Sometimes it doesn’t matter who wanted out. Adjusting to being a single dad when you are miserable (and missing your ex) is tough. There’s this enormous amount of pressure from kids and frankly, from yourself, to do things the way their mom did. However, way too often, no matter how much you try, your kids still find a way to criticize the efforts you’re making. Which is why adjusting to being a single dad can be particularly lonely and isolating. Nothing seems to go right and it’s tough to reach out for help and to get the right kind of support needed to smooth out this period of time.
Kids have a way of scrutinizing the best of parents.
It’s not that they don’t want you to succeed, they simply see the struggle, the differences, and zero in on your lack of confidence. They, like, you, aren’t comfortable with all the changes in the family and lifestyle. They can’t grasp heartache to the extent you can. They’re also not well-equipped with a sense of compassion or an understanding of the amount of effort you’re making to get their lives running smoothly in the right direction.
The task in front of you is real. How to adjust to being a single dad and manage the emotions coursing through you? That ex, no matter what happened, also was a familiar presence in your home. She didn’t leave just to make your life miserable (even when she did). In the big picture of things, she left so that you could figure out how to step into your independence. The gifts? A chance to grow. An opening for a re-do halfway through your life. An opportunity to build a new relationship with your kids dependent upon what you and they want. No mothers allowed!
In the midst of the changes are the feelings.
It’s frustrating to be angry and miserable at the same time. It can be confusing to be missing someone who wanted to leave or who made your life difficult. And it’s confounding to still be physically attracted to someone who just blew up your home.
Many men even argue they don’t miss her and don’t want her back. But yet, they begin searching for a new lover long before they’re emotionally healed or ready to give wholeheartedly to a healthy partner. So I argue, covering up that hurt, shame, and loneliness with a new girl on your arm only makes matters worse, not better. The confusion of conflicting emotions just doesn’t make adjusting to being a single dad any easier.
A bad marriage rips apart parents’ roles. Moms trash dads and dads become super insecure and defensive. I see this over and over again. As a mom, I wasn’t able to support my own children’s father either as he forged ahead to create a new lifestyle with my kids. A life without me. No matter what he thought or felt about me, adjusting to being a single dad was difficult and confusing to him and to my kids. I know, because my kids told me.
However miserable adjusting to being a single dad when you are missing your ex is, it gives you a real chance to change the course of your future.
It sets you up to get in touch with feelings you’ve probably shoved down with food, alcohol, cigarettes, and sex (sometimes for years). It allows you to home in on the parts of you that are undeveloped and needing some maturing up.
This looks like showing up for your kids as the kind of adult you want them to become. Teaching them how to develop resilience in the face of fear or disappointments. Being there for them when they need a compassionate, warm, and strong presence even when you don’t feel up to it. Reminding them that you’ve got this and together, that you’ll figure things out whether you believe you will or not.
Sure, this appears immense in the face of loss. It’s difficult when you’re missing her and they’re crying for their mom as you’re trying to put them to bed on the nights you have them. It’s awful when you go to pick them up on your weekend but the kids don’t want to come with you or they hang up on you when you call to check in.
I remember being that child.
I recall how my poor dad just seemed to shrink in the face of my tears and how he lost the words to comfort me. This is a normal experience for divorced parents and it’s tough to bear witness to your child’s pain. However, it also provides you a chance to create a different relationship with your kids. To help them bond with you by being there for them in the role of being their parent no matter how you feel inside.
In fact, these feelings inside now have a chance to be expressed. Modeling how you express them allows your child a healthy example of vulnerability. By acknowledging the pain, by expressing your own confusion but delivering the words with age-appropriate statements, you as the single dad, are showing your kids how to handle life’s difficulties.
Separation and divorce bring immense changes into everyone’s life.
It’s not easy to ride out the tough moments without losing it a bit. And lose it a bit you probably should though in a safe space and at the right time. (Instead of hiding behind the pack of cigarettes or another beer.) Some people write others compose, still, others learn to channel their feelings into exercise or something creative in the kitchen.
I find it exciting when the dads I coach teach their kids family traditions. Or when they bond over their mutual enjoyment of rides or activities and hobbies.
All of these emotional experiences are normal and natural. They make sense only in the context of this modern-day rite of passage. How else are you, a single dad, going to forge ahead and make your home life happy without her? How are you going to grieve so you can forgive? Let go so you can have what you’ve always wanted? Figure things out so you can earn back your self-esteem, your self-respect? Never mind let go enough to have an open heart?
If I could leave you with one piece of advice, it would be this: know that you and your children will manage and even thrive if you allow the roller coaster of emotions to go through you without shaming or blaming. As you begin adjusting to being a single dad when you are miserable and missing your ex, you begin your healing from the loss of your family. This is an important and vital step in the experience.
If you find yourself at a loss sometimes, you may want to consider getting my daily inspiration emails. I fill them with hope, inspiration, and perspective. I do my best to help those navigating this rite of passage with more grace and confidence.
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.