It’s been over a year since I became a full-blown single parent. The hows and whys of the divorce don’t really matter. As I’ve said before, no one gets married to one day get a divorce. It’s hard on everyone and believe me, while people will judge, it should be known that marriages don’t fall apart without first extensive trying and hoping and praying and self-convincing. But eventually, people have to choose happiness.
The hardest part for me relates to my boys, ages six and nine. It was heartbreaking to lose the family unit. Until you’ve been through this, you have no way of knowing how it will all feel, but the loss of the marriage and the loss of the family unit are two entirely separate experiences. I’d already grieved the loss of my marriage, even when I was still in it. But at that time, I still had the family unit, so even though the marriage was struggling, I still loved having the family together.
A weird and unintentional confusion happens when couples stay together for the children. Because there is a disconnect between the adults in the house, all of the energy, focus and attention goes toward the children which then makes the family unit even harder to pull away from. What ends up happening is the children get a shell of who you really are and they also get a non-existent model of what a fun-loving marriage looks like, but they also become accustomed to both parents being solely child-centered. Then once the divorce happens, you go from being with your kids 100% of the time with maximum effort to spending multiple days without seeing them at all. It’s all very jarring to the psyche.
Nevertheless, as humans do in every situation, we adapt and figure it out. We learn to find a new normal. As I think about the past year, I’ve learned a number of things regarding how to be an efficient and positive single mom.
7 Helpful Tips for Single Parents
1). Be a good planner: There’s a quote that says, “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” This is my constant mantra. And I’m not just talking about planning out the week, I’m talking about long-term planning as well. When there’s only one parent in the home, there’s no tag teaming. The one parent has to do everything, so planing is imperative. I try to plan weeks and months in advance so I can figure out my work schedule, custody, childcare, doctors and dentist appointments, etc. On a weekly basis, I’ve found if I plan the week’s meals and coordinate my workouts with the boys sports’ practices, everything goes more smoothly. When I don’t plan accordingly, we end up at the grocery store every day at 6:00 p.m. and this does not make for a happy, productive evening. Also if I don’t plan when I’m going to work out, it doesn’t happen and then I’m grumpy and feel guilty for not exercising. If you plan well, you can spend quality time with your children instead of constantly scrambling around playing catch up.
2). Communicate clearly with the other parent: This one may be challenging if you and your ex don’t get along or if there’s a lot of bitterness, but even if that’s the case, you have to rise above that and do what’s best for the children. The boys’ dad and I are amicable and good at communicating for the most part. There have been a couple mishaps, but that’s going to happen until everyone gets in a solid groove. If we need a change in a weekend or in the custody schedule, we try to tell each other months in advance. If I learn of a school or sporting event when I have the boys, I let him know, and vice versa. We communicate in a number of ways including talking on the phone, text and email. If it’s impossible for you to talk to the other parent without getting frustrated or annoyed, use another method such as text or email. I’ve found the following tips make communicating easier.
- Create a clear routine custody schedule
- If there’s a change request, alert the other parent in plenty of time
- Take a deep breath if something doesn’t go your way
- Do what’s best for the children
- Don’t ever make the kids choose or make a final decision; be the adult
3). Accept that doing it solo is exhausting: The sooner you accept this fact, the better. Single parenting offers zero relaxation, especially if you work full-time out of the home. For 12 hours every day, it’s balls to the wall. Wake up, cook breakfast, get ready for school, drop boys off at school, work all day, pick up children from school, take them to sports practice, drive home from practice or after school, cook dinner, clean up from dinner, do homework, sign agenda books, make lunches, fold laundry, get ready for bed, put children to bed. Then repeat everything the next day. The funny thing is, I actually enjoy it. It’s mind over matter. I don’t have any delusions that a gnome or fairy is going to appear and help me with some of these tasks so I can sit on the couch and paint my toenails. I love being a mom and I know what my day looks like going into it, so I just tackle it head-on. End of story.
4). Find time to be with yourself: This one is paramount. It’s important to find time to be with yourself on the days you have the kids and on the days you don’t. When I have the boys with me, I get up significantly earlier than them. I’m a morning person so this time works well for me. I enjoy my coffee and either read, journal or blog. It’s my sacred quiet time. When the boys aren’t with me, I try to get alone time working out or cleaning or something along those lines. The quiet alone time when the boys aren’t with me can be hard because I start missing them or wondering what they’re doing. Either way, it’s important we continue to love and befriend ourselves. There is a lot of guilt, grief and regret after the breakdown of a marriage which makes it even more important that you be gentle with yourself and feed your needs.
5). Engage fully: I actually feel like I’m a better, more engaged parent now that I’m divorced. With there being no other adult to pass them off to, I am fully focused on truly being with them. I’ve talked with other single parents who feel this as well. When it’s the just one parent and the kids, a unique bond forms and all parties get to know the others on a much deeper, more intimate level. There’s no longer the adults up here and the kids down there. It all blends together and I’ve really enjoyed this. While I miss having help and having another adult to talk to, I love focusing so intently on my littles.
6). Have fun when you’re not with the kids: The boys’ dad and I don’t have 50/50 custody, but it’s close. More like 60/40-ish where I have them a bit more than he does. Modern research says this is the best set-up if both parents live in the same town. I still see them every day because I’m involved in afternoon pick-up, sports drop-off; however, it’s still grueling going 5 days at a time without their little heads in their beds at my house. To combat this sadness, I do things I can’t do when I have them. I spend a lot of time with my boyfriend Matthew who is also a single parent. He has the 60/40 custody arrangement as well and he is a very engaged father. Together we have five kids. On the weeks, the kids are with the other parent, we go on long bike rides, try out new recipes, travel, clean our houses, read, veg out and watch Netflix, work late if we need to, etc. I know everyone isn’t fortunate enough to have a signifiant other after divorce, but don’t settle just to have a person to hang out with it. The right person will come along. Believe me, it’s worth waiting for. Having fun on your off-days not only diverts your mind from not having the kids but it also fuels your own hobbies and goals which ultimately makes you a better parent.
7). Ask for help if you’re overwhelmed: Some single parents have little to no help from the other parent and if that’s the case, be sure to find a support system. Whether it’s friends, colleagues, church members or neighbors, you can’t do it on your own without eventually burning out. Since my mom’s passing, I don’t have someone who can consistently help me. Our awesome baby-sitter started college this year and my dad has watched the boys here and there, but he still works part-time. I sure do miss having my mom around. I feel blessed that the boys’ dad wants to be in their lives so much, and I work hard to get all my own stuff accomplished when they are with him. That way, they are my priority the rest of the time. Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help but people are more willing than you think, so if you feel like you’re about to lose it, reach out to someone. You’ll be so glad you did.
I’m the furtherest thing from a single parenting expert, but I am an optimist and a good problem solver, so just like any situation in my life, I’ve figured out how to navigate this new season so that everyone I love, including myself, can feel safe and happy. There are a lot of various personalities to navigate, both on the adult and kid front. Each day is truly its own adventure, but I’ve become an expert at gratitude. I am so extremely grateful for my faith, my work and the precious people in my life. If you’re a single parent or will be a single parent soon, you’re not alone. As Glennon Doyle says, “We can do hard things.”