Being a single mom isn’t easy. There are days when handling all the chores, balancing so many different roles, and managing the responsibilities can take out the strongest. Then there’s school and all that school brings with it including, other moms. Married moms. Staring down the married moms in the PTA, sports games & carpool line makes Bad Moms (the movie) look tame to those in real life. As school approaches and you’re at it again, let me remind you, you got this sister!
No matter what the environment, being a single mom brings up a lot of self-consciousness.
But the schoolyard dance is especially uncomfortable. You’re acutely aware of sticking out like a sore thumb. You wonder if everyone else is noticing how you stand on one side of the schoolyard while your kids’ other parent is on the other. Paying attention to his friends, you’re acutely aware of those who no longer say hello to you at school meetings. You study how teachers interact with him versus how they interact with you. When other single moms cozy up to him, you make a mental note to stay away. The comparison is never-ending. The alarm bells, loud.
The hardest part about being a single mom is being on constant alert.
So the schoolyard dance is not fun. On top of all that, you’re also comparing yourself to those married women. You muse whether they’re truly happy at home. You look for signs of discontentment when you see both parents together – a cold shoulder, a peck goodbye, a shrug and some dismissive sign of fighting. It’s almost as if you hope they’re not happy because inside it feels so awkward to be among other married couples.
The hardest part about being a single mom around married moms is that you don’t recognize yourself.
It’s not the married mom’s fault you’re divorcing (unless, perhaps, they slept with your husband). It’s not their fault they like the guy and maybe, never got along with you. Married moms are in their own worlds dealing with their own stuff just the way you are. They may even feel a twinge of jealousy as they imagine you’re out there dating and meeting great men!
But the thoughts and feelings coursing through you are what makes the entire thing so weird. On the one hand, you’re desperate for those friendships and being part of the PTA crowd just so you feel as if you belong somewhere and that someone will talk with you again. On the other, you simply can’t care about what they think. You can’t care about what anyone thinks anymore. So you pull in and hide afraid that if they saw the depth of your pain, they’d reject you anyway.
On occasion, there’s a married mom who gets it. Perhaps she’s been in your shoes and is now happily remarried. Perhaps she’s just wise and judicious and can handle the conflict between you and your ex but is emotionally mature enough to overlook the fight and to keep you balanced, happy, and involved at school. Those moms are worth hanging onto without using them to dump on! Those are the married moms you want to emulate. No matter what might be going on in their own homes.
How to make being a single mom work.
Heading back to the school meetings and gossip-filled schoolyard you’re going to need a few new rules to put in place.
Leave the gossip at home. Don’t bring it into the PTA meeting or parent-teacher meeting. Keep gossip out of the classroom. By doing so, you’re not putting fuel on an already smoking fire.
Being a single mom with your child’s other parent.
Include your child’s father in all conversations. I know this one is particularly hard for all sorts of reasons. But the longer you separate parent-teacher meetings or stand away from him in the parking lot, the longer the awkwardness is.
You don’t have to be his friend. I advise you not talk about your dating or the struggles at home. You simply need to stand close enough so that others don’t have to wonder and ask about how the fight is going. When you don’t give them any ammunition, you appear gracious and kind. Even if inside you’re angrier than a bee stuck in a bonnet!
I’m not always gracious and kind. I aspire to be but sometimes it’s really tough. However, I do my best to generate some semblance of courteousness so that I can hold my head high around my peers. So, I would wave but not necessarily sit next to my kids’ dad at the football games. I made sure that I volunteered in the snack shed on the days he didn’t so we wouldn’t have to work together but I always served him his food with a thank you. And, we attended parent-teacher meetings so that when we had to complain about a Dean, we were a united front.
You see, I’ve been a single mom in the schoolyard for a long time! I know this isn’t easy but if I can spare you some mistakes, you’ll thank me. So let’s continue sister – you’ve got this!
How to make being a single mom work even when it’s really difficult.
That need to whine, complain, and panic has to be kept between you and your therapist or coach. Not dumped on other single moms or onto the married moms. If you do, you’ll most likely outgrow and/or lose those women as your friends.
I live in a big city so there are a lot of women around me. But, honestly, I lost every single friendship I had with other women at my kids’ school because of dumping on them. I’m not being dramatic. Being super involved (super mom) in my kids’ school had me involved with all the parents. But today, none of them are my friends. None of them call. I never socialize with any of them anymore including the ones who were at my home every week. And it’s because I could not control myself around them during my divorce.
I share this with you because chances are you’re in a small community. You’re among the same people you’ve known for years. And the school years add up to 12 or 14 years by the time you’re all done. You’re going to want to remain friends with these women! You’re going to need them in your life. So, practice some discipline around them…
Staring down the married moms who’ve known you a long time.
When you leave home to go to the school events, plan what you’re going to talk about.
When you volunteer, think about who’s going to be there and remember a few details about their lives that you can focus on. Let them be the ones who are doing the talking!
Compartmentalize your fear before leaving the house and remind yourself no one at school can really help you while they’re parenting their own kids. Instead, watch your kids, notice other children or read a book at the playground. Enjoy those precious moments. It’ll give you a chance to think about something other than all the stuff you’ve got going on.
When another mom (married or single) asks how you’re doing (cuz they will if you’re not volunteering information) simply use these phrases: “today isn’t a good day” if that’s the case or “today’s a good day” and do your best to leave it at that.
If you do find you’ve over-shared, pick up the phone or send a text and apologize for leaking. Thank them for listening and offer not to do so again in the future.
Remember, you’ll not do any of this perfectly. There will be days you’ll mess up royally and vent, cry, show signs of weariness, and panic. You’ll do all that even when you’re feeling secure and strong. But, if you apologize, you offer some grace and those married moms especially will witness the courage and fortitude you’re creating in the midst of a really tough time.
Staring down the married moms who can see through all your B.S.
One last thought: going through a divorce is tough. You can’t lie about that either. Those married moms are interested, they are watching you. They’re wondering how you’re doing if your finances are in order if the kids are healthy if you’re thin and dating… they are watching, comparing, assessing you as you work your way through a divorce they may (or may not) be considering. You are their teacher!
So, you can’t pretend that it’s not hard. You simply can’t leak and leak, leak. Their lives are not your lives and you can’t get upset that their lives seem less chaotic at the moment. You truly have no idea of what’s really going on.
You must be gracious. Kind. Interested in them as if you’ve got this. Those statements: “today isn’t a good day” “today is a good day” are as truthful as you want to get. When you use them, you show an emotional maturity those married moms might not have. They permit emotionally safe boundaries. They help you remain the parent at the moment, a peer among married moms instead of a lady who’s losing it out of fear and panic. Those statements help you remain poised. They are the line between over-sharing and remaining in control.
You need these skills right now! Your life is not a reality TV show. Your life is worth being respected. You’re worth admiring no matter what went down to end your marriage. Staring down the married moms in the PTA or at the sports games is much easier with a few guidelines and memorized answers to the questions you get at school. When you follow these simple (not easy) directives, you’ll feel confident you got this sister!
Laura Bonarrigo is a Certified Life Coach and a Certified Divorce Coach. 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, join Laura’s Daily Inspiration: https://www.laurabonarrigo.com/inspiration.