When my kids were just two weeks, two years and four years old, my husband and I separated. As a child of divorce, I'd always sworn that I'd never put my kids through that. Yet, as it turned out, that fairytale hope I had for myself would not survive a marriage where my husband had girlfriends on the side — on top of the fact that I pretty much ended up being the primary breadwinner (I earned a Broker’s degree to support my family) and only caregiver to my entire family while I was with my ex. Meaning … even when I was married, I was living the life of a single mother. Fast forward to eight years later: I am still a single mom of three and doing a pretty OK job. My kids are happy, healthy, doing well in school and are self-confident because they know that they are loved.
After our separation, I flew through the first couple of years on a pure adrenaline-powered blur. Things like finding a place to live and paying for it all by myself, taking care of the day-to-day parenting of three small children, and trying to find a job when I'd been out of the workforce since just after the Real Estate market crashed in 2007 … all seemed to somehow make the time fly by! On top of that, let’s pile on 70 extra pounds! I felt like a flake and a big blob! Definitely NOT a strong, capable mother who was going to teach her children to succeed, despite the obstacles ahead. Anyways, with all that being said, somehow I was able to get myself together, build a career in fitness, and raise three pretty well-adjusted kiddos and I hope that it allows you to trust me to offer some helpful advice to other single moms out there.
Single Moms Need a Tribe
When I was married, we were just like all the other families: our own tiny, self-sufficient universe. Even though most of the effort was coming from my side (I was being a team player by helping out, because I was “in love”). So, in my mind, I tried to convince myself that we were “a team.” Stop laughing! Then one day, suddenly, my so-called “teammate” and co-parent was gone from my life.
It really hit me one day when I had one kid at home sick and I had to pick the other two up from school. As if that wasn’t enough already, I had an important business meeting I was supposed to attend to get investors for my first fitness DVD. I had no help at all. Even though my ex was good for nothing when we were together, at this very moment if he could have been a taxi driver, it would have been worth a million to me. I had to start calling all of my friends and family members until someone could help me out. Slowly, my sense that I had a contagious disease lifted and I found myself expanding my definition of what makes a family. “It's crucial to explain to children that family is defined by people who love us and whom we feel really close to," says M. Gary Neuman, parent’s advisor and author of Helping Your Child Cope with Divorce the Sandcastles Way. And for me, that was a huge learning experience about the true definition of “family.” Being born into a specific bloodline may make you family by blood — but the ones who are there for you through thick and thin, who will drop everything at the drop of a hat to help you because they love you … THAT is true family. And, as a single mom, it was my adopted family that helped me survive.
Don’t Be Afraid or Too Prideful to Ask for Help
This carries over from a mom’s need for a tribe because the two go hand in hand. Single moms, married moms, working moms, and homemakers — they are all mothers, regardless of their marital or employment status, and nobody understands how a mother needs a tribe to raise children better than another mother. Whether it’s help with pickups or drop offs or someone to watch the kiddos while you run an errand, help is help! And we, as single parents, need help … period! Listen, raising kids in a two-parent household is difficult enough, let alone if you are single … especially if you have more than one kid. We want the best for our kids, to provide them with love and stability, and as a single parent, the best way to do this is to make sure you have your own trusted “tribe.” Like I said, family doesn’t always mean blood; sometimes family is those friends that are there for you through thick and thin. I have been through some very difficult situations and if I hadn’t gotten over my pride and allowed my best friends to step up, I don’t know where my kids and I would be to this day. Pride should never take precedence over your babies’ well-being, so never be afraid to ask for and, most importantly, receive help.
The Ex Files
When my divorce was new, talking with my ex was painful. We were angry at each other and, let's face it, looking for ways to hurt each other. But no matter how right I felt I was, deep down in my heart I knew: being in constant fight mode was horrible for my kids and it was making me even more miserable. In my heart, I knew that I had an obligation to my kids to be at least cordial with my ex. Let me tell you this is much easier said than done. I actually tried to be my ex-husband’s friend hoping we could be teammates in co-parenting — SO not an easy feat! No matter how reasonable and cordial I tried to be, he was not willing to meet me half way. That, plus the fact that he was making some whopper mistakes with the kids (I won’t go into detail … or maybe one day I will … in a book), it was virtually impossible to have a healthy co-parenting relationship with my ex. But, with God’s help, I can now say we are at a very healthy point in our co-parenting relationship. It took work, a lot of patience, and a lot more work … but it happened.
