It has been quite a learning curve
But we have made it to the “other” side, for now
Being a single mom was never part of the plan. It definitely was not how I thought my life would go, or how I would be raising my daughters. I never dreamt that the three of us would be left in South Africa, while their father moved a continent away, and that my marriage would dissolve. But here I am, separated and alone with two beautiful girls, looking at me to fix their entire worlds.
I am not going to lie, the first month was tough. I wished I was better prepared, that I had known what to expect so that I could mentally prepare myself. Instead, it all happened so fast. In the space of a week I had moved out or our home, taking the kids, moved into a new house, got a parenting plan, and helped the girls say goodbye. He was going overseas and we would not be joining him. “Officially” separated (in South Africa, not a legal state), with my co-parent thousands of kilometres away. I had to figure out how to do this, and I had to do it fast.
The first few days, maybe 2 weeks, I ran on adrenaline. There was so much to be done. The days were filled with unpacking and cleaning and the nights filled with two girls, uncertain, hurting, and needing a lot of attention. There was no time to spent feeling sorry for myself or to think about our circumstances or my own feelings. Then we created a new routine, a new normal, giving me a bit more time to reflect. And this is what I realised:
11 things I learned in my first 6 months as a single mom:
- It is ok to cry
Even though you have heard single moms are superheroes, you need to remember that you are human. And your kids need to know that having emotions and experiencing them, is more than ok. By showing them that you can cry, without completely losing it, you are teaching them valuable self-regulating skills. And for yourself – crying is a way to heal. So cry when you want to. Ugly cry as much as you need to. Cry when you are angry, when you are disappointed, when you are despondent, when you are happy. Cry and cry and cry.
- You do not have to understand your feelings, and you do not have to keep up with them
This was a tough lesson for me, one that took me almost too long to learn. Some days I felt strong and justified in my decision, other days I felt weak and ready to be rescued. At first, I wanted to react to each emotion, and then (with help from my Mom – thank you!) I just started to acknowledge how I feel and keep busy until it passes. The rite of passage into successful single motherhood seems to be a rollercoaster ride. Sit through it. Eventually your emotions will stabilise, you will have a better idea of how you really feel without the inflated extremes, and only then will you be able to respond appropriately.
On this note – it is completely normal to feel like you made a mistake to leave, or to choose this state of parenting. I believe it is human nature to always opt for the path of least resistance, and single motherhood comes with a lot of resistance. Not only will you struggle by yourself, but you will also find that you need to answer questions and justify yourself and your decisions to the outside world. Going back to your previous normal might seem like the smart and easy thing to do. Do not give in! Write down the reason you left, or chose this, and put it up on your wall as a daily reminder that you have made the better decision. That is your why. Now go out and stop justifying yourself.
- Kids can bounce back from anything if they get enough positive attention and affirmations
During this whole process it helps to stop thinking of your kids as the victim. Actually, it helps to not think of anyone as victims. There is nothing to overcome, simply life to lead. The moment you stop feeling sorry for your kids you can get back to parenting, giving them security and love. That will create the perfect environment for them to thrive in, allowing them to quickly accept this as their new normal. They will adapt and be happy and be ok.
- Self-care is super important
Being the sole pillar of strength for your kids can be draining. You need to take care of yourself to enable you to have enough reserves to care for your kids. During this time it might seem impossible, even counterintuitive, to find the time (never mind the money!) to take care of yourself, to show yourself some love. I want to put this delicately, but it comes down to this: make the time. If you do not, you will find yourself not only battling you but battling everyone around you. So do what you must, even if you only get a few minutes a day, and spend it on you. For me, it meant exercising first thing after dropping the kids off at school, and twice a week staying up after they went to sleep to apply a sheet mask, watch a show and drink a glass of wine. A few times I was too tired, but then it was my choice to go to bed and get a good night’s sleep. I really focussed on taking care of me.
