antidote to the harmful thoughts and lies we tell ourselves, especially after divorce.
The big lie is that there’s something wrong with you. There’s not. A divorced mom’s job is a tough one, and you’re doing the best you can. Make the job easier on yourself by stopping the lies and telling yourself that truth.