Since my divorce, money has been a problem. The reasons are numerous – a discussion for another day – but just as much of a problem is guilt, guilt, guilt.
Guilt about having divorced in the first place, though I didn’t want the divorce – I wanted a functioning, respectful marriage.
Guilt about the outcome of the divorce – the financial arrangement for child support was sadly lacking; enforcement of the many provisions of our arrangement was virtually impossible, again, for a number of reasons.
Guilt that my kids had to deal with the ongoing animosity. And ongoing it was – for years.
Guilt that I couldn’t give them a “replacement” family – their father did, though they saw him infrequently.
I had always anticipated some sort of eventual transition – a new man whom they would like, a lessening of our financial and logistical challenges, a return to a less stressful household within a few years of divorce.
It never happened. My life doesn’t resemble Feel Good Television.
Single Parent Guilt vs. Mom Guilt
I imagine it comes in a variety of flavors, and women don’t have a monopoly on these feelings, though I suspect we excel at them – some of us more than others. And single parent guilt is like “mom guilt” on steroids!
But here’s something I only realized recently, with the perspective of many years on my own raising my sons. Had I felt even a little less guilty and given myself a bit more of a sanity break, I might have brought them a better “me.”
Let me be specific.
As a freelancer / independent, with 95% of the parenting responsibilities, my former career (with traveling) was no longer an option. So I worked non-stop at every stay-in-town gig I could get, and when I wasn’t working I was looking for more work.
My focus was on my children and their needs, and keeping a roof over our heads.
It didn’t help that I was in perpetual survival mode – constantly waiting for the shoe to drop, also known as the next manipulative sleight of hand, and bracing for it though I was keeping my head down. When you’ve experienced a high conflict divorce that slides into a high conflict aftermath, it’s virtually impossible to keep the stress out of the household.
You do your best – I did my best – but that, too, feels “not good enough.” Yet another source of guilt.
Who has the Money to Relax? Or the Time?
With the worries and the background skirmishes, I rarely felt that I could give myself any sort of relaxation. I couldn’t afford vacations with the boys or by myself; hell, I couldn’t afford a dentist! So I worked at sanity by walking when I could (helpful); by looking at art books which was, for a time, related to my work; by looking at how well my kids were doing despite the challenges we were facing.
I did a lot of crying in the shower. I did a lot of writing in the middle of the night. Both were band-aids, hardly a solution for relieving serious stress.
Still, though I borrowed when needed for academic and creative opportunities for my kids, I allowed myself next to nothing that was similar. There were no $75 half days at the spa, not even once a year. There was no lunch out “with the girls” – because I couldn’t afford it and frankly, I was so busy there were no “girls” to lunch with.
That wasn’t really my style before divorce either, though what was really at play for all these years was guilt – and some embarrassment. Continued guilt that I hadn’t been able to deliver a better life for my sons. Ongoing embarrassment because of the dramatic change in financial circumstances.
And along with those feelings, justified or not, there was reduced self-esteem. I didn’t feel as though I deserved to give to myself. Somehow, I felt unworthy.
Giving Yourself a Break (In More Ways Than One)
What if I had provided myself the occasional means to unwind?
What if I hadn’t taken on all the guilt for the situation in which we found ourselves? The life my ex was leading was very different from ours – a nice life, an expansive life. I heard stories from my boys of course – my ex had a new family, there were vacations – but that really isn’t the point of this musing. He took his own vacations during marriage. That was who he was, and I (stupidly?) accepted it.
In fact, over the course of 10 years, I did manage two cost-conscious vacations. I traveled on my own and was glad I did. In one case, my sons were with their dad and I had a fabulous client for whom I’d been putting in long hours for close to a year. Finally, I could afford a small pocket of time off!
In another instance, I was able to combine a week with some journalism-related tasks, which were thoroughly enjoyable. The work-relax combination also alleviated some of my tendency to feel guilt.
My sons were well into their teens by then, and I was fortunate in making arrangements with someone to watch over them.
The benefits of a “sanity break” lasted for several months – the result of the change in venue and the sense of being a “whole self,” not just a struggling single mom.
Suggestions for Giving Yourself Guilt-Free Relaxation
My suggestions if you find yourself in a similar spot?
•Sometimes, acquaintances rather than friends may be more understanding than those who feel free to “judge us.” If you don’t have friends or family to help – especially if it’s now been several years since your divorce – consider asking a kindly acquaintance.
•You may have neighbors who are happy to check on your teenagers so you can take a weekend away.
•You may know another single parent with whom you can trade off some sleepover time – “you take my kids for the weekend and I’ll take your kids the next.” (For those of us who have no “weekends off” in our parenting arrangements, this can be a lifesaver, even if it’s just a few times a year.)
•Consider a Do-It-Yourself Spa Day! Make arrangements for your kids to spend the day with their friends. Fill the tub, grab your favorite magazines, sip café au lait or a glass of wine – and promise yourself a healthy dinner after!
•Window shopping therapy can be just as fun as shopping-with-money! (Really. Try it.) For me it means a few hours trying on shoes. For you, it may be the perfume counter, the local flea market, the art supplies store. Leave your credit cards at home, but treat yourself to a great cup of coffee.
The point in all this?
There’s a fine line between responsibility and depriving yourself of what makes you “you.” Especially when the stresses are unrelenting, even the occasional “sanity” time can make a world of difference.
As for that guilt? I’m doing better on that score. How about you?