My daughters were 5 and 1 when my ex-husband moved out of the house—at the time I couldn’t imagine how I’d get through the divorce and raise two small children. Yes, it was the mother of all challenges that I’ve faced, but one that turned out to be the best for me and my girls.
Looking back, these are the 7 things that helped me get through single parenting small children while divorcing:
1. Have a Routine: As best as you’re able, keep your routines consistent—getting up, going to school/daycare/preschool, pick up after school, dinner, bath time, book time before bed (or insert whatever tradition you’d like), bed time. For your littles, their world just exploded and with it comes uncertainty. By keeping a routine for your kids, you’re helping them be able to predict and trust that there is a step-by-step process to the day, which can be comforting in the sea of change.
2. Reach out to People: One of the things that I had to face when I was embarking on my divorce, was that as full-time working single mom of two kids 5 and 1, I wasn’t going to be able to chaperone the school field trips, I wasn’t going to be able to take them to extracurricular activities. I prayed my oldest would be interested in activities right there at the school.
When my temporary restraining order was processed, my 5-year-old came home with an invitation to join a new troop of girl scouts. In the middle of the night, after the kids were asleep, I thought, how on earth would I be able to swing girl scouts on top of taking care of my 1-year-old and juggling work, too?
But then I thought: you know what, I’m going to make this happen. I need my daughters to “have a village.” And girl scouts would be awesome for her when it came to meeting other girls and adults who she could trust, who is OUTSIDE of the crazy divorce process. So I signed her up. In the end, it really helped her (and me) …a year later when they switched the meeting time, the leader offered to pick my daughter up from school and along with her daughter, they did their homework together at the leader’s house, and then I met them at the scout meeting after work.
Five years later, my daughter is still a girl scout. Relying on other people, when needed, was something I’m glad I did. Whatever your idea of a village is, please seek it out. Church was another refuge—I had returned to church when my youngest daughter was still in an infant seat—it was the one place, once a week, where I could go and know that no crazy explosions would happen for at least three hours.
3. Be Gentle with Yourself: Okay doing 1 and 2 above without losing your sanity as you’re juggling work, parenting, schedules, is definitely akin to a miracle. And after strategizing a carefully crafted schedule that requires the planning of a tightrope walker, of course, someone will get a fever or someone else will fall down an escalator, or you might get sick (what? Moms get sick?!).
In those moments, you will feel like a juggler who threw 12 china dishes in the air and they’re all about to come crashing down. But you know what? Let them crash for a moment. Take the time you need to take care of you and your kids. Accidents happen, kids get sick and life gets in the way. No lovely planned routine can erase away the unexpected. Do your best to be gentle with you and use kind words with yourself. I spent a lot of time panicking and getting angry at myself. As a single parent with small kids, at the end of the day, no one is there to comfort you—except for you. So be gentle with you, as best as you can.
4. I Got Them into Therapy: As soon as my ex moved out of the house, I started looking for a play therapist for my kids. I knew they’d need the extra support, someone who was NOT mom, NOT dad, someone who was just there for them. This is a safe place for them, and in my case, with an ex who has anger challenges, it was comforting to know there was someone else in the mix of the contested divorce process who would be neutral, who would keep their eyes and ears open for anything concerning. Also, therapy for you can be helpful to get through this tumultuous time. It’s a place of support for you that can help you navigate the emotional landscape that is divorce.
5. Have Patience: This is different than 3 above, in that 3 is all about self-talk and acceptance that you’re doing the best that you can, with all the resources that you have, so it’s okay if things go a little haywire. Patience is about taking deep breaths when your youngest decides to have a full on, no holds barred tantrum at the store. Or her diaper explodes and you realize you only have one wipe packed in your bag. Or no matter how dedicated you are to keep a schedule and both kids are supposed to be napping, they’ve decided that THIS is the day they’re doing cartwheels on the bed. Whatever. Take deep breaths. One day, diapers will be a distant memory (hard to believe when you’re elbow deep in gunk). One day, they won’t even need naps anymore. In parenting, the days are long, the years are short. This too shall pass!
6. Have a Great Attorney: Be sure you have an attorney that you trust, who gets the nuances of small kids in the divorce. One who has yours and your children’s best interests at heart. If your divorce is contested, there will likely be a custody evaluator involved, a “neutral” third party who as the eyes of the court, observes the children in both households and makes a recommendation as to custody, visitation, etc. It’s important that your attorney takes this process seriously, who can make recommendations on potential evaluators, and helps you select one who will do the best job. i.e. we received a recommendation for someone who was “cost-effective,” but was also known to rush and turn in cookie cutter reports. It was good that my attorney cautioned me on this, so we could select someone else with a better reputation.
7. Trust Your Instincts: At the end of the day, no one will advocate for you and your children—except for you. Trust your instincts. Trust yourself. In divorce, and in my case in my abusive situation, I had lost my confidence. I had to re-learn to find my voice, understand that it was okay for me to stand tall, shoulders back (I still struggle with this). If not for my excellent attorney and therapy, I’m not sure I would have found my way out of my abusive relationship with my ex-husband, or be able to claim my voice, to strive to be the confident mom that I hope I am for my girls. To show them it’s okay if life doesn’t work out the way that you planned it to be, it’s still a life worth living, a life where you can grow and thrive and build your dreams. That’s my hope. I'm still learning to trust!