Divorce is hard. After all, change is hard and divorce is a whole lot of change.
There are times in our lives when change is generally welcomed: Going off to college. The start of a new relationship. Marriage. The birth of a baby. In those circumstances, the benefits of change seem to usually outweigh the negatives.
But breakups, separations, and divorces are not such a positive experience. Suddenly, the life you had planned out for yourself has come to a dead-end, and now you are faced with a world of uncertainties.
For anyone who has become a single or divorced mom, you probably know what I am talking about.
A million questions plaque you:
How will you pay the bills?
How can you do the work of two people when there is just one of you?
Will you ever find love again?
Are your kids going to be okay?
Are you ever going to be able to see your ex without wanting to cry or scream (or both)?
Will you be okay?
What is life going to look like for you in five years? One year? 6 months from now?
It is utterly and completely terrifying.
But what if you look at change as a good thing?
Yes, you can mourn your relationship, especially if you were not the one to choose to end it, but don’t just sit there in the depths of despair and loss. Pick your chin up and make the most of this new start.
How can you do this?
1. Make a List of Your Blessings
I don’t care how dire your situation is, you have something to be thankful for. In fact, you probably have many things. Write them down. No matter how big or small they may be.
We all have things that we take for granted. What are yours?
Once you have completed your list, put it somewhere that you will see it. When you feel yourself starting to despair, pick up the list and read those blessings again.
2. Build a Positive Co-Parenting Relationship with Your Child’s Father
This is for your child and for your peace of mind. No, it is not always possible, but the less drama in your life, the better. Taking the steps to have a positive co-parenting relationship is better for everyone.
How can you even begin to get there when you are possibly feeling angry, hurt, jealous, a sense of loss…no matter how you feel, it probably isn’t the way you felt whenever your marriage first began. You may feel like you will never be able to look at your ex-husband without feeling hate. But it is possible. And it is the best way to move on in a positive way.
While I could (and will) write a stand-alone post on how to build a successful co-parenting relationship in the future, here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Reframe: Instead of thinking of your ex-husband as YOUR ex, start thinking of him as YOUR CHILD’S Father. Your parenting teammate. This will help you put things in perspective.
- Try to focus on the good things he does as a father instead of the mistakes. And remember…we moms make mistakes too.
- Include him in your child’s life. Keep him informed of events and activities. Maybe you’re hoping he doesn’t show up to the play or soccer game so you don’t have to see him, but your child will probably be sad and hurt if he doesn’t.
- Be kind. Make light conversation. Don’t get personal (no questions about dating, finances, lifestyle, etc), but DO discuss your child together…his/her successes, struggles, the cute thing he/she did the other day.
- Send pictures of your child doing life to the other parent when the child is with you. That helps keep both parents engaged in all of their child’s life, not just part of it.
- If your child’s dad begins dating, make the effort to speak to the new flame if she shows up at pick-up/drop off or at a school event or performance. Be kind. She is someone who is in your child’s life, and the more people who love your child, the better! No matter how different you two may be, you can likely find something in common that you can talk about.
- Make sure to inform your friends and family that you plan to have a positive co-parenting relationship with your child’s father. Don’t let them put down your child’s dad in front of your child or around you. We’re being positive here, and negativity will only hold you and your child back.
- When your child’s father does something to make you angry (and he will…after all, you’re both only human), step away. Take some deep breaths. Write down what you want to say. Consider whether this is a battle worth fighting over. Re-read and re-write in a kinder way if needed before pressing send.
- If your child’s father meets your kindness and positivity in a less than favorable light, be patient. He may think you are playing games. He may feel like you’re trying to manipulate him. Stick to your guns. Be consistently kind. Respect his role in your child’s life. Hold your jealousy in check by re-framing him as your child’s father. Eventually your good attitude will probably rub off as he begins to trust that you are legitimately on his side.
I do know that there are some men who do not want to be fathers, for whatever reason, and maybe as you read this you feel as if it doesn’t apply to you. Maybe your child’s father left. Maybe he has mental or personal issues that keep him from being able to parent. Maybe he is too focused on his new girlfriend to think about the children. Or maybe he wants to parent but has been abusive to you or the children and it is an unsafe situation. That is unfortunate, and you need to do what is best for you and your children. If you do not have someone to co-parent with, that is okay and your child will be okay. But for those who have a willing participant, a positive co-parenting relationship is worth the work, and it is more valuable than winning every fight.
Lastly, and most importantly, no matter whether your child’s dad is father of the year, or if he is unavailable or violent, forgiveness is key. It is better for you. It is better for your child.
3. Gain Control of Your Finances
I never paid as much to my finances as I did when I was first on my own, with my small little income (even with child support, it was so much less than I was used to). For the first time since I was 23 years old, I had to pay my own bills. Maybe you are in a similar situation.
In that first year on my own, I learned to shop sales, coupon (although I’m admittedly not the best at this), cook healthy but cheap meals, etc. I started to budget and keep tabs on my credit. While it’s still a work in progress, and I still make mistakes, I am learning to make positive financial decisions.
