A few years ago, I took a class in “Diversity Management”. One of our first assignments was to provide a self description while applying a percentage ranking to each of our roles in life. There was a noticeable difference between my percentages and my classmates’.
“I’m mostly a mom,” one woman explained. “And then my career comes second.”
“I don’t see it that way,” I told the instructor when she questioned my work. “I’m no less a homeowner than I am a divorcee or a sister or a friend. It’s all me and I don’t want to define myself one way or another. I just am.”
Our sense of identity takes a serious beating when a partnership ends. The woman who defined herself as a wife and a mother who lived in [insert home/neighborhood] and hung out with [insert marital friends] suddenly feels incomplete. In this case, moms and dads often compensate for the lack of “partner” by being that much more “parent”. Those without children might shift their focus to their career under the same circumstances. Desperately, we search for a role in which we can excel and then we cling to it for dear life. It’s a natural reaction. However, it behooves us to recognize what’s happening and take the necessary steps to re-balance our Selves.
I think the most common post-divorce ID habit is the tendency to define oneself as the SuperParent (aka “FavoriteParent”, “PerfectParent”, etc). So I’m going to use this one as an example. Like I said a few sentences ago, re-identifying with a role we can perform in is soothing. It restores our pride and makes us feel special. SuperParents are superlucky because their heroic efforts most often earn them superlove from their superkids. That sounds super, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the practice can also precipitate a lot of stress. It’s not easy being super. Mom/Dad put a lot of pressure on themselves to be the best at all times, in all ways. Conflict and competition is created between bioparents if both are aspiring to the same goal. How can you co-parent if you’re competing? Aren’t Mom and Dad supposed to be on the same team? Furthermore, identifying oneself as the PerfectParent promotes unfair expectations from children as well as parental peers. It can be exhausting to keep up with such demands… and then what happens when Mr./Ms. Right enters the picture and Mom/Dad is ready to be a Partner again? Or what happens when the children leave the nest?
It’s true that the circumstances of our lives dictate the amount of time we spend tending to certain aspects of ourselves and the roles we play. However, effort should not be confused with identity. I’m still a snowboarder when it’s 90 degrees outside and I’m still a bookworm when I’m shredding a mountain. It’s always important, yet especially critical during divorce, to remain aware that we are comprised of many different characteristics. This way, if a shift happens in one area of life, it’s easier (still not necessarily “easy”) to regain balance because there’s a smaller piece of the pie to fill. Even in times of stress, the idea isn’t to be more or better in any one area, the goal is to be Perfectly You.