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Divorced Moms: “Best and Brightest” is Best Defined by You

This time of year can be tough for divorced moms. Graduations (and “continuation” ceremonies) abound. Weddings, too. It’s easy to look from the vantage point of life after divorce and feel like you and your kids aren’t important or you’re somehow “less than” or “not good enough.” When you see other kids being recognized for their grades, sports prowess, or social contributions (or all three)—a common occurrence at the end of the school year—it’s easy to feel like your children don’t matter (except, of course, to you).

I’ve had large doses of this in recent weeks, beginning with our local newspaper’s annual selection of the “best and brightest” high school students. From thousands of high school students in my city, the paper somehow selects the 20 best and profiles each one over a 20-day period. This got me thinking about what it means to be the “best” and “brightest” and what that says about the rest of us.

This isn’t meant to detract from the accomplishments of the 20 impressive young people profiled in the paper, though needless to say, my graduating senior was not one of them (and probably wouldn’t want to be).

How easy it is to equate our own worth – and our children’s worth – with grades, accomplishments, test scores, athletic ability, and/or doing good for a social cause. But most of our kids won’t make perfect test scores, get admitted to Ivy League colleges, win state championships, or star in theatrical productions. Some of us may be grateful that our kids make it through adolescence at all!

Yet the emphasis schools and society in general place on external accomplishments – even for good causes – can leave divorced moms feeling guilty that we haven’t done enough for our kids or that they (or we) are somehow “less than” in comparison to other kids who have more advantages, such as two-parent families.

Here’s a way of thinking that has helped me as I open the newspaper to a new profile each day:

“Best and brightest” is best decided by me. It’s an inside job.

We get to decide how we can best contribute to the world, and that might be by doing our best by our children through our work to support the family, through our examples, and through our interactions with them and others. Our kids don’t have be the fastest, smartest, or best in the world’s eyes, nor do they need to save the world to be the best. Their worth doesn’t come from your their accomplishments or awards, and neither does yours. Our worth comes from our parts in the whole creation; we are each a divine spark in the universe.

These thoughts challenged me to take a look at how I might be conveying that my son is not measuring up, as well as to look for ways to appreciate his unique personality and gifts. As I’ve looked through this lens, I’ve been able to see him in a new, more loving light. I’ve seen him handle disappointment and some tough situations with composure and maturity.

I’ve also seen how it’s my application of external standards that have caused frustration and fear for my children over the years. For example, the son who is graduating this year is not interested in being one of the high-achievers and winning that kind of acclaim. But he is okay just as he is, and I am okay with that once I shift to an inside perspective.

Choosing to spend my time and energy in ways that are congruous with my values and interests makes me happier than striving to achieve to someone else’s standards; applying this approach to my kids removes worries that they are being overlooked or aren’t good enough or that I haven’t done a good enough job as a mom.

Working to support our families and raising our children in life after divorce may be all we can manage, and we don’t need to judge ourselves by outside standards. Instead, we should be patting ourselves on the back for showing up and doing the hard work asked of us by the lives we’ve been given.

Whether our children are recognized as the “best and brightest” by an outside organization or not, they are some of the best and most important people to most of us divorced moms, and we can let them know it. We get to decide what “best” means to us.

So rather than looking at someone else’s ideas of who is best and brightest, define it for yourself. What is best for you and for your kids? What would brighten your day – and theirs? Then go live in alignment with what you choose. That’s the best way to make a contribution, the only one you can make.

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