If you are looking for sound financial advice from a fellow single mom, I suggest you check out www.wealthysinglemommy.com. Another great place to start would be Dave Ramsey. You can find local classes or check it out online HERE.
Yes, it is more stressful to be in charge of the finances myself, but it has also been liberating.
4. Volunteer/Help Those in Need
One of the best ways to find joy in a time of grief and sadness is to focus on helping others! You could volunteer at church or at a charity organization, sponsor a child at Christmas (if your funds allow), collect items to make care packages for the homeless, etc. Whatever need in the community that you are passionate about, find a way to work to fill it.
As an added bonus, you can get your kids involved as well. Along with teaching your children how to be fantastic human beings who have compassion and care for others, you may also be helping them as well as they process and grieve as the family that they one had turns into a new type of family.
5. Sketch Out Who You Want To Be
This is a new chapter of your life. Why not take it as a new opportunity and make the most of it?
There may be things that you wanted out of your life that you couldn’t pursue when you were married. Maybe your ex-husband made fun of you when you mentioned something that you were interested in trying. Maybe you just didn’t have the time to devote to your passion while you were a full-time wife and mother.
This is a fresh start. Who do you want to be in five years? Write it down and find activities/classes/etc. to get you there.
6. Make New Friends
This is a new venture, and your life has changed. Some of your friendships will probably stay the same, or even grow closer. Many will change or cease to exist.
Your former relationship did not exist in a black hole, and others will react to your split. Some may rally for you. Some may rally for your ex. (It would be in everyone’s best interest if you would try to be positive and not put anyone in the middle, but some may still choose a side). Some may just feel uncomfortable with how different your life is now and shy away.
No matter how many relationships you retain post-split, it would be helpful to make friends who are just yours and who are hopefully in a similar situation. After all, it is much more helpful to date and navigate this new life as a single parent when you have someone to share it with!
If you want to make new friends, but don’t know how to find them, don’t be discouraged! Check out my previous article about finding new friends as a single mom!
7. Have Fun With Your Kids
This whole thing is new to them too, and it’s probably been pretty darn stressful.
If you used to be a Stay At Home Mom, and now you’ve gone back to work, they may see you less. They may have had to move from their former home. They may have also lost friends as their lives changed.
Look for ways to engage when you are with them. If you have moved, look for exciting and unique parts in the new area. Go exploring. Hit up a playground. Put down your phone. (I’m speaking to myself too here). If you’re exhausted, cuddle up and watch a movie.
Make the most of the time you have with your kids. It will be good for them and for you. Plus, you are likely now splitting that time with the other parent, so those moments are even more precious.
8. Make New Traditions
This is not just for the holidays (although you should definitely come up with some fun new traditions for every holiday that rolls around).
One of the traditions that we started once I was separated is that every night that the kids are with me, we eat dinner all together at the table as a family. While we are at dinner, we take turns discussing our “highs” and “lows” (the best and worst parts of our day). My youngest also sometimes adds in a “funny”. Extracurricular activities can sometimes make this tough, but with some accommodations (eating a heavy snack and a late dinner or eating a cheap dinner out near wherever the activity takes place), we are usually able to make it work!
Another tradition we began was to have date nights. I aim to have one date night per kid per week, although sometimes we miss a week here or there. While my oldest is at dance, my youngest and I go out for ice cream or a cupcake and vice/versa. The kids love that one-on-one time with mom that they get less of now than when there was another parent in the home.
9. Try Dating When You Are Ready
Don’t rush into it, but when you want to give it a try, go ahead and dip your toe in the water. Don’t go in with high expectations, but have some fun with it. After all, one of the perks of being out of a relationship that was not good or healthy is having the freedom to pursue a new one with someone else.
I was terrified to start dating again, and while at times it can be exhausting and stressful, it’s also exciting. Just be smart…don’t bring someone that you are dating around your kids too early and try to make good choices. Don’t forget that your decisions this time around affect more people than just you.
When will you be ready to start? It’s different for everyone. Some people are never ready and are perfectly content and satisfied with their lives as is. And that is okay too.
10. Do Adult Things
Spend time with your children when they are with you and make the most of it, but do some things for you too! NOT just dating. In fact, do these things before you ever go on your first date:
- Sign up for a new book club, bible study group, recreation league, etc.
- Find out who YOU are.
- Paper yourself with a spa day if you can afford it or have a DIY spa day with a good book and a bubble bath at home.
- Go on a walk or run by yourself.
- Join a gym if you have the time/money/childcare.
- Try new things you were scared to try before.
Going out and socializing at night with friends is a awesome way to make new friends and potential dates, but moderation is key.
You likely have every other weekend at minimum all to yourself while your children are with their dad, so use this time to grow and figure out who post-divorce you is. She is probably a whole lot different than pre-marriage you.
Yes, it is change. No, it isn’t fun, but there are positives in your situation, no matter what it may be.
Focus on those positives and live your best life as a single mom.