I recently eavesdropped on a conversation my daughter was having with one of her friends. The friend had discovered her boyfriend kissing another girl after school. I listened as my daughter comforted her, saying all the things that one girlfriend should say to support another. After a few moments, my daughter paused and said, "Your life is not over. I know it hurts, but - he's just a guy. And guys aren't everything."
Walking back into the kitchen, I thought about her comments, and where she had come up with such mature, profound advice to give to her friend. In the process of the divorce, had she actually gained wisdom in lieu of pain? I couldn't help but wonder, what messages should we teach our daughters when we divorce?
1. Your life is not over. We all need time to lick our proverbial wounds after we're hit by the divorce train. It's time to lay low, re-group and take stock of our physical and emotional arsenal. But while you're busy wondering if Jose Cuervo comes in more than three flavors, you need to realize that your life is not over. It has merely changed, morphed into something different; like a plant that hibernates for the cold weather and emerges with a blossom in the next season, ready to begin again. My mother divorced at fifty and I have seen her accomplish more in the last twenty-five years than she ever did as a married woman. Her life is so full of friends, travel and activities that she often teases about retiring from retirement to get a moment's rest. If we can teach our daughters that one bad chapter does not mean the end of our novel - perhaps they can model our resilience in their own lives when plans go awry.
2. A man (or partner) does not define you. Yes, everyone likes to have someone in their lives to hold, to go places with and talk to. But if you don't - that doesn't mean you're less of a person because of it. Our worth isn't defined by whether we have someone standing next to us. You see women every single day who create Fortune 500 companies, are philanthropists or ambassadors - all without someone on their arm. Society has somehow conditioned us to believe that, unless we are accompanied by someone, we are half a person. Phrases like, 'meeting your other half', or 'I was incomplete without him/her', condition us to believe we are somehow "less" without someone else. If we can teach our daughters that we are not defined by having (or not having) a partner, we will enable them to let their accomplishments speak for themselves.
3. Living in - and being happy with - the present. It feels sometimes as though many of us live in the past or the future.
"It will be easier when..."
"Life was simpler/better when..."
When we go through a divorce, our 'present' tends to suck. Each day feels like walking through sand, and it can be tempting to live outside of the 'now' in order to make it through to better times. But I urge you to be fully present in your 'now' and make it as good as you can without having to resort to living in the future or the past. When we constantly lament about how good things used to be (or are someday going to be), we're not modeling a coping skill, we're supporting escapism. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm all for planning for the future, and all the good things that can come with the possibility of the unknown. But living in the 'now' and being fully present will enable us to take a good look at what's hurting us, and how we can heal that wound. If we run from the pain we're experiencing in the 'now', it doesn't go away. It's not like the pain can lose our address or phone number. No. It will be right there, waiting for us when we finally decide to stop running and face the music. If we teach our daughters to live in the present and face their pain - and their fears - we might be able to give them the skills to make it through a crisis they encounter in one of their 'tomorrows'.
After my daughter's friend left and the dishes were done, we sat together on the couch; me absentmindedly running my fingers through her hair as she told me about her day. When she paused I asked her about the advice she had given to her friend. For a long moment, she was quiet and then she threaded her fingers through mine.
"She just needs to breathe and look at the big picture. I just don't want her thinking that her whole life is ruined because of this one little thing. Really, it's like a ripple in the wave of her life."
"Where did you learn that?" I asked, as I watched her long fingers against my own.
She giggled and snuggled against me. "From you, silly."