I’ve been a single mom at two stages of my life. I got pregnant during my senior year of college at the age of 21 and chose to have my son and raise him alone. I got married at 28 and divorced at 42. I found myself, once again a single mom, now to two children, one in college, one in high school. Each incarnation was and is hard, but I think sometimes we make it more challenging than it needs to be. Here are five things I’ve learned that might just makes things a little easier.
1. New vs. Old Traditions: There’s something particularly exhausting and demoralizing trying to make the family tradition puzzle fit back together, to make the same picture when you have a piece missing. It doesn’t work, friends. It will make you feel sadder than you already do. Cherry pick traditions that are still achievable, and not so loaded. I spent the Christmas I was separated trying to make it like every other Christmas we’d had, and it was AWFUL. When so many big things have changed in their lives, it is a losing proposition to try and pretend they haven’t. Think and talk about what needs to remain constant, and let go of the pieces that are salt in the wound. I still haven’t mastered this, and I’m nearly three years out. It gets easier, though. I promise.
2. Something’s Gotta Give: That fucking elf at Christmas, for example. You have enough on your plate without waking up in a panic because that little bastard hasn’t been moved in two days. (Unless you LOVE the elf. Then, Bless.) You can’t do it all – no one can. It’s okay to say that, too. People have made “supermom” comments to me which are absolutely intended to be supportive. What those comments do, though, is make me catalog the ways in which I KNOW I’m screwing up. It’s okay to say, “Thanks, I’m doing the best I can, but it’s really hard.” Just admit it. It’s okay to say, “THIS IS HARD.” In fact, you will feel a teensy bit better the moment you say those words. And here’s the thing, honesty begets honesty. When you say something like that, the tenor of the conversation changes, and I guarantee your friendships will deepen. “Me too,” is the most powerful antidote to loneliness in the world.
You are also going to get really good at prioritizing because you will need to. Even though your world has tilted off its axis, some things are not negotiable. You are still only one person, and there are still only 24 hours in the day. Do the stuff that needs to get done, and be prepared to let some stuff fall away. Your kids are better served by having a sane mama and store bought cookies than a tapped out, straight up crazy one who made everything from scratch. No one ever died because their mom served them Oreos. Don’t google that, I didn’t check that statistic. I didn’t have time. (See what I did there?? PRIORITIES!)
3. Ask for and Accept Help: I first wrote “Accept Help,” but then I reflected on it and realized that I really suck at admitting I need help, as well suck at asking for it. So, I rarely get to the acceptance bit. Brene Brown says something about if you’re not able to accept help without shame you are never offering it without judgment. When I read that it was like a sucker punch. I like to be the help-ER, not the help-EE, and that’s actually pretty arrogant. Friendship is a two-way street. It ebbs and flows. Yes, maybe you were always the first one to ask what someone needed and to save the day. GREAT. Now it’s time to switch to receiving mode and let some of that love flow back your way. Let’s not participate in the Hardship Olympics. No one wants to medal in stress or martyrdom. And don’t expect anyone to read your mind. Put the dots close together for your peeps. Maybe your friends are offering to take the kids off your hands thinking that’s how best to help when really your time is limited with them now and that’s not what you need. So, SAY THAT. Say, “Actually, I know you’re going to Costco this weekend. I need a few things, can you grab them for me so I can go to Bobby’s soccer game?” Our friends already love us. Let’s show them how to love us well.
4. Stop Trying to “Make Up For”… Whatever: The wounds caused when parents divorce are never mended with things, fun experiences, or throwing long held expectations out the window. It would be great if they could be, but they can’t. You are setting yourself up for a seriously hard time if you start managing your kids’ anger, disappointment, and loss by buying them things, or letting rules fall by the wayside. The scariest thing about divorce – and I have been through it as a child, and as an adult – is the uncertainty. Rules are rules. Even if they balk, children need consistency, and children crave predictability when it comes to discipline. Be their North Star, even when they get mad at you for it. It’s a long-term investment you make, and the payoff is having raised principled adults.
5. Give Yourself a Break: Time is precious It can be hard to justify taking time for just you now that you are juggling so much and have less time with your kids. Those weekends when they are with your ex? Use that time to fill back up. Do something you LOVE, something that brings you joy. See your friends. Pamper yourself a little, even if it’s just a nice long, uninterrupted bath. Remember who you are outside of motherhood. You cannot give away what you don’t have. If you do that, your kids will come back to a happier, calmer mom, and everybody wins.
Single motherhood is not likely what you had in mind, but you can find a way to make it work for you and your kids that doesn’t involve so much white knuckling. You’ve got this. I promise.