My advice for newly-separated parents

I ran into a Mum of one of the midget’s classmates today.  She looked exhausted, drawn and shaky.  Then she told me that she and her husband had split up a couple of weeks ago.

She was trying so hard to not cry and hold herself together, and she was struggling.  I wanted to put my arms around her, hold her close and let her sob.

Do you remember those days?  I thought I’d forgotten the detail of them but her face reminded me of how emotionally shattering the process separation is.  It is one of the hardest things that an adult will go through and seems to take an eternity for your emotions to settle.  No matter how much you may have wanted the separation – the actual process is going to haul you through every type of emotion that you could possible feel and challenge all of your self-beliefs.

The early days while you adjust to being a single parent are extremely confronting and daunting – there seem to be a thousand thoughts chasing each other around your head constantly: how are the kids doing and what do they need from me to help them through this, how is my budget going to work, will I have enough money, can I still work and look after the kids, how will I figure out the logistics of school pick up/sick kids/after school activities if I’m a working single parent, how can I possibly find the time and energy to simply keep up with the basics of running a home and looking after my kids on my own etc etc etc.  HOW WILL I COPE?????

So, I decided to dedicate this blog post to new single parents.  I’m going to avoid stupidly general advice such as “try and look after yourself.”  Yes, good advice, but most new single parents can barely find the time to wash clothes, so I’m going to try to be a bit more practical (you can also find more tips on post about single parenting here).

  • Some light at the end of the tunnel first: It does get easier.  I promise you that.  It will take time, and tears, and errors, but it will get better. You’ll find your feet in your new life, just be patient (see my post about life one year on for more detail);
  • You are going to feel like you’re going up and down like a yo-yo.  And this is going to piss you off like nothing else because you’ll just want some equilibrium.  The old saying “2 steps forward and 1 step back” needs to become your mantra.  Some days you are going to feel really great and in control and then you’ll crash and have some awful days – but gradually (so, so gradually!), the good days will start to outnumber the bad days (actually, in the beginning it will be the good minutes, then the good hours, good afternoons, good few days etc);
  • It is quite likely that you’ll have at least one massive, emotional crash/breakdown at some stage.  Nearly all separated parents, myself included, have gone through this and I believe that it’s part of the healing process.  Do whatever you have to so that you can get support through this crash – do not do it alone: one Mum I know packed her 2 kids who were under 4 at the time into her car and drove 16 hours to her parent’s house to stay with them for 6 weeks.  I stayed in my parents bed for 3 days, alternatively crying and sleeping, while they looked after the midgets (this was about 2 months after the split) and then they or other friends came over daily for a few weeks until I found my feet again.  Call in family favours, enlist the help of friends, if you can afford it and have no other choice then get an au pair for a few weeks, but get help during this phase so that you have time to purge all the emotion;
  • Drop all pretences you have about being able to do it all yourself and, at the same time, ignore every shred of pride you have about asking for help.  Rule # 1: If someone wants to help, let them and if someone offers to help, take them up on it! Seriously, please, please – let people help you.  It doesn’t matter what they’re doing, it could be dropping off a meal, picking up your kids, offering to babysit, dropping by with milk when you’ve run out and the thought of loading multiple midgets in the car at 8pm to drive to the shops is killing you.  Trust me, ANY help is a huge help, so don’t turn it down and don’t worry about asking too much – people won’t offer if they can’t help so those offering are happy to help;
  • It’s going to be excruciatingly awful watching your kids go through the pain of a family separation – this is likely to be become one of the hardest parts of the situation.  It’s going to nearly kill you.  Try and remind yourself regularly that having two happy homes will be healthier in the long run for them than having one unhappy home.  Remind yourself that you’re being a good role model for your kids by showing them that you have the power over your own life and that choosing happiness is ok;
  • The kids are going to have some really hard days – prepare yourself for this.  They might retreat into themselves, or have huge tantrums or big sad attacks. Each child will react differently but each will need the same thing from you – support, love, understanding, patience, security and lots & lots of cuddles.  If you have to chose chores vs time with the kids in the first few months, pick the kids every time.  They really, really need to know at the moment that you’re there for them.  And this will be hard – because you’re going through your own emotional process it is so hard to give so much emotion to all of them when you’re just need to melt down yourself.  If you can, try and melt down when they’re not there or they’re all in bed, and give them the cuddles and time they need now;
  • Call you kids school/daycare and let them know what is going on.  They can provide vital extra support and help for your kids but they need to know so that they can do this.  Keep communicating with their teachers/carers too – letting each other know when the kids are having a particularly hard time means that the kids will get extra support when they need it;
  • Learn to turn your ears off.  There will be some absolute idiots who will say particularly insulting things such as “I don’t understand why you kept having kids if you were so unhappy”, or “you can’t just give up on a marriage, all relationships go through rough times, you just have to learn how to get through it” or my personal favourite “you really should think about the kids, it’s so damaging for them to grow up with divorced parents.”  Tell them all to fuck off.  Or, if you have more diplomacy than me, tell them firmly but politely that making judgments isn’t helpful to your current situation, but offering support and helping you all move forward in your new life is what should be focused on.  Actually, just tell them to fuck off, it’ll be far more satisfying;
  • If you and your Ex are going through a separation “honeymoon phase” at the beginning where you’re communicating well and behaving quite amicably – then get as much as you can in writing NOW.  This phase may not last, you may go through some later nasty phases where you’re both feeling resentful, bitter and angry (which is perfectly normal), so if you can, make decisions now about care arrangements, responsibilities, finances etc;
  • Get support.  Every blog and website you read is going to tell you this – support can be the key to how quickly you’ll come out the other side of the initial emotional minefield.  Talk to people, especially to non-judgmental people, and remember that help will come from unexpected places.  Try other mums, other single parents, work colleagues etc.  The key here: avoid the toxic, negative personality type at all costs. They will drain you and help you only to focus on the bad things, not the good things.  Hire a hitman or a doppleganger if that’s what you have to do to avoid these people!!
  • Find happiness in the small things – because no matter how hard this one part of your life is, I can promise you that at the end of each day you can think of something that will make you smile .  It can be the tiniest of things, like a sunny day or a hearing a song you like, the smile of a stranger, or big things like the health of your children or the beautiful area that you live in.  But gather these tiny seeds of happiness and cling to them.  I honestly believe that being able to think of the happy things in your life and to concentrate on these rather than on the negative will help you get through this.  I’m not telling you to feel happy if you don’t feel happy because that is impossible; but rather to cultivate an attitude of looking on the bright side and remembering that there are always beautiful things in life if we stop and look around for them.
  • Give yourself time.  It really is going to take some time until you start feeling really good and sure of yourself.  Be patient.  Oh, and pour yourself a wine in the evening, trust me, it helps!

Do you have any advice for newly-separated mums?

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