There are times when the single mom life sucks, especially when your kids are still little and need All The Things from you. If they were attached to your hip (or boob) when you were married, it’s even worse now that you’re single.
When I left my ex-husband, my oldest was six years old, and my youngest was two. We’d just started the Terrible Twos which are always followed by the Terrifying Threes. Privacy, sleep and a moment to myself quickly became luxuries I thought I’d never see again.
Over the next couple of years, some of the most tiring but satisfying of my life, I learned plenty of lessons (usually the hard way) about how to survive a divorce when your children are small.
Divorce with small children involved is tough. If you can keep a few things in mind, you’ll find that you can survive it with fewer scars.
1. Get Used to Being Tired
That sounds depressing, doesn’t it? Instead of false hope, let’s be real. Parenting, in general, is tiring. Doing it as a single parent is freaking exhausting. The bags under your eyes will have their own bags. You’ll never think you have enough time, and getting the “recommended” eight hours of sleep will be an absolute joke.
I’m not trying to scare you. The single mom life is a tiring one. Be prepared to be tired and know it’s completely normal. You’re not a slacker, I promise.
2. Find Your Well of Patience - For Them and Yourself
I have not now, or ever, been a patient human being. Being a single mom with a two-year-old made me get over that quick -- or at least learn how to fake it. Most of the time, there will be no one else to tap and say, “You’re up. Get your butt into the game.” It’s all you.
When the toddler draws on the walls with markers, while an older kid is asking why the sky is blue, how Legos are made, and why your face is so squishy, there’s only one thing you can do. Breathe, Mama. Take it one issue and one question at a time. Eventually, they’ll go to sleep and this moment will pass.
3. Forgive Yourself
Lean in on this one. I want to make sure you understand me. You are not going to do everything right every day. Some days are the grab-dinner-from-drive-thru days and other days, you’ll let them play on the iPad until their eyes bleed. Yes, those days will often last all weekend or for most of the week. It’s the only way to wash a load of laundry, scrape the gunk off of the dishes, and maybe, just maybe, sit down for a minute.
Forgive yourself. You’re one person on your own doing the best you can. And when the dishes are more important than getting on the floor with your kids because you cannot imagine one more moment of tea parties or car races, forgive yourself then, too. We shouldn’t expect ourselves to be perfect when we’re married, and we really shouldn’t expect it when we’re divorced and single.
4. Answer the Questions You Can
When I split from my ex, my youngest had no clue what was going on. My oldest knew something was different. He wanted to know where his Daddy was and why he didn’t live with us. After a random visit with his father (because I married the deadbeat), he wanted to know why I didn’t love his Daddy anymore. The questions hurt my heart and burned my soul. No small child of six years old should have to ask them.
You might hate that they ask these kinds of questions, and you may want to help them understand. You can’t answer all the questions they have. Sometimes they’re too young for the truth, and sometimes even you’re not sure of what the answer is. Do the best you can. Remind your children that they are loved by both of you.
5. Stay Positive
There are times when the single mom life sucks, especially when your kids are still little and need All The Things from you. If they were attached to your hip (or boob) when you were married, it’s even worse now that you’re single. Somedays it takes all your strength to make it to the end of the day and the glass of wine you promised yourself. In the beginning, you may wonder if you’re doomed to be miserable for the rest of your life.
You may not believe me now, but this does not last forever. For me, the first two years after my divorce were the toughest. We all had to adjust. Eventually, I made it to the end of the tunnel, and the light I saw wasn’t another oncoming train. You will figure out a pattern to your life. Believe that. There are legions of women who have been where you are, and we promise, it gets better.
6. Let People Help You
My mother and aunt sent me money. My best friend swooped in every few weeks and babysat for me. She also went with me to the big stuff like restaurants, zoos, and the mall - you know, all the places your darling angel is sure to have their worst tantrum. Parenting is freaking hard, and doing it alone sucks, even when it’s the best choice for your family.
If you’ve got people in your life who you trust and your kids love (or can learn to love), let them help you. Take the time, help, and even money they offer and just say, “Thank you.” You’re not a loser, a deadbeat, or a bad mom when you accept help. You’re not neglecting anyone. And remember, being broke isn’t a reason to be embarrassed. No parent thinks they have enough money, and it’s even harder after a divorce.
7. Enjoy the Small Victories
Did you youngest finally sleep through the night? Is the oldest sleeping in his own bed? And are all these milestones happening since the divorce or separation? Celebrate them! You did it, Mama. You got your babies through this transition in their life. With or without help. Congratulations!
When our kids are young we hear, too often, that we’ll miss these days and to enjoy it while it lasts. I won’t tell you that. I’m glad some of those days are over. Eventually, you’ll look back on these tough times and wonder how you made it. For right now, while you’re still wondering if you will (you will, I promise), enjoy the random hugs in between temper tantrums, the moment they try the “yucky vegetable” and all the small moments that mean they’re growing up.
At the same time, when you reach the first time you have more money at the end of your month than the other way around, celebrate that, too. You did that. When you finally find a routine that works for everyone, give yourself a high five. It’s these small moments that will show you that you’re going to be just fine.
One day, when you look back, you’re going to wonder how you survived this crazy mess of divorce and raising small children. Sometimes, I’m not sure how I’ve managed it, either, and it’s only been a few years. If you’re kids are happy and healthy, and you’re moving forward in a positive way in your own life, you’re doing better than you realize.