My first few months of being a single mom went by in a blur. A big, overwhelming blur. The fact that it was combined with the first wave of Covid-19 infections, and a subsequent complete lockdown, only added to my distress. There I was, trying to process a separation that happened very fast and traumatic, with two girls who were just as confused and hurt, their dad sitting in a different continent, and a world-wide pandemic raging around us. Cooped up with only our own company FOR MONTHS made same days better, but a lot of the days worse.
I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and this is no exception. When we were smack bang in the middle of this, it was terrible. Many a day I wanted to curl into in a little ball and wait for it all to pass. Luckily, we don’t always get what we want, but sometimes we get what we need. And those few months of lockdown was exactly what we needed – they helped forge a strong bond between myself and my girls. For those months, the girls at least felt like I did not also forsake them, as they often verbalised feeling about their dad. It forced us to figure out our situation, to start new routines, to set new rules, and to get to know each other.
That being said, all that extra time did not guarantee a calm transition. Very often the storm inside us blows the tranquil water around us. Exactly what happened. We sorted out many things, and yet I felt constantly unprepared. Like I was always a step or two behind, too slow to catch up but not slow enough to be helped along by the support vehicle. And I am guessing a lot of you feel exactly that way. You know you are struggling, but you are not entirely sure with what. And then when you have a good day, you feel like you must have imagined the struggle. Right?
Right. Since that is still me on some days, I have embarked on the journey to figure out, step-by-step, how to stop feeling as if I am just surviving and start to feel that I am thriving. Going from overwhelm to victory, or at least some feeling of control. At this stage, control would be a welcome reprieve.
The first thing I would recommend any mommy who just went through a great life change, whether that is a separation, divorce, death, or childbirth, to become a single mama, is this: BREATHE. Just breathe. Take a minute to sit with that feeling of complete submission. Don’t think about your circumstances, don’t feel any of it. Just breathe. Clear your mind and feel the breath. Some days this is all that got me through. Breathing, then thinking that I will handle it all tomorrow, or any tomorrow that was still to come. If you cannot gather the strength to do it now, then pause and do it later.
Of course, this is crap advice for when you are further along your journey, but wonderful advice for those first few days or even weeks. You have most probably been dumped in the deep end, and if pausing keeps you from losing all your marbles, then please do it. You owe it to yourself and your kids to clear your mind and take stock of the situation. And tomorrow is really another day. Use it wisely.
Find your people
After this, I strongly urge you to gather your people. Find your tribe, those people who will be there to assist and support and help when you think you need it, but mostly when you can’t even recognise that you need help. When you start to do this, please do not be surprised if some of the people whom you thought would be there to the end ups and leaves. Some people just cannot handle the situation, for whatever reason they need to justify their decision. In this case, it really is not you – it’s them, and better know this in the beginning than relying on them later on and then getting the surprise. On the flip side, you might be surprised by some people who rallies around you unexpectedly. I found some of my biggest supporters in the people I often overlooked when I was “happily married”.
When you have your tribe, give them permission to speak into your life. They should feel comfortable telling you when you are being ridiculous, when your feelings are justified, or when you are doing something stupid – like drunk-texting your ex. Your kids should feel safe with them, and they should be ok watching your kids should the situation need it.
Budget and finances
Working out your finances should come shortly after you have rallied the troops. This step is crucial if you are planning on making it as a successful single parent. The reality is that in most cases, going from two parents to only one also means going from two incomes to only one. You need to know what you are bringing home, where the money is flowing to, and where you can save should this be needed. If you realise, after doing the maths, that your income is not enough to sustain you and the kids, you need to think of alternative ways to supplement that income. This step is not a nice one, but you also need to realise not knowing what is going on in your finances meaning driving blind – and then you cannot be surprised if you end up in a car wreck.
Your internal world
Once you have your support system and you know what is going on in your finances, the big things have been taken care of. The next thing that should be on your list to handle is your mindset. Start working on yourself, and especially how you talk to yourself. Your thoughts will determine your life, make sure they are positive and uplifting. A wonderful thing about human nature is our capacity to hold space for more than one feeling, at the same time. Meaning you can be devastated about your circumstances and also be happy. Find the joy in your new life, even if you have to fake the feeling until it comes naturally.
Self-care and me time
Working on your internal world can only be done successfully if you spend enough time on yourself, by yourself. During this initial period, you need to make time for you, and allow a self-care habit to develop. Let me repeat – you need to make time for yourself. Especially with kids, going through any form of relationship change often means making sure they are fine, giving them every ounce of energy and time. If you don’t put that back, you will run out of fuel. Take time for yourself, do something that you love doing. Make this a priority.
Soon after, if you focus on the above things, you will realise that you have started to create a new life, with new habits and new routines. Some of these habits and routines happened naturally, sprouting from the fact that one pair of hands now need to do the work of two pairs. Certain things will change just based on the fact that the other person is no longer there to do them. Other things will fall into place because you consciously decided they must happen. This is your chance to start new traditions. Want to be known for your pancake Sundays? Now is the time to start. Want the kids to go to bed at another time because it gives you a bit more free time at night? Then make that happen. A tip I can give you here – get the kids involved in creating these new routines, and make their chores part of it.
