If there's one thing you can count on after a divorce, it's lower expectations.
I know. That sounds bad. But it's good--really!
Lower expectations are especially good this time of year, when most people are busy critiquing the past and setting impossible goals for the future. That was me before my divorce, back when I still believed my life could be picture-perfect (or I could at least fool everyone else into thinking it was). All I needed was the right goals and some steadfast resolve.
That facade went out the window with my marriage. My imperfect life was suddenly on full display. In the year or two following my divorce I was a single-mom-mess, doing the best I could to take care of my young daughters, earn a living, keep clean underwear and socks in the drawers, and shovel my car out of the driveway throughout those long Midwestern winters.
My goals, along with my expectations, were simplified. I was in survival mode--life without frills. When the New Year approached and I surveyed the previous 365 days, I was simply relieved my girls and I had the basics: food, shelter, and health, punctuated by regular moments of happiness. And somehow, as my expectations were lowered, my sense of accomplishment grew. I made it through the day, the week--the year! I could make our day-to-day life work, even if it wasn't always pretty and I wasn't reaching for the most lofty goals.
Even now, half a dozen years and a new husband later, my life is far too messy to fake perfection, let alone achieve it. My kids travel between our house and their dad's on a complex schedule no one outside of our family can grasp. My stepdaughter has three moms: my husband's ex-wife, her life partner, and me. And my new husband and I are figuring out how to be in a marriage (a healthier one this time), how to be parenting partners in a blended family, and how to partner with our ex-spouses' new families, too.
The complexity has increased, yes, but so has the happiness. And it occurs to me that those experiences are related--embracing the complexity of my post-divorce life has allowed me to embrace my true self, rather than always trying to change, and that acceptance has led to more fulfilling happiness.
As I approach this New Year, I'm aware that I've been burned by January one too many times. There's so much pressure to start over, get it right, and stay on track, and so many opportunities to fail. That's why I'm grateful for one of the truths my divorce has taught me: Each day is a chance to start over, with all of the potential of a January 1. Each morning provides an opportunity to try again, or try in a slightly different way, or maybe even to try something completely new. That's why I'm going to take some of the pressure off that one big day with all of its big resolutions. Instead, I'll try to extend myself the grace I will need every day in 2011. I wish the same for you. Happy New Year.
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