Being a single mom is so much more than the cliché about the workload and loneliness. Despite the jokes and complaints, it’s not easy playing both parenting roles. I liken it to being on the frontier… courageously moving your family forward through hardship and exhaustion. Though this time, it’s the frontier of your life where the opportunity to forge ahead creating new relationships with your kids and a life you can call your own is immense. Here are 3 things to do when you’re struggling with being a single mom.
When you shut your front door and turn to parenting your children, no one else can truly understand what you’re dealing with. I would never profess to truly grasp the dynamics in your home. But there are a few things I continually hear from moms on how they handle the unfairness of certain situations and what to do about them.
The hardest piece seems to come into play when a single mom can’t communicate with her children’s other parent is. As a result, both parents are set up for disappointment and frustration. The #1 complaint of single moms, is when dads don’t show up when they say they’re going to. (News Flash: I get this works both ways!) When children don’t get to see their other parent, moms are stuck cleaning up the mess. And that’s hard, especially when anticipating a day or an evening off from frontier work.
Sometimes, single moms will state the obvious, justifying spending more time with their children as a way to smooth over unpleasant feelings. But having a break is a required parenting skill. And way too often divorced parents depend upon the other parent to help pick up the slack and give a necessary night off.
When a divorced dad doesn’t show up, it sets women up to feel the #2 complaint – the sense of “having to do it all” and moms with kids are tired of “doing it all”.
(I have also found given some time, usually, that divorced dad does come around and wants to help but sometimes it’s too late. The feeling that she has to do it all has become the foundation of how she parents.) When that happens, she’ll start trying to micro-manage how dad spends time with the kids.
Usually, this simply devolves into a horrible fight and the kids are left with two angry parents who don’t live in the same house but regardless, irritate one another. It’s no wonder kids don’t want to spend time with either parent.
It also sets moms up to wonder who he’s spending time with and down she goes into the rabbit hole of the #3 concern, “why am I not dating?” The fact that most kids still spend the majority of time living with their moms doesn’t help this feeling. It truly doesn’t seem fair that the work falls on moms’ shoulders.
Getting off the idea of taking all the responsibility, all the worrying, all the constant parenting is best for everyone involved.
Moms who figure out how to ask for help, allow help to be given and accept it have a big advantage over those who don’t. They take a break when they need it. They surround themselves with support and they mind what they’re talking and thinking about.
This looks like working with the other parent so that time away from the kids is secured and if dad isn’t available, asking another adult (or older child) to help out. Whenever the resistance to cooperating and/or seeking additional help gets in the way of a much-needed rest, neither parent wins and children always lose. Frontier work is hard and everyone always had to pitch in!
Surrounding oneself with supportive friends and family is essential. Too often there’s this misery loves company aspect to our conversations and we don’t realize just how bad it is for our mind and emotions until it’s too late. It’s not that the circumstances aren’t tough, they are! It’s that none of us gets out of our own way without shifting some things. Shifting how we talk about our exes is one of the biggest and most important shifts required for successfully co-parenting and forging ahead with a new life.
Find people who understand and are willing to help. Even trade nights with another mom so that your kids are safe and secure. I’ve heard of divorced moms co-renting homes together (which sounds amazing!) and families bringing in college students to live with them to help out. (News Flash: this is what I did!) Getting a night off doesn’t have to be something fancy, it just needs to work so you get a night off from the struggling.
We also have to talk about minding your mind… this begins with eliminating the commiserating conversations and continues with the awful idea that as a single mom, you have to do it all. You don’t. You never had to. If divorced dads are welcomed to the table, they usually show up. If they don’t and I know that happens way too often, send them to me! I find that most men want to become involved, they just may need some help learning how to care for themselves and/or caring for kids on their own. Solo parenting is not easy for anyone and there are new skills for everyone to learn!
Taking a break from solo-parenting is also part of your new skill as a single mom. You’ll want to take a break ‘cuz burn-out is real! Sure, you may want to date (you may also NOT want to date). Either option is yours to decide. Dating can be a great distraction but it can also complicate things. And bringing a new lover into your family as it’s getting used to the new living arrangements is complex. That rabbit hole of “why am I not dating?” can become demoralizing and upsetting, never mind confusing. Which is precisely why taking time out for healing and understanding what you want away from your parenting role is hugely important.
When dad starts dating, you’ll want to be super clear on why you are or are not. No man can heal your broken parts without you doing the lion’s share of the process.
Trusting your children’s dad will come through is a big step in healing your relationships with men. Expecting him to, and speaking straight when he doesn’t, teaches everyone how to set and maintain healthy boundaries. Asking for help when that other parent doesn’t or can’t show up, is remembering you don’t have to do this all alone, and taking time out to heal and to rest is paramount for creating the kind of future you want to have.
I wish I had known all this while I was going through my divorce. These days, I do ask for help, I surround myself with support and I expect my children’s father to take them when he says he’s going to. I hold him accountable for being my kids’ dad. By doing so, I give him the chance to show up too. My children get two involved parents and I get a built-in babysitter that I don’t have to manage. The rest is real and the healing helpful because making this new life work isn’t easy.
If you’re having trouble putting healthy boundaries around your struggles, reach out. doingDivorce School might just be for you. Open enrollment begins shortly!
Laura Bonarrigo is a Certified Life Coach and a Certified Divorce Coach at laurabonarrigo.com. Laura’s a writer, public speaker and the founder of doingDivorce School an online coaching program for those ready to shed the pain of divorce. For empowering and practical ways to lose the identity of your past, visit www.doingDivorceSchool.com and laurabonarrigo.com.