Divorce, Shame and What Century Are We In?

I have these bouts of feeling back in my skin. Thinking I’ve found my new normal and having regained my confidence, I put myself out there in one way or another — professionally, socially, romantically. Before long, I find myself cowering in my cave, wanting to shelter myself from the inevitable slings and arrows of real life.

I’m in the cave stage at the moment. Writing, reading, taking care of kids, socializing only in the safest and most familial risk-free ways. I’m pondering next moves and trying to breathe a lot. This avoidance technique is losing it’s appeal. Tired and defeated begets tired and defeated.

So, I’m psyching myself up to get back out there. Stop playing small and show up for life, take some risks.

Tonight, as I considered who I might reach out to, I caught a glimpse of a sensation I’ve had before but was finally able to nail it – shame. I’m ashamed. The old friend I want to call is married. The other one I though of, married too. So what? So, I’m still ashamed of my status as single mom? I thought I’d moved past that. Maybe it’s knowing that inevitably “catch up” conversations always derail to focusing on my ex and his rock n’ roll lifestyle. How do I handle everything? How are the kids? How does it effect them? And, me, this once force of will and fortitude is sort of the victim even when I’m the hero of my story. How hard it’s been. How painful for my kids. How lonely. How rather fucking pathetic when I think about it.

Shame. So in 2014, I feel ashamed of being a single mom. Consciously I am proud of myself and my children and how I have fulfilled my role as their mother. But apparently, deep down, I feel ashamed of being single. How odd. I wonder is this some inherited genetic or social remnant from my ancestors? Is it society’s gross generalized depiction of single moms as either crack heads or desperate cougars? Is it my own loss of identity when I had so much hinged on being his wife forever?

I don’t know. I don’t know how to reconcile the fervent belief I have in marriage and family with my current reality. I thought I had this facet handled. I suppose the littlest set backs in any area of my life tease my deeper insecurities to the fore … so at least it’s here and I can see it. Shame. A relic. A destructive device. A burden I don’t wish to carry. Shame. Maybe now that I recognize it I can do something about it.

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7 thoughts on “Divorce, Shame and What Century Are We In?

  1. Oh my goodness, I so relate to this. I actually was trying to express something about the way I feel to some people and I couldn’t put my finger on it. They said I was beating myself up. But you, you said it. It’s shame. And shame holds you back, and keeps you cowering in a corner, literally and figuratively. For me, it’s shame about how the change in my marital status and the way and timing of how it happened left me financially strapped with a lot of kids. I feel like I’ve become a statistic, a stereotype that I fought all my life — well did all the right things, in the right order — to try to avoid. Education and marriage before children, own a home, blah blah blah. I was the good girl, but now, on paper, I’m the stereotypical single mom. Except, I’m not a crack head, or a cougar, or baby mama and yet I’m not the superwoman super successful single mom either. Previously, I identified with being successful and when I was married fought to keep a separate identity from my husband. Ironically, in the end — well at least currently — I lost both identities. I don’t feel successful and I am now constantly identified with respect to my failed relationship with my ex-husband — Single/Divorced Mom of many. And you’re right, though sometimes I need to vent about my situation with someone supportive, spending time with friends often results in talking about how he should be doing more to help (save) me — regardless of the fact that I don’t even want that. And how hard things are. And even casual conversations include the inquiry, “Does he have involvement with the children?” It’s a constant reminder of my category. Or, I notice the way other people live. And I know everybody has their problems. I don’t assume that everyone is happy all the time. But when their problems are not apparent, or a topic of conversation, or at a different level (i.e. first world problems), it all makes me feel ashamed.

    You inspired me to own it, however, so that I can do something about it.

    Now, what? I don’t know. But admitting the problem is the first step, right.

    Wonderful post. Thank you.

    • You know, I write sometimes late at night thinking, “why the f*ck am I sharing online what should be in a diary somewhere kept in a hidden location.” In fact I woke up almost as if hungover, “uh oh, what the f did I post last night???” But, thanks to your comment, I feel it’s well worth having posted. Nothing diminishes shame quite like exposing it! I don’t think I’ll intellectualize my way out of shame, just having the realization sort of shifted something. I mean I’m not consciously in collusion with the idea that I have something to be ashamed of, it’s some insidious subtle thing that I didn’t know was influencing me and my decisions. I am beyond thrilled that you got something out of my post and can relate! Thanks so much for commenting. 🙂

  2. Hey, I agree. Fantastic post (and very nicely written to).

    I totally relate to the feeling of being in a cave – I think I’m making progress and being so strong. Then along comes another slap in the face from life, usually the ex, but could be just anything that pushes on a sore spot.Then I cry, which makes me seem even more like a pathetic hopeless loser.

    And shame. Yes, that is so real. A solo mum is not what my life was supposed to be. I feel like such a failure that this has happened to me. I wasn’t going to be one of those statistics, I too had done everything right. I bumped into an old school friend the other day whom I probably hadn’t seen much at all since my wedding actually. And I was embarrassed to admit that my marriage had ended. I mean, at school, I had been the clever one, I went off to university and studied law while she swanned around Europe not achieving much. But now she’s a psychotherapist with her own practice, has 2 happy kids and what appears to be a lovely husband. And what am I? A solo mum, just trying to keep it all together for my kids.

    I felt like such a failure at life. Pathetic. That in this day and age, I still feel like my success as a grown woman depends on whether I have a stable marriage and a reasonable income. Even though I have my own career and a job I love, my reason for being was still to be the best mum I could be and to be part of a lifelong marriage. And after 20 years all that has evaporated. Like you, consciously I know I’m doing a great job of being the best mum I can be in the circumstances, but I’m no longer part of that marital unit, and I am ashamed of that.

    I’ve mentioned this feeling to some friends, but they just brush it off saying “oh it wasn’t your fault, so don’t worry about it”. But it is still there. It still makes me feel like I failed in life.

    Thank you so much for acknowledging that you feel it too.

    • I think it is very difficult when we know there are circumstances which we have no control over that are negatively impacting our children. Of course that’s part of life, but we wanted them to at least have the advantage of a stable home-life. It can feel very much like our hard work of parenting is being undermined or has been irreparably undermined already. I do try to remind myself that my children have their own paths and this divorcing parents thing is clearly part of those paths.

      As to essentially being ashamed of how ashamed you are, yes, isn’t it bizarre? There’s no way to sort out what is social conditioning and what we are innately driven to attach our sense of identity to. Maybe a combo?

      I must say, unlike you, I did not follow a perfect path. I wish I had a law degree and lucrative career! But you have enlightened me to the reality that we women, no matter how much we achieve and accomplish can be so prone to self-deprecation.

      I really think/hope that knowing these feelings are normal and shared can help embolden us to get back in the world and take pride in what we are accomplishing. The shame may pop up now and again but we don’t have to be inhibited or ruled by it. Thanks so much for commenting. 🙂

  3. I thought I wrote this, actually. I feel very similar to you. i have been a single mom since my son was 1 month old and i frankly feel like a failure. I’ve been ashamed of myself for the past 13 years…

    • It’s really heartbreaking to read your comment. I hope that feeling of being ashamed is a fleeting one for you. Ultimately, raising a child on your own is something to be proud of. Most of the time I do feel proud. Some days, I feel insecure and when I wrote this post it was one of those days. 13 years of single parenting is something you can be proud of. Also, the point of my post was to share with the hope that people might relate and also with the hope that you might come away feeling better about yourself, not worse. There are so many single parents and it is hard enough without the stigma others impose and we, of course, impose on ourselves. Please be kind to yourself. 🙂

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