Another fun one, but so needed. Often relationships do not work because of a lack of boundaries, or a lack of enforcing said boundaries. You have probably been burned in the past, do not repeat the same mistakes. Another thing to keep in mind is the fact that you are now alone, single-handedly responsible for you and the kids. If you do not create and enforce boundaries you will find yourself spread dangerously thin. These boundaries can include things like screen time and how often you get take-out (thank you budget!) but also when your kids may have sleepovers, when their dad is allowed to call, and what of their things are allowed to be taken with when they go visit him. Not sure where or what boundaries to implement? A good rule of thumb is if you feel uncomfortable or out of control in a situation, then that is where you need a boundary.
Mamas, this is something I feel so strongly about. You need to take a good long hard look at your life and then get rid of everything that does not serve you. You do not have the time or energy to handle things that are unnecessary. This includes clutter, material possessions, uncertainty. Take my advice – start to meal plan (one trip to the store, a streamlined shopping list, no surprises – and your budget thanks you), pair down your closet to have only what you need and wear, get rid of everything and anything that takes up space. And that can be physical space, but also mental space. Get rid of it. Make your life simpler so that it takes less energy to actually live it.
Ask for and accept help
You remember that tribe you have assembled? I sincerely hope you make use of them! There is a stigma attached to asking for help. Let me break it to you: asking for help does not make you weak! It means you acknowledge that you are not superwoman although you might feel like supermom. It will happen that you get double booked, or an emergency happen, or you get so overwhelmed that you just cannot see a way out. Grab your friends and family and get them to help. Most of the time they will feel honoured that you think of them so highly that you involve them in your life. If someone offers help, accept it. This is a tough and lonely journey, help along the way makes it easier and lighter.
This is a tip I received at the beginning, and I can tell you it works like magic. Kids who feel neglected or disconnected are usually difficult to handle, making you less likely to want to spend time with them, which again cycles back to them feeling neglected. To ensure they feel loved and heard, give them quality time, in as big or small chunks you have available. If you can, spend 10min every day in one-on-one time with each of the kids. 10minutes are enough to make them feel connected and important, and if you are honest with yourself, you won’t really miss that time. You would have spent longer scrolling on Instagram anyway. By giving them quality time, you are forging a bond that will make everything else easier, including disciplining, less whining, and more winning.
Learning how to communicate successfully is so important. Not only do you need to know how to say what you need, in easy to understand terms, but also what you want. You need to understand what your kids are telling you, what your body is telling you, and what to say to your ex. If you learn how to effectively communicate it will make co-parenting that much easier, with less confusion and misunderstandings and ultimately, more joy. And ain’t that the goal?
Yes, goal setting is part of the process of going from surviving to thriving. If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there? For now, I would recommend that you shy away from those lofty goals like buy a new house, make 6 figures, meet the man of your dreams. Rather settle for the more easily attainable ones like servicing your car, planning a family hiking trip, getting through the day and night without crying. You know, realistic goals. Just have something that you can work towards and that will feel real good when you get there. Remember, if you cannot identify the “why” behind the goal you most probably will not get any joy out of the realisation there of. So, go after something that will mean something to you, not just look good to other people.
Now, after all these previous steps, we are getting to the big ones. Those things that can really trip you up and make it impossible to get through the day. The first one – GUILT. My guilt included taking the kids’ dad away from them, robbing them of a stable homelife, denying them financial stability, giving them identity issues, putting a wedge between them and family, not being able to give them all the time they want, and that is only scratching the surface. I know, as you probably do too, most if not all of these things are nothing to feel guilty about. I didn’t take their dad away, he chose to leave, our homelife was anything but stable to start with, there was no financial stability whatsoever with him being unemployed, they have to forge their own identities, family will always be there if they want to, and quality time over quantity, right? I had all the answers and yet, the guilt was eating away at me. What helped? Facing the guilt. Speaking to it, showing it all the holes in its story. And then making peace with it. Now it’s your turn.
Not only the thief of joy, but also of time and energy. There is nothing that makes another family/mom/child better than you or yours. Everyone has something they wish were different, that they envy in others. Stop comparing your life and your story to theirs, you are only making yourself out to be lesser-than and you are not. You are enough. Live it.
Let it go
My last step? Just let it go. All the hurt and the regret and the clutter and the guilt. Everything. Let it go. You know what you have, who you can count on, who you are, what you are doing and where you are going. The rest? Figure it out as you go. You are done surviving. Your kids are happy and healthy, you are adapting and learning, it is all good. You have set the stage for your thriving to begin, don’t stand in its way. Stop self-sabotaging – just let it go.
Being a single mama is overwhelming. I will tell you no lies. But if you approach it with a plan and determination, you will quickly figure out how to make the most of your time, your energy and your money. And then, my dear fellow single mama, there will be no stopping you!