When I divorced and moved halfway across the world with my son, I thought I’d be able to raise him completely by myself. After all, my ex had barely been involved in our family life. I planned my financial future as much as anyone can, I had a place I could afford, and family lived nearby.
I figured I’d have no problem finding a job. My son was a compliant kid. I could easily handle 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, the rawness of living a completely different life that added to the challenge of raising little humans.
Along the way, I learned eight things no one told me about raising children alone.
- Your life is not your own
My son, who is now 14, sees his dad three times a year for extended periods, but I am it the rest of the time. Homework, school projects, robotics club 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.
- 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. Use restraint. Don’t call attention to your marital status, or financial problems, or your horrible custody battle. In other words, learn from me.
- Finding an accommodating job in tough
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 get them. Then I became that parent. Finding mom-friendly workplaces is one of the biggest challenges you will face. I can now work from home when needed, but I had to prove myself.
- 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 support system in place for those times when you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. Which leads me to my next point.
- 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 and 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.
- Dating will never be the same
You have more than just yourself to think about. A man you met might not want kids, or your children and his might not get along. kids, he has kids. Before you jump into the singles scene or join that online dating site, 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 great caution. Be patient.
- You have to be twice as strong as you were before
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, all the sticky guilt traps your kids will lay before you. This is especially true when your ex gives in to their wants. Resist when it’s not right. You may be a horrible doody-head, but you are an awesome mom. Trust me, they’ll figure that out.
- You will second guess your divorce, yourself 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 just not possible. When you second-guess your decision or your ability to carry on, just carry on. Your kids need you to be strong.
Sure, it’s 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.