Through personal experience I will say that we, as single parents, must take the high road and not bad-mouth the ex in front of the kids. Whatever their flaws, your kids love their dad with all their heart and as a loving parent you should try to foster that relationship for your child’s well-being. Just because your ex doesn't show up for visits, blows off child support payments, or makes your life miserable does NOT give you a pass to bad mouth your ex to the children. As the all-knowing Dr.Phil so often says: “ Kids should never have to deal with adult problems.” Why? Because there is one very important factor to keep in mind … they are CHILDREN! And our little ones’ future well-being depends on their relationship with BOTH of their parents. Learning this for myself, no matter how much I wanted to punch my ex in the face for not paying child support for a very long time and for not being present for the kids on a consistent basis for many years after our divorce, I still somehow managed to get my ex to be more of a team player and a much better parent today. But that took a lot of me listening to my kids, talking to their dad, and fighting for them through legal resources when it came to that point. It was mentally and emotionally exhausting, but I always remembered this was not about me; it was all about my little ones. When speaking to my children, I took the time to think about what I said and did regarding their father. I remained patient while still fighting for what my kids needed and when I needed to scream and call him every name in the book, I just called my best friend. Confucius says, “good friends will keep you sane.” Ok, maybe Confucius didn’t say that but if he met my ex, I guarantee he would agree with me!
I learned that having a cordial relationship with my ex, who was a dunce, does not mean letting stupidity slide. It just means you must be the one to think of the bigger picture and be more tactical in your approach because you still have to think of your child’s well-being and future. Moral of the story? It will take a lot more strength and strategy on your part to do what you need to do for your babies without affecting their mental, emotional, and physical well-being. You are the adult, you are the parent, and with that comes the job of sucking it up for the sake of the kids. Your kids’ well-being is and should ALWAYS be your primary goal!
As if this advice isn't tough enough to follow, you've also got to keep yourself from making negative comments to your friends, mother, or next door neighbor if there's even a chance that you'll be overheard by your kid. A sleeping child has a way of appearing out of thin air — just when you're cursing out his dad. Remind yourself that each time you keep quiet, you're causing your child a little less pain. Just suck it up and only open up to the people that you know will support and love you, while also recognizing the importance of the children’s well-being as opposed to satisfying your anger and hurt feelings. So when you need to scream to your friend about what an idiot the ex is, wait until the kids are at school or with the sitter so you can go over to your friend’s house to vent.
Let me also point out that even though most of the time it is the mother that is left to deal with all of this, there are also times when it is the opposite and the father is left to be the single parent dealing with an insane ex/mom. To you single dad’s out there, I raise a glass to you and all the advice I am giving applies to you too!
Cut Yourself Some Slack — but Don’t Drop the Reigns
Life as a single parent is very different than when you have a partner since even the most useless partner offers some type of help whether it be with housework, drop offs and pickups, playing with the kids so you can get housework done, or even if they just help financially. Help is help! But when you are a single parent, it all rests on your shoulders.
Being a single parent really is a balancing act and you will have to be stronger and more disciplined in some areas to provide structure for your kids in order to teach them well and keep your sanity. However, you will also have to learn how to let some things slide … so you keep your sanity. See how that works? I didn't have the time or energy to stress over some of the finer points of household management like I did when there was another adult helping out — but at the same time, my kids needed structure and the sense of security it provides, now more than ever. So, I began to really focus on figuring out what mattered and what didn't. Forget organized closets, spotless bathrooms, and ironing. Forget being able to fold clothes right after you wash them, let alone put them away. To this day, I have a nice corner in my room that I put my folded clothes after they sat in the dryer for a few days, and will eventually put them away sometime during the week when I have a moment when the kids are at school or with their dad. Many times my clothes pile could have put the Great Wall of China to shame. Like I said, some things will have to slide because if you try to do it all and make everything perfect by having a spotless home, dishes always washed, clothes always folded and put away, fresh baked cookies provided for the PTA … you will lose your mind! But, more importantly, you will lose time with your kids. I would rather sit down with my kids for a good movie than make the house spotless, wouldn’t you? Your love and your time matters more to them than having no dishes in the sink.
