One of the things every divorced single mom is most concerned about is how this family breakup is going to affect her children. Most of us are more upset about what the divorce means for our kids than what it means for us. I did not want to be in that “Single Mom” Club! I didn’t want our kids to be part of a divorced family! I didn’t want to have to learn how to be a single mom after divorce! But there I was, and I couldn’t do one thing about this unwanted reality in my life!
I wanted desperately to give our children that extraordinary gift of an intact primary family. But it was not to be. After 3 years of trying to save our marriage, I became a divorced single mom (and grandmom) with the stroke of a pen. It broke my heart, especially for our children and grandchildren.
At first, divorce causes so much change and chaos that it’s hard to adjust. For us and for our kids. As a newly divorced single mother, once we get through the agony and overwhelm of the divorce itself, we have to figure out our life as head of a one-parent home. We fall in bed at night, exhausted and terrified that we’re not going to be able to handle everything that is suddenly on our overflowing “single mom” plate. Scheduling becomes a full-time job.
One of the most difficult parts about being a divorced single mother is that, before divorce, there were two parents shouldering the responsibilities of children. The work for single moms is not just a few extra jobs; there is exponentially more work every single day, especially if we are the primary custody single mom. Studies show that a single mom after divorce still does most of the “extra-curricular” activities, even though they may now have to bring home a paycheck, too.
According to research Single moms are held to a much higher standard than single dads. Most single mothers still do most of the following activities after divorce, on top of our full-time or part-time job:
- Help with homework
- Doctors’ and dentist/orthodontist appointments.
- Extracurricular school activities – practices and meets or games.
- Music lessons and recitals/performances
- Athletic or special interest activities
- School conferences and special events
- Volunteer jobs especially if kids are still in elementary or middle school
- Clothes and shoe shopping
- Church attendance and activities
- Holiday and birthday celebrations
- Helping aging parents – extended family connections
- Home care and cleaning
- Yard work
- Taking care of the cars and home repairs
- Meal planning, preparation and cleanup
- Bill paying, financial planning
- Pet care
- Emergencies: Accidents/Illness/Lost homework
After divorce, almost all of us have to work. In midlife, our kids may be a bit older, and some can even fend for themselves while we are at work. But if you have little ones, child care and full-time work responsibilities as a single mom are unbelievably hard to balance.
See also: Becoming A Single Dad After Divorce
Make Time For Yourself
After-divorce mothering is a full-time job. Along with our paying job, we volunteer at our children’s school or at church, or in the community. Our calendars are full, so we forget to pencil in time for ourselves. In fact, we hardly ever set aside any time at all for that very important “Me” time.
That must change as a single mom! Even though we don’t think we can find any extra “single-mom” minutes left on any “ordinary” day, we must! We will burn out if we don’t. We can’t do any of our jobs well if we are “on call” constantly. As single mothers, we hardly ever have time that is just “ours.” Even taking a long hot bath after the kids are in bed sometimes takes too much energy.
If our ex-husband is sharing parenting responsibilities, we still need “down” time for ourselves! Although most of us hate to send our children to their dad’s apartment every other weekend, we should use some of that time to pamper ourselves and give ourselves a much-needed break. Instead, we often think that when the kids are at their dad’s, that’s when we need to catch up on any of the other countless jobs that we are responsible for. Also: LEARN TO SAY, “NO!”
One of the best things we can do, even if it sounds impossible, is to find time to exercise. We don’t have to become world-class athletes, but we do need to give ourselves permission to “Get physical!” We need to be strong to keep up with everything we’re doing as single moms.
Getting some physical exercise at least five days a week helps us sleep better, too. And we have more energy. It is so important to make your own physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health a priority. It’s a good example to our children, too.
Another thing that should be in the “How to be a single mom after divorce handbook” is how to make those never-ending decisions we are faced with every single day. It is especially important for both parents to be included in big decisions … like college or summer job choices, discipline, school or religious issues.
As a single mother after the divorce, we may think that we have more flexibility when we are making decisions, But that is often not the case. So much about after-divorce decision-making depends on how active our ex-husband is in our children’s lives. After divorce, some dads turn into reality show “Dad-of-the-Year” contestantsd and demand 50/50 parenting time. I’m sorry to say that desire to be a more “hands-on” parent is often based on hoping to pay less of the money clutched tightly in their post-divorce hands. Just saying.
Navigating and pushing boundaries is something all kids do, whether their parents are divorced or not. It’s harder when one house or the other has significantly different views of things like drinking, curfews, friends and so on. Children sometimes use their parents’ lack of agreement to their advantage. (Yes! Our own darling children!)
For me, as a divorced single mom, it would have been much easier when issues came up for the children’s father and me to present a united front. On one occasion, my high-school son’s friends brought beer to my house, and I told them they were not allowed to have beer as they were underage! I remember one of these swim team boys literally picking me up and jokingly telling me he was going to lock me in the bathroom, (which would have been impossible!).
These were all good kids and they left. Sadly, some of the other parents (including his dad) seemed to think drinking with supervision was okay. This made consistent discipline much harder. And it’s confusing to our children.
One of the biggest issues for a single mom after divorce is how to deal with the finances. We almost certainly have less money after divorce. If we have been out of the workforce for any length of time, it’s sometimes hard to step back in because almost any job demands some level of new technology training and our professional skills may be rusty.