- Your kids are your kids, not your friends
One of the things most new single moms worry about is whether or not they will still have a social life now that they are solely responsible for their kids. Although it will be more difficult than before, and you will most likely have to change a few things, there is no reason you won’t be able to still be sociable. So you do not have to rely on your kids for your social interaction. Luckily they can remain your kids, and your friends remain your friends. Do not confuse the two, or blur the lines. Kids should not be responsible for your entertainment.
- Honesty is the best policy
Honesty all around – firstly, be honest with your kids. Explain your situation in as simple terms as possible, using age-appropriate words and terms of course. Never lie to your kids, and remember omission is a form of lying. If you do not explain the situation, someone else might and then you have no control over the narrative. So get there first. Secondly, be honest with yourself. It took me more than two years to build up the courage to confess to myself that I was in a relationship where I was not happy. Then, I had to be honest with him. And this nearly killed me. But in the end, I can definitely say that being honest has set us free. Both of us are now able to live our best lives, made possible because we do not have to fake being happy with each other. Thirdly, be honest with family and friends. Tell them what is going on so that they don’t jump to their own conclusions – usually far worse than the truth! Honesty all around.
- This is not a fairytale, so no need for a villain
Unless the father has done heinous crimes and is a threat to the safety of your kids, there is no need to make him a villain. You might feel that he has ruined your life, stolen your happiness, etc. etc. but to your kids, he needs to remain their Dad. Not sharing a life together should be enough reward. If you do not agree with how he treats the kids, disciplines them, or any other parenting issue, you can take this up with him, change the parenting plan, speak to your lawyer – many avenues to explore. And then allow your kids the freedom to make up their own minds.
- It is ok to feel unanchored and lost
Mama, let me remind you – these are uncertain times. Even if you had time to prepare yourself, if this was your choice, or if you saw this coming, nobody can really be 100% prepared for single parenthood. Especially if you have small kids. If you were in a committed relationship, which then crumbled or suddenly changed, you might feel even more lost. Acknowledge this, and then set forth to create new anchors. Create new routines and traditions, start new hobbies, make new friends. Find yourself. But until then, don’t beat yourself up for feeling lost – it is normal, and will also pass.
- You are allowed to start fresh and to make new rules
This was an exciting realisation for me – I could make my own rules! This was a new start, and I could disregard and discard anything that was no longer serving us. New rules, new traditions. If your kids are old enough, you can make them part of the process. Ask them what they would like to change, or make part of your weekly routine. My kids chose movie night, a night when they stay up after normal bedtime, eat popcorn, and watch a movie together as a family. They also liked the old tradition of pancake Sunday, so we kept that one. We also added a time out rule instead of more aggressive disciplining methods. This is now your life, make the rules to suit you, and benefit your kids.
- Consistency is key
Your lives have been upturned, most probably your kids are feeling uncertain and insecure. Do not add to that by being nilly willy. If you have set a rule, keep it. Even if you are tired. Even if you had a terrible day. Even if you feel like you do not have the time. Neither one of these things is really your kids’ fault, and so they do not have to be punished for it. Kids crave security, and discipline gives them that. If you enforce a rule today, then ignore it tomorrow, then enforce again the day after you leave them confused at best, and rebellious at worst. They need to know they can rely and depend on you, and consistency is the key to achieve that.
- Fun is the basis of connection, use it to cement your bond
After all of these lessons, the number one lesson I had to learn was to love the fact that we now only had each other. We had to get along, like each other, and respect each other. My kids had to know they could trust me, and I had to know I was doing an ok job, that I will succeed in sending out well-adjusted adults into the world. We had to form an unbreakable bond, fused with love, trust, and respect. The easiest way to do this? Have fun together. Laugh together. Be silly together. Make sure you have a strong bond with your kids.Single mom survival checklist
My first 6 months of being a single mom have sped by. And although I still get bad days, most of them are good. My kids are doing well, we have settled in and most of our routines have been established. They miss their Dad, but it is no longer the crying sessions they used to have. They have accepted the situation and now embrace our new life.
I still wish I had been better prepared, but in hindsight I am glad I didn’t really know how hard it would be. If I had known I would have missed so many of these lessons.
If you are new to this, take these final words of encouragement – you will be ok. You’ve got this, and you will get through this better and stronger than before.