As many of you know, I unexpectedly became a single mom four years ago. In those years, I have learned A LOT, both easy and hard.
I was married for two decades, then the marriage came to a halt on December 4, 2017. Not only was I in complete and utter shock over this turn of events, but I was confronted with the reality that I was now a single parent. I was terrified that I wasn’t strong enough to be a single mom, especially while I was grieving the departure of my partner and the end of a very long marriage.
Let’s just say there was a major learning curve for me. I’m still in the process of figuring out how to be a good single mom. There is no firm timeline on when you will get your groove as a single parent, but trust me, you will get there. Now that I have more than three years of single parenting under my belt, I want to help you understand what to expect as a newly single mom (or dad), drawing from my own personal experience.
YOU’LL BE IN SURVIVAL MODE FOR A WHILE (OR LONGER THAN A WHILE)
By survival mode, I mean that as a newly single mom you will (especially in the beginning) be simply trying to get through each day, one at a time. I can remember the burden of grief is so heavy that it drained me of mental and physical energy. All I could do was get my children to school and feed them and myself. I also had to care for their other basic needs, pay bills, and meet work deadlines, but that’s it. Anything in addition to surviving, working, and caring for my children was dropped. I was grateful my job lets me work from home, but even that was incredibly hard to focus on.
This survival status is completely normal and absolutely does not make you a bad parent or human. You are learning how to live a life you’ve never lived before. You will drop balls and that’s okay. Be gentle with yourself.
IT CAN BE INCREDIBLY LONELY
When you are in this survival mode of juggling more responsibilities than you have ever had before, the first thing that may get “dropped” is your relationships with family and friends. In fact, you may not even want to communicate with anyone until you’re ready, other than maybe a licensed therapist (which I highly recommend doing).
I know it sounds counterintuitive to isolate yourself from people who love you and then feel lonely at the same time, but it happens. The main part of this loneliness is simply not having our partner. Even if our partner wasn’t a good fit, was toxic, or worse, they were present and there to talk to. We also may be grieving the loss of relationships we had with our ex-spouse’s family or mutual friends.
BUDGETING IS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY
This is a big one. If you are moving from a two-person family income to one, then budgeting is crucial. For some of us, this may be the first time we have ever had the responsibility to budget at all.
Your budget can be made simple, even if it’s just on pen and paper. Write down all of your bills, automatic withdrawals, monthly subscriptions, and other expenses, then see what you can cut back on (especially if the debits are outweighing the credits). Then, make a clear, simple budget for regular monthly bills (like rent/mortgage, utilities, insurance, credit cards, etc.), plus groceries, clothing, school expenses, gasoline, and any other must-have debits.
Be in control of your money instead of your money controlling you. When you feel fully in control of something, your anxiety and stress will be greatly lowered. As a newly single mom or dad, you have enough of a burden to carry as it is.
SELF-CARE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER
I cannot stress enough the importance of self-care while you are transitioning to single parenting. As mentioned above, as a newly minted single mom you will be in survival mode, which makes carving out time for yourself almost feel impossible. You must care for yourself in order to care for your family. Rest your mind and body, make time for relaxation, and don’t be afraid to occasionally pamper yourself.
I wish someone had alerted me to the importance of self-care when my separation and ultimate divorce happened. My overall health got put on the back burner for far too long, and my mind, body, and soul paid the price. I lost 30 pounds in two months because I could not eat, due to stress. Incredibly depressed and anxious, I only left the house to complete necessary errands or drop off and pick up my children from school. Though I was seeing my therapist on a regular basis, I was still in terrible mental and physical shape.
After a few months of putting my mental and physical health last, I took a very brave step to see my primary care physician and increased my visits with my therapist. At that moment, it felt so incredibly hard to take those steps, but I know it saved me from completely destroying my health. I also began reaching out to those who loved me on a more regular basis. Having people in my life that I fully trusted and cared for me, without judgment, was so cathartic and healing. You should also spend quality time with your kids, and do fun activities with them as a way of bringing yourself joy.
SINGLE PARENTING CAN BE DOWNRIGHT LIBERATING
Hey, let’s have some good news, right? I don’t want to let you go without giving you hope that YOU CAN DO THIS.
Yes, it will be hard. Some days you may want to just hide in a closet and sob. I surely did. Heck, I still do sometimes. But… the liberation of getting through each day as a newly single mom, all on your own? It feels good. REALLY good. You will learn so much about yourself as you go through this journey, but most of all you will learn that you can do hard things. You really can.
So, at the end of every day, give yourself a hug. I’m serious. A physical hug. Because you deserve that hug.