Instead, try to say yes to serving nutritious family dinners, scheduling regular bedtimes, being prompt for pickups and drop-offs, and getting them involved in an extracurricular activity that they love. For a while, it was overwhelming, but eventually I learned to manage controlled chaos … and you will, too.
Put Your Middle Finger Up to the Broken Home Syndrome
No matter what the latest study said about the damaging effects of a broken home, I was determined to make me and my babies much more than a statistic — and that our home wasn't broken. "Children grow up fine as long as parents love them and raise them thoughtfully," says Dr. Bartell. "You need to be optimistic."
After being a single mom for over eight years, I discovered things about myself I'd never had the opportunity to find out when I was married. I was independent and accomplished, and I was able to run a household, bring home a paycheck, and take excellent care of my kids. My children learned just how much we all had to depend on each other — and on others — to function as a family. As a result, they became more responsible and empathetic. To make you feel better about this whole broken home BS, I want to share a little story.
Last summer, my best friend took me and the kids camping. One evening, we were all sitting in the camper, playing board games and talking. Please keep in mind that my kids were 12, 10, and 8 at the time. Somehow the conversation led to the possibility of mommy (that’s me by the way) dating. Anyways, the board game (LIFE) somehow led to the topic of conversation of the possibility — and please let me emphasize that when I spoke to the kids that it was ONLY a possibility — that mommy might meet a nice person that would love us all and might become part of our family. Well let me tell you, I got an earful from all three of my kids protesting that scenario. Telling me they were perfectly happy EXACTLY the way things were, being just me and them, and that they did not want me to ever re-marry, let alone be in a relationship.
Now, in order to make this clear for you: this was not about them hoping that their dad and I would get back together, because at the time we had been divorced for seven years and their father was already remarried. In fact, every Friday I would have to go into some type of coercion to get the kids to go see their father for the weekend because they did no want to go; they wanted to be home with mama. Nope! They all firmly stated that they liked things exactly the way they were. I did everything that I could as a single mom. When I needed help, my best friends Amber and Paco stepped in to help me. I really believe our little broken family was a gift from God that provided my kids more love, stability, and security than they ever would have had if I would have stayed married to their father. Being a single parent is difficult on so many levels, but if you tell your kids you love them every day, if you provide daily stability and structure, and take time to play a game or watch a movie with them at least once a week … trust me, they notice.
The dishes are done, the kids are asleep, and the toys are put away. Wouldn't it be nice to curl up in bed with a good man? To you single dads: woman.
As fulfilling as being a mom is, we all need a grown-up playdate once in a while. But finding a nice guy can sometimes feel like climbing Mount Everest, and you need more than a compass to find your way through the duds, A-holes, and dorks of the dating world. Eight years later, I am still single, but I will be 100% honest: I have never gone out looking for a man. I don’t go out to meet people and have not joined any of those online dating sites.
Yes, I tried it once, for about a day. But it was waaaay too much work and I literally felt like I was meeting every ass I would have met at a bar or nightclub, all within 24 hours, right from the comfort of my own phone. Um, no thank you! Look, I am here to give you advice about being a single mom, I’m not Dr. Love and quite frankly, I suck at it. So, if you figure out how to meet a nice guy without putting your children’s needs second, send me a message. As much as l love to share advice through my experience, I am good at admitting what I suck at, and I am also good at taking advice. With all this being said, I hope I was able to provide you with some type of guidance. If anything, to make you feel a little more peace for going it alone.
Listen, as a single parent you will be stressed, scared, and will struggle like hell. But, if you do your best to surround yourself with amazing friends and family, give your kids daily structure, and don’t put adult problems on them, then trust me when I say that everything will turn out alright. And most importantly, give them a hug and an “I love you” every single day. You will raise kids that know their mama is there for them … and that is all they really need.
You CAN do this. And if you ever feel lost, message me … I am here for you xoxo