I have so many amazing stories of what women have done to stay afloat financially as a single mom head of household. Catering. Housekeeping. Using an empty room as an AirBnB. House-sitting. Some volunteer opportunities led to real jobs. There are also grants available as help for newly divorced single moms to get re-trained.
Most jobs come from mouth-to-mouth referrals from friends and family. Let people know you need a job. Go to job fairs. Check with junior colleges about career counseling and available financial help.
As a single parent, some of the most important life lessons we can teach our children:
- Knowing exactly what money we have coming in and going out
- Having a savings account for emergencies
- Clear, consistent budgeting
- Balancing a checkbook
- Saving for special occasions
These are some of the most beneficial lessons our kids learn from our divorce. Kids from divorced single mom households usually know much more about money and the importance of work. Also remember that for our kids, part-time jobs are beneficial and teach all kinds of invaluable life lessons.
Becoming a single mom after divorce changes almost everything about our daily existence. Many of my friendships changed after divorce. Couples’ friends don’t really know what to do with us. Still happily married girlfriends sometimes didn’t understand how my heart was hurting. Even at the book club I felt like an outsider. Some women look at us as a threat to their own marriages.
Our couple friends were almost all based on my ex-husband’s profession. When we divorced, he was still connected to all of our friends within that profession and so, I was the “odd man out,” so to speak. They all still went to their parties and soon the girlfriend went instead of me. After that relationship fell apart, his new wife took my place.
We also had lots of couples friends who were connected because our children played sports or did music or other school activities together. After your last child leaves for college or marriage or whatever, those connections tend to fall away too.
I have to admit, I also didn’t reach out as much as I should have to the other moms. I was busy trying to build my little business and stay connected to my growing family and help with my own aging parents.
Friends are vital, especially now! After divorce, most women say loneliness is one of the top three issues during divorce (along with finances and children). That is one of the reasons we immediately put our MasterPlan members into a safe, protected online space to connect with other women. It’s not social media, and no one knows your real name or contact info!
And no one can participate unless they are members of the MasterPlan Program and Community.
One of the hardest things about being a single mom is that we don’t get much positive feedback for everything we do. Children aren’t really known for telling their mom what a great job we’re doing. (Sometimes they are more likely to storm into their room and slam the door!) Our friends and family don’t really know how to comfort us either. They just want us to hurry up and get better…“Pull yourself together!” they say. “Just move on!” they tell us.
One thing that really helps is to know that “Yes, single life with kids is really, really hard!” And no one knows that like other women on this road. That’s another reason to get into the MasterPlan Program. Encouraging someone else, helps you get better, too.
Give Yourself Credit
Sometimes the only credit single moms get is the credit they give themselves. Don’t wait for others to compliment you. Compliment yourself. Be kind to yourself. Reward yourself with little “I deserve it!” treats. Get yourself a few tulips at the grocery store. Get a special dessert and enjoy every single delicious bite. Meet a friend for lunch on a weekend you don’t have the kids. What you’re doing every day is hard. The better you are, the better your kids are going to be!
Talking To Your Ex
Being a single parent is sometimes a minefield when dealing with our ex. It’s good for our kids to have a positive connection to their other parent if possible. Showing a business-like, respectful relationship with our ex is usually the best for us and for our kids.
Unless our ex husband is a danger to himself or to the children, we usually have to put on a positive face during exchanges and conversations. When we make a good relationship with their dad possible for our kids, it usually makes it better for everyone in the long run. Just a reminder: Be ready for the heartbreak we feel when we send the kids off to be with their dad and the other woman. There’s no way around it. Another good thing to talk about in the Community.
One of the most challenging parts about being a single mom is figuring out when it is okay to start dating after divorce. I personally think it’s best to wait until we have gone through our first couple of years adjusting to this new life as two separate families instead of one.
Introducing a new person into our life before we have done the grieving and healing from our divorce is not a good idea. And it’s hard on the kids to have another person dropped into this new and confusing world of their divorced family.
The trouble is, we think it would be easier to be in a relationship where we would have some help with everything we’re doing by ourselves. But, for all kinds of reasons, getting our after-divorce family settled and strong is much more important for everyone, especially our children. It can be very disruptive to have another person in our life too soon after the chaos of a divorce.
If it’s already been a year or two since your divorce, you might want to read our tips for marriage after 50 article.
Being The Third Wheel
Early on after our divorce, several of our friends would invite me to join our “old” couples’ gatherings. It was nice to be included, but often it was awkward. My ex always seemed to be the “elephant in the room.” They were all disappointed in his affair and the end of the marriage, but they all still had a relationship with him and eventually with the girlfriend and then the new wife.
Even though all of our friends bent over backward to make me feel welcome and at ease, I am the one who felt awkward. And especially if the girlfriend was at the party as well. I remember stopping by a friend’s house after a parent’s swim team party and just sobbing that “I hate being divorced! I hate seeing him there with the other woman!” They let me cry and said they hated it too, but there was nothing either one of us could do about it except do the best we could to help each other through it.
Some final thoughts:
Becoming a single mom after divorce is one of the hardest things we will ever do. We are emotional, exhausted, confused and we have all of these new things we are responsible for, too.
Our kids may be struggling and needy at the same time we’re struggling and needy.
Get help. Don’t try to go through this alone. Find resources. Find support. Find connection. Take care of yourself! Be kind to yourself and be patient with the process.
We can help with all of that.