My parents divorced when I was in the third grade. It was a scary time for me with lots of uncertainty and confusion. With five other brothers and sisters, my mom returned to work in earnest - she taught swimming and exercise classes seemingly everywhere. We were the only divorced family on the street and at that time, no one understood how much pain families go through during a divorce. I had to change schools, my figure skating lessons were canceled, and my uncle filled our freezer with meat. There were nights I needed to be with her and I would get in the car and watch my mom teach her classes; I counted 9 or 10 locations where she worked.
I never wanted to be a divorced mother. And yet, here I was years later facing the same sort of dilemma too many mothers face and I had to work on how to deal with and overcome the three biggest struggles of being a single mom.
Let’s speak straight:
I feel the most difficult aspect of divorce for mothers is the loneliness. Too often, married couples shun the single woman who once sat at their dinner table. They forget how much they once enjoyed her company. My own experience isn’t that different. I chalk it up to my poor communication skills and others inability to see divorce as an emotional win for two unhappy adults. Most newbie divorcees don’t know how to talk about their lives without constantly bringing up their fear and pain. Instead of viewing divorce as an enormous loss, find someone that teaches people divorce is a welcomed opportunity to grow.
It’s a ton of work:
For the newly separated, the overriding fear of finances is constant. How do you return to work after being a stay at home mother? How do you work longer hours or take a second job to help cover bills while being solely responsible for your children? How do you pay for the things you once could afford? And of course, present all the time… what if he doesn’t pay? I can’t stress enough how the financial fears of being a single mom raising kids are enormous. And rightly so because the economic statistics for single moms are awful. (I’m not going to delve into them here but if you’d like to know more, please read this heartbreaking white paper: Unveiling The Unspoken Truth by my friends at Francis Financial.
Sex and intimacy at what cost?
Lastly, as if to make matters worse, there’s this fear of intimacy and bonding with the wrong partner (again). It’s taken me a long time to grasp why women fear intimacy after divorce. (Why I fear intimacy!) On the one hand, divorced moms, like divorced dads, are lonely and want sex; on the other hand, one of the prime indicators of child abuse is having a male in the home who isn’t the biological father of the children in the home! So it’s no wonder women are less quick to pair up and bond with a new mate who could help shoulder financial and parenting responsibilities.
Find the right community:
Going through a divorce nowadays isn’t exactly the same as when my mom divorced and was kicked out of the Catholic Church. Today, there are Meetup groups, church gatherings, dating apps, after-school programs, coaches, counselors, and social services. Divorce affects all social classes and we have a keen sense of the effects of divorce done right versus divorce done poorly.
In order to keep your friends and loved ones close and not be ostracized by those who you’ve grown accustomed to knowing, limit the amount of gossip, whining, and complaining you’re sharing. Those old friends knew you when. They knew you with them. They knew you when your kids were little. Let them remind you of when you were happy. Grant them permission to limit the amount of time you rehash the latest updates on what your children’s other parent is doing.
Instead, find a safe group of people who will help you move forward. And heal. You need way more healing than you may realize. The hardest thing about divorce is that feeling of isolation. Your heartache from your spouse or partner is different than mine, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t both feeling alone in our pain. We connect with that shared experience and needing to have a safe place where you can feel seen and heard is paramount for your healing.
Look carefully for these groups. Some may cost you money. It’s a worthy investment in your future if they actually help you move up and out of your fears and anxieties. The way you think about and talk about the story of your divorce is going to color your future relationships. We now know it’s very important to make sure you learn how to do so well.
Your new community needs to teach you how to accept the facts. This is hard in the middle of a court case or when your ex isn’t paying rent or helping out with school. The problem with most divorce cases is expecting your lifestyle to stay the same. It might very well stay the same (or get better) for the monied spouse, but for the majority of women going through a divorce, economic status changes. Facts are tricky things and the moment you’re able to look at the real at dollars and cents you have to live on versus the fantasy agreement you’re hoping to get is the moment you begin to take ownership of your future.
Find help in creating a financial plan for your future. There are professionals, CDFA’s whose job it is to help you create a budget and a plan moving forward. They look at cash flow and lifestyle. They’ll be the bearers of harsh truths, but they’ll also help you grasp how the future is going to look so that you can make real decisions about how you’re living.
For example, when you figure out what kind of budget you’re living on, you can make decisions on how much money you need, where you can shop, what you can do. Everyone deals with this from the very wealthy divorcee to any lower income mom. The hard part is actually treating you to those small pleasures and believing you’re going to have an income and/or wealth again moving forward.
Every single divorced mom I talk with worries about spending money on herself. She wouldn’t question spending money she may have on her children, but when it comes to her well-being, her sense of self, she balks. This has more to do with self-worth after a divorce than actual money in hand issues. Because we all know, if you must spend the money, you will. Including hiring professionals to help you heal or get through your divorce.
Trust that you’re safe. Trust that you’re being given an opportunity to move beyond a life and a lifestyle that wasn’t working for you. Trust that your income and your wealth will flow again. Trust that your children will be okay, that you’ll find true love and that you’re being protective. I truly believe your divorce and the lessons you’re dealing with are happening for you, not to you.
This is tough to take on in the midst of fear and overwhelm. (Which is why I gave you Tip #1.) You’re going to want to surround yourself with people who live in pragmatic optimism. Are things going to be tough? You betcha’! But the opportunities to rise above and to show up for yourself and your children is also enormous.
This includes showing up in love, not just sleeping with the nearest man and calling him step-dad. As you step into setting up new boundaries for yourself and your behavior, you’re going to want to be careful about the person you bring into your children’s lives. This has more to do with honoring your self-worth and knowing your boundaries. Being attuned to the signs of an unsafe person around your kids. You do not need to logically understand the message, you just need to pay attention to your intuitive hit. Just because sex is good or they seem smart and professional, does not mean they’re healthy or emotionally able to show up for your children.
In order to believe in a future that is different than your past, you really have to be willing to become a different person. You’ll want to stop the gossip and venting; you’ll need to be on a budget so you’re not frightened of the bills. Over time, you may want to get professional help so you can manage how you talk about your divorce, how you interpret it, and what you say about yourself and your part. Doing so colors the people you attract, including future lovers and partners.
Being a single mom is hard because you’ve probably never been a single mom before. By showing up for yourself and your kids, you’re teaching them about resilience, confidence, commitment, and self-love. They need to see how you’re able to take care of yourself, how you surround yourself with support, and how you ask for the right kind of help when you need it.
My mom has been my biggest supporter these many years I’ve been a single mom. She reminds me to put my chin up, to spend money on myself, to clean my bathrooms when I need to, and to celebrate my successes. My kids are privy to a mom who puts them first. I've got a lot to be proud of despite, like you, shouldering twice the work. I hope you’ll now find your struggles with being a single, divorced mom a lot easier to manage because I believe you’re capable of way more than you realize and you’re no longer alone!
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.