When I divorced and moved halfway across the world, I thought I’d be able to raise my son alone. My son was a compliant kid. I had family nearby. I could easily juggle work and child-rearing; I was mature and accomplished, wasn’t I?
The real story? One month into raising my son alone, I realized how much I had overestimated my capabilities. Single motherhood has been a joy, but it also kicked me in the ass and it took three years for the dent to pop out.
It wasn’t just the day to day duties; it was the undertow of emotions and the rawness of living a completely different life that added to the challenge of raising a little human.
Along the way, I learned eight things no one told me about raising children alone.
1. Your life is not your own. My son, who is now 14, sees his dad a few times a year for extended periods, but I am it the rest of the time. Homework, school projects, extracurricular clubs and slumber parties come before dating, salon appointments, and sadly, the gym. The stress can be unbearable at times. I am striving for more balance, I really am.
2. You may not have the social capital you did when married. It’s sad but true that your children will be judged by their parents’ choices. And it’s unfair that divorced mothers still bear a stigma in many parts of the country. Your child will interact with kids from intact families, and you might feel a subtle prejudice. There is nothing more important than holding your head high. Don’t call attention to your marital status, financial problems, or horrible custody battle. In other words, learn from me.
3. There is no work-life balance. The pressure cooker of the modern workplace, where productivity reigns, is a harsh environment for many single moms. When I taught middle school, my heart broke for the kids who felt sick and did not have a parent available to come and get them. Then I became that parent. Finding mom-friendly jobs is one of the biggest hurdles. I can now work from home when needed, but I had to prove myself in a way that men generally don't have to. I just deal with it. Keeping a roof over my kid's head is more important.
4. You are not allowed to get sick. Have you ever felt so ill that you literally couldn’t get out of bed? If you have children, especially younger ones, you’d better have a reliable support system for those times when you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. This leads me to my next point.
5. Your backups must have backups. Redundancy is the key to raising children alone. Some family members who I thought I could rely on turned out to have a lot of paperclip drawers that needed organizing. It’s vital to have three, four, five family members, friends or trusted sitters who can help you out at any time. Do as many favors as you can for anyone you put on your emergency list. Don’t ask for return favors except for true emergencies.
6. Dating will never be the same. You have kids and you met a nice man who has kids. Great! They can grow up together, be the Brady Bunch, or – wait! Stop right now. Before you hit the bar or join that online dating site looking for Mr. Right, remember that your kids might still pine for their intact family. They may not now, nor for many years, be ready for you to welcome another man into your home and your bed. Proceed with caution.
7. You have to say "No" that much louder. In fact, you don’t know how strong you are until you have to resist the siren’s call of toy commercials, tantrums in candy aisles, and the sticky guilt traps your kids will lay before you - especially if dad gives in after you've said no. Resist when it’s not right. You may be a horrible "doody-head," but you are an awesome mom. Trust me, they'll figure it out.
8. You will second guess your divorce, yourself and your life. You will ask yourself more than once, "What the hell am I doing?" Why did I give up the security of a spouse? Was he really that bad? Couldn’t I have stuck it out a few more years? Sometimes, staying together is in no one’s best interest; sometimes it’s impossible. When you second-guess your decision or your ability to carry on, just carry on. Your kids need you to be strong.
Sure, all of this is easy for me to say. Someone told me the same things, and I had to crawl through the minefield for myself. You will have to find your own way through solo parenting, complete with the negative feelings it brings: guilt, anger, sadness. So will your kids. Just remember, you are stronger than you know, you really are.
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