When I was a young mom–married with a toddler and a baby, I remember times when all I wanted was to be alone. I would fantasize about escaping to a desert island where I could lie on the beach all day hear nothing but the sound of the ocean. That’s not to say I didn’t deeply adore my children. I did. But I felt smothered and tired, and I longed for tranquility. Ironically, a few years later when I got divorced, I couldn’t stand being alone. I hated the silence when the kids were with the ex and I was home by myself. It was uncomfortably isolating, lonely and depressing, which is what starting over after divorce at 50 or any age can feel like.
I remember when I was first getting divorced, my friends would say, “Just enjoy the time off when your kids are with your ex,” “Do something for yourself,” or “You deserve a break.” But I felt like I wasn’t allowed to appreciate time away from being a mother. The guilt plus the fear and strange, uncomfortable feeling of being alone was overwhelming. That was 15 years ago. Since then, I’ve been a single mom and I’ve spent a ton of time alone and guess what? I absolutely love and enjoy it.
But now, I’m on the brink of becoming an empty nester, so another transition is awaiting, where I will be by myself even more. You know what? I’m choosing to embrace it. Why? Because to be happy when starting over after divorce at 50 or 40 or 30 or whenever, one crucial word matters:
In my opinion, independence equates to having the ability to live life not needing anyone’s help. That doesn’t mean people never help you—they do! But meaning, you are so self-sufficient that the help is nice and appreciated, but not something on which you depend.
Being independent also means not being under anyone’s control. It means making your own decisions. While that can feel scary, especially at the beginning of a divorce, making decisions can also feel incredibly empowering, and can lead to crafting the life you want for yourself.
There are different kinds of independence. There’s financial independence and emotional dependence, to name two.
Being financially independent is wonderful. If you are going through a divorce and you aren’t financially independent right now, don’t be ashamed or embarrassed. If your ex is giving you alimony or child support, don’t let him/her or anyone else make you feel guilty or badly about receiving it.
All that said, I want to add that if you think you are capable of working to make extra money or to eventually support yourself, you should try to go back to work, in my opinion. Speaking from experience, I waited way too long to go back to work after divorce and it hurt me financially. The good news is, it’s never too late to start working again, and when I did that, my finances got better pretty quickly. Work also gives people self-confidence, pride, self-esteem and self-love, and keeps them active, social, cognitively stimulated, and feeling productive.
Emotional independence is a lot harder for some people. It’s scary to feel like you’re the head of your household. If you’ve never done it before, it can feel intimidating to do things like:
* Pay bills
* Take care of a home-fix things, maintenance, etc.
* Make decisions for the kids on your own
* Take vacations with the kids alone
* Go on vacations alone without the kids
* Spend a lot of time alone (when the kids get older and aren’t around so much)
* Be alone when your child is sick, or when you are
* Sleep in a big house alone
Want the good news? Starting over after divorce at 50 or any age, and learning how to be independent starts with believing in yourself, and then getting the help you need with the above list. For example, if you’ve never paid bills and you’re ashamed to tell anyone that, there are people whose entire jobs are to teach people how to pay bills! Also, if you are a single person living alone and you aren’t handy (like me), I would suggest hiring a great handyman. Once you find a loyal one, he/she is just a text away! You will feel incredibly relieved.
Independence is also obtained by mustering up the courage to just try something. For example, a Divorced Girl Smiling Facebook group member recently posted that she was at the airport by herself, taking her first trip alone ever! She said she was scared, but felt compelled to do it. Once you take a trip alone, or alone with kids, you will never be scared to do it again. I promise!
Here are some other tips on how to starting over after divorce at 50 or any age and gaining independence:
1. You cannot even begin to enjoy spending time alone unless you like yourself.
Think of it this way. You wouldn’t want to be around friends you don’t like, so why would you want to spend time with yourself if you don’t like yourself? If you aren’t happy with yourself, now’s the time to take some action. Make changes to your life that will make your proud of and happy with who you are.
2. Find your passion.
Mine was writing. When I was first separated 15 years ago, I spent hours and hours on my computer, writing and journaling. I found that expressing my thoughts soothed my pain. Eventually, my writing turned into novels, a job with the Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press, the weekly column, Love Essentially, and Divorced Girl Smiling! When you are doing what you love, being alone is irrelevant.
What if you don’t have a strong passion for anything? Then try different things. I think it takes time to figure out what you like. So, start surrounding yourself with people and watch and learn about things they are doing right now. For example, Pickle Ball is huge right now. I have dozens of friends who play. Try things and eventually you will find hobbies, activities, volunteer work or even a new job that truly makes you happy.
3. Remember that being alone is a choice.
If you want a social life or want to find love, pick up the phone and make plans. Call old friends, develop friendships with people in your community, at work, or at your gym. You will be surprised at how receptive people are when you reach out. Why? Because they want to be social also. My point is, you have to put in a little effort. What you put out into the universe will come back to you.
4. Carry yourself with confidence, pride and grace.
Don’t be embarrassed if you are out alone and you run into friends. You should be proud of your independence.
5. Avoid Facebook when you’re feeling lonely.
All you will see are happy faces of people together. But, if you do go on the social media site, be happy for those people and remember that there are times when they are alone, too, and that no one’s life is perfect.
6. Being independent doesn’t mean being alone.
They are two totally different things. You can be married and surrounded by people all the time and feel lonely. You can also live alone and be alone most of the time and never feel lonely. Loneliness is a state of mind. If you ever feel lonely, think about the people who love and care for you: your family, your friends, your community, and of course, God.
Through 15 years of being a single mom, independence has become one of my favorite words. I went from dreading spending time alone to appreciating and even loving it. From going to movies by myself on Saturday nights, to taking hot baths, cleaning out closets and making homemade soups on major holidays, independence comes naturally and happily to me.
The journey wasn’t easy. It was scary and sad, at times, and it didn’t happen overnight. I think most people fear being independent and being alone for a few reasons. First, the transition can feel strange and isolating, especially after divorce or death of a spouse. Also, some newly divorced people will fantasize that their ex is not alone, that he or she is happy and having a great time, blissfully in love with someone else, and not regretting the split. Stop doing that! It’s unproductive, unhealthy, and not true. Everyone grieves in different ways. So, if you’ve only been separated a few weeks and your soon to be ex already has a girlfriend, don’t think it’s because he is over the divorce. This is the way he is choosing to cope.
In closing, fear of being independent after divorce can be overcome with a little faith in yourself, faith in the universe, faith in God, and a lot of self-confidence, self-love and belief in yourself. I can tell you from personal experience that there is no better feeling than knowing you achieved something you didn’t think you could achieve, or that you had a really nice day completely on your own—INDEPENDENTLY.