There is no circus quite like the life of a single/divorced mom. I’m recently re-married, but it wasn’t long ago I found raising three boys on my own, post-divorce, dealing with that special blend of loneliness, fear, stress, guilt and exhaustion felt solely by the single mama. So now that I’m ‘out of the woods’ with a legit moment to breathe, I’m able to look back on my single/divorced years (I was a single mom in my early twenties) seeing more clearly the areas I struggled with, and how much stress I could’ve avoided by adopting a few different thinking and behavioral patterns. Here are my best encouraging truths, with a smattering of Scripture for strength, cuz good Lord, we need it:
Truth #1: You Can’t Do It All. And That’s Okay
One common defense mechanism for the single mom is denial. We pretend everything is okay, despite now having to help with all the homework, carpool to all the sports, buy all the things and open all the bills…because we don’t want our kids to “feel the difference.” Meanwhile we’re having mental breakdowns on the way to work and sleeping in traffic we’re so exhausted. I know some guilt and chaos is unavoidable, especially when a ball or two drops (ohhhh there was practice today??) but we have to give ourselves a break.
We will never be the sum total of two parents. No matter the reason for divorce or singlehood, parenting alone is not ideal, and we’re trying our darndest. As long as we’re loving and caring for our kids, it will all be okay. Feeling loved and secure is the base necessity for children. All the other mistakes or letdowns…the late permission slips, the rushed car rides, the not-so-name brand everything…will be easily forgotten. The love will stick. Which leads to my next point.
Truth #2: Be Protective Of Your Attention, And Affection
My single greatest regret in life has been placing too much attention and focus on my dating life, instead of my kids. I literally cringe to this day. I never did well with aloneness, so I was Christian Mingling and Matching it up from the moment I was single…and then again after a breakup…and again. Oh, how I wish I had waited. Just sat in the discomfort and unrest for a while. Dealt with my emotions. Let myself breathe. And most of all, I wish I had just been there more for my kids. Aside from relationships, our careers, side hustles, friend groups, even ministries and volunteer work can garner too much of our attention if we allow it. It’s tempting to juggle too much after divorce when there’s suddenly more time to pursue our own interests and activities, if/when we don’t have the kids. But looking back, so much energy was misdirected away from my kids when they needed it the most.
It can be so painful and difficult (and boring!) being single and/or divorced, craving family life and wanting to find a partner. But God does have a plan. I would encourage all single moms to prayerfully consider when it’s right to date again. If/when you get the green light, try to resist any relationship that creates that manic, anxious, overwhelming feeling like dating so often does. It helps to ask ourselves…does the man you’re with have true step-dad and husband potential? Does he love God and love your kids? If the answer’s no, he’s probably not worth sacrificing the time and energy our kids deserve. Kids grow up in an absolute flash. Soak in the time, even during this lonely season. Sometimes it’s the sweetest. However. On that note…
Truth #3: Don’t Be A Martyr Mommy
We cannot put ourselves in time-out just because we’re single/divorced. No one wins when we neglect our health routines, give up our monthly girls nights out, or when we look perpetually homeless after spending every last cent on our kids’ designer shoes for the last decade. I’m far too selfish to claim to have been one of these moms, but I’ve surely watched friends sacrifice everything for their kids because they’re so mired in guilt.
It isn’t healthy. Our lives still matter. Our goals and dreams may get altered a bit when having kids, but they aren’t meant to disappear completely. God wants us to live abundant lives, in every circumstance, even singlehood. Pray on this and really consider what you’d like to start doing (or stop doing) for yourself. If you really want to attend that women’s life group once a week, leave the kids with your mom. If the thought of getting hair extensions makes your heart sing, then splurge on yourself, darn it, and skimp on the monthly takeout. When we’re happy and personally fulfilled, the kids can feel it too.
Truth #4: Alone Time Is A Temporary Opportunity
None of my glasses are rose-colored. Single parenthood is rough. However I will say, parenting on your own for portions of time does offer a unique bond with your kids. There are silver-lined blessings everywhere, and God works everything for our good-and our nutty single mom lives are no different. When I look back on my time with my first son as a single mom still in college, there was just nothing like it. Yes, it was hard and messy, and full of unknowns, but it was also special. Just me and my little buddy. Through the years you create your own little traditions, routines and memories, and no one’s competing for your time or attention. Divorced moms sharing custody are often left with less quantify of time, but it can definitely offer more quality time. Every hour is precious when you see the kids less, which can really open our eyes to the importance of being present, engaged parents. When I got re-married, it actually felt bittersweet not having my kids all to myself, in a way. Try and embrace the chaos. It’s almost always temporary.
Truth #5: Do Not Feel Less Than
This one goes for Christian single parents, especially. Sometimes we experience this weird “scarlet letter” feeling, even if it’s in our own heads. I for one, was the only single parent at my sons’ very fundamental Baptist school (women were expected to wear skirts…just sayin’) and I remember feeling so ostracized, and out of place. We’ve all been to those family carnivals, or birthday parties, or school open houses, sittin’ by our bad selves while all the other couples flaunt their nuclear familyhood. It just feels a bit… isolating and I always felt like a source of pity.
Looking back, I wish I held my head higher, without feeling any shame or need to explain my current situation. Who cares if you’re the only female parent at your son’s cub scouts meetings. Or the only volunteer in the church nursery without a wedding ring. We get it done, and there’s no shame in the journey. Sadly I’ve witnessed a heck of a lot of nuclear families that wouldn’t hold a candle to some rockin’ single mom homes. Your family and your home is not less than, or sub-par, just because you lack a husband. Period.
Truth #6: Accept Help
This can be a difficult the more independent gals, or for those of us finding it hard to receive. I always joked that my brother-in-law would see crowns in heaven for all the handyman work and general life rescuing he’s done for me through my single years. I swear the man cried tears of relief when I walked down that aisle…finally no more chopping wood for Jess. I honestly couldn’t have made it without the help of amazing friends and family. When I think of single moms with no one on their side, I instantly tear up. It’s humbling and we wish it wasn’t the case, but we really do need some help in this season, ladies. To affirm this truth, and perhaps make everyone feel better, here is the list of just a few things I’ve needed help with, through the years…
- Ex-husband (good times!) let me borrow his industrial space heaters because I ran out of home heating oil …in Connecticut…in January.
- Brother-in-law, mother, and sisters have all repeatedly come to my rescue after running out of gas. And popping a tire. And perhaps extinguishing an engine fire caused by lack of oil change.
- Step-dad had to assist in the hunt for my son’s first car, to assure I wasn’t “hustled.”
- My mother has had to pick up my children repeatedly from school….nurse’s office, early dismissal, etc. because I was stuck at work. Or perhaps I forgot it was a professional development day.
- The entire staff at our local Home Depot was directly involved in my son’s “electricity invention” project, after I was so confused in aisle 8, I visibly bawled. (thanks, Estrogen!).
- Friend’s husband offered to be my parent volunteer “fill in” after watching me get repeatedly hit with tee balls I apparently could not catch.
Clearly, single/divorced momhood is not for the faint of heart. But it does get easier, with a little help from our friends, and a lot of faith. You’re enough for your kids, and you will get through this season with your head held high. Just don’t forget the prayer. And the bubble baths. xo
For more encouragement on stress and parenting, check out my post “Why Moms Need Prayer Even More Than Sleep.”
For more hilarity on single momhood, check out my Huff Post article “Single Mommies…This One’s For You.”