Now what?! I’m no longer married. No husband, a couple of kids, and I’m accumulating a lot of “What do I do nows?” We used to be a team: my husband, the kids, and me. The transition to handling everything solo is overwhelming – physically and emotionally. I don’t know how to start picking up the pieces and putting them in the right places. I don’t know if I have the strength or am thinking clearly.
Your Emotions Are Being Tested
Your emotions are the first thing you need to deal with as a newly divorced parent. You won’t think clearly without acknowledging and working through your emotional state; All else falls apart without it. First, the doubt and insecurity sets in. Will I be a good parent on my own? “How can I handle everything myself?” So much insecurity and fear rush in. Anger too. “I didn’t sign up to raise two kids on my own!” The anger and resentment may be one of the hardest emotions to get over.
Your first instinct may be to reach out to anyone and anything for emotional support, like a fish out of water, gasping for oxygen. Not having a partner in life means you don’t have an automatic hand to pull you up out of the muddy water, a shoulder to lean on, assistance with what you can’t at the moment handle on your own.
Not only are you assuming the role of both parents, if the kids live with you, you’re also taking on a bigger load. This takes a toll on your finances, even if you have money stashed away for the unexpected. Plus, the stress adds to an already emotionally draining situation. You feel devastated and scared.
Going from a double income household (if you both worked) to a single one with bills, groceries, medical expenses, mortgage or rent, utility bills, childcare costs, clothing for your children, emergencies may cause you to spend more than you feel comfortable with. You’re assuming those expenses by yourself, for the most part, minus any help in the form of child support or from relatives or friends. If you were a stay-at-home-mom, that may not be an option anymore. You may have to get back into the workforce.
What if the car breaks down? You are responsible for getting it taken care of. You don’t have anyone around who will absorb half of the burden or help you make arrangements. Reliable transportation is critical when you have kids. They need to be kept safe and you need to be able to transport them to school, appointments, activities…
Whether you rent or own a home, keeping up with repairs, knowing what needs fixing, and hiring trustworthy people to do it or finding the time to tackle those things yourself adds to the feeling of helplessness and stress.
Strategies for Coping
Give yourself some time to heal. Don’t expect to be able to handle everything right away and don’t expect to be able to do everything you were once able to do – at least temporarily.
If you’re depressed, seek counseling from a mental health therapist. If your depression is so acute that it is affecting your ability to function and care properly for your kids, your therapist can recommend a health practitioner that may be able to prescribe meds. Sometimes medication is the kick-start that you need to take the edge off the emotional spikes, find your inner strength, and think more positively. Know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s within your immediate reach.
Don't stay angry (at least not for long.) When you’re angry, you can’t see clearly. When you are blinded by anger, you may make bad choices that are not in your best interest or the kids’. And you may be scaring and upsetting the kids. Use a little anger in moderation – if at all – to your advantage by allowing it to motivate you. Channel it wisely and try to release it. Hold your anger when the kids are around.
Create a plan. Work out a budget and what you’re going to need to survive. Include costs for extra help from outside services or vendors. Decide if a new job is in order and how much income you require. Make a call to your parents and ask for their financial help, if available, to get you through the first few months. If you work and your company is understanding, reduce your hours temporarily or take a brief leave of absence. You need to concentrate on a solid plan.
Be honest – but not too honest – with the kids about the reason for the divorce. This should be done just before the separation process but further discussions are helpful to reassure them and to reinforce what you told them and to comfort them.
Make home life for the kids as natural, comfortable, and normal as possible. Try to keep them to their same routines, their same schedules. Don’t make large changes or moves – at least not all at once, if you can help it. That might not be possible if you have to relocate. But you can still make the move as relaxed for them as possible by keeping to some routines and schedules.
Don’t stress out the kids more than they may already be. Don’t unload your burden on them or turn them into a friend and confidant. Our children are not our best friends; they are young and impressionable and need a mother. Depending on age, they may not be able to easily process what is happening to their family so don’t burden them with your problems.
Our kids don’t need a super mom who has it all figured out. They need a mom who shows up every day, provides for their emotional and physical needs, and is doing her best.
Sometimes you have to ask for help
You can’t rely on yourself all of the time to work out your problems. You are going to have to ask for help at some point, and that’s okay. Lean on friends and family for emotional support. Keep company with the ones that have a positive attitude, optimistic outlook and who laugh the most.
Have a support circle. If that has changed since the divorce, look outside your circle, develop a new one, or broaden your circle to include others: a local support group, church group, community classes, a Meetup group for single moms, workshops, online social media single mom groups …