Before I became one, I used to think single moms were superheroes. The truth is, I’m no one’s hero. I’m an overly-caffeinated, perpetually guilt-ridden, sometimes depressed, usually anxious adult trying desperately to raise a pair of decent human beings without losing my mind in the process. I’m super sarcastic, super tired, super easily annoyed. But a superhero I am not.
My ex and I separated almost two years ago—just before COVID, lucky me!—and it’s been quite the journey navigating the choppy waters of single parenthood. From co-parenting with my ex to dating app nightmares and everything in between, it’s been a wild ride. I’ve come out far from unscathed, but I’ve learned a lot along the way. While I still have much to learn, I want to share some nuggets of wisdom I’ve picked up so far.
11 Tips for Single Parents from A Mom Who’s Been There
1. Don’t be afraid of doing the hard stuff.
The very thing that used to scare me the most about being on my own is now my favorite part of it all. Before the divorce, my ex did all the typical “guy stuff” (pardon my lack of feminism) like driving on car rides, assembling furniture, hooking up electrical wires, fixing leaks, absolutely anything that requires a tool box or a trip to Home Depot… You get the picture. I never imagined I could do that stuff myself if I had to.
Boy, was I wrong. These days, there is no “guy stuff” I won’t at least attempt. I’ve fixed toilets, painted half the house, and assembled beds, desks, TV stands, coffee tables, and a treadmill. I’ve carried heavy furniture down several flights of stairs by myself, installed curtains in every window of my house, hung wallpaper, taken the kids away on weekend road trips myself. You name it, I’ve gone far outside my comfort zone to accomplish it. Where there used to be a “man to take care of it,” now there’s just me, knowing I’ll feel like a total badass after I casually conquer something pre-divorce me couldn’t fathom.
2. Accept help when it is offered.
Tell your family or friends when you’re not okay. Ask people to check up on you. While it’s true that no one actually died, you’ve lost a huge part of your life—and your heart—and you are mourning that loss. People who haven’t been there will not understand. So tell them how you’re feeling. Educate them on this kind of grief. Ask for help when you need it.
3. Don’t rush into a relationship.
For some people, just the thought of going on a date can be terrifying. But for others, the idea of meeting someone new might be exciting. If you were in a dying, loveless marriage for a long time, it’s only natural to seek romance and affection from someone new. If you think you are ready, it’s okay to start dating. But if you rush into a serious relationship, you’re likely doing yourself a disservice. This is your time to flourish on your own, to focus on YOU and decide what you really want—not just in a partner, but in yourself.
I feel I have grown tremendously over these past two years. Sometimes I even feel like a whole new person, someone I really like and can be proud of. I truly believe if I’d spent all the energy I dedicated to personal growth on falling for someone else, I wouldn’t have gotten to know the person I am today. And I like her a lot. So take some time to like yourself before you start liking anyone else.
4. You don’t owe anyone an explanation.
You know those friends who learned you were getting divorced and were all “OMG! You didn’t even TELL me you and so-and-so were having problems! Why didn’t you come talk to me?!” Forget them. It isn’t like a conversation with a “Becky” about how you went without sex for a year was going to save your doomed marriage. Don’t ever let phony friends make you feel bad about your decisions.
5. Embrace new friendships and nurture old ones.
You definitely don’t need a “Becky” in your life, but you do need a small circle of trustworthy friends who truly support you and care about your well-being. So reach out to the close friends you haven’t spoken to in a while, or maybe even dare to seek out some new friendships. You will feel alone a lot, but good friends will help remind you that you aren’t as alone as you think.
6. Sometimes you will be sad, and that is okay.
Accept that feeling depressed is part of the healing process. No one is strong 100 percent of the time. Don’t force yourself to put on a brave face and fool yourself—and everyone else—into thinking you are fine. You are going to have days when you will feel a pain so deep you can’t imagine ever moving on with your life. But you can and you will, so let yourself feel it. Taking medication is perfectly okay, and so is talking to a therapist. In fact, the first thing you should do, if you aren’t already in therapy, is start speaking to a licensed mental health specialist. Don’t underestimate the importance of your mental health.
7. Don’t obsess over your ex’s new relationship. You’re not being replaced.
This is something I continue to struggle with. When my kids come home and tell me how much fun they had with Daddy and his girlfriend, I fight the urge to punch a hole in the wall. I’ll never forget the gut-wrenching pain I felt watching my own family drive off on a road trip together without me. It was as though I’d simply been plucked from the passenger seat and replaced. I wouldn’t wish that feeling on my worst enemy. It has taken a lot of self-reflection and maturity, but I’m slowly learning to accept that there is a new adult in my children’s lives and that she could never replace me. I am their mother, and no one else will ever be. That’s all there is to it.
8. Have “The Talk” about when kids can meet your ex’s new significant other ASAP.
It might seem like a no-brainer. Kids should never meet Mom or Dad’s new person until the parents discuss it at length with each other first. Seems like Co-Parenting 101, right? Well, my ex never got that memo.
By the time I found out about the new woman in my kids’ lives she was already having sleepovers with their dad while they were there. He claimed he didn’t think it was a big deal. I claimed I wasn’t aiming for his head with that rock I threw. My point is, this is a MUST-HAVE discussion between co-parents. There needs to be boundaries set, agreements made, and understandings met before anyone new becomes a fixture in your children’s lives. Don’t assume your ex will know best. They probably didn’t when you were married. Why would they start now?
9. The clothing conundrum is real.
Ugh. The clothing. Before divorce I never knew this was a thing. You buy your kids new clothes, they wear them to your ex’s house, they come home in pajamas, and you never see the clothes you shelled out your hard-earned money on again. Repeat this process a few times and you’ll find yourself wondering why your kids only seem to own pajamas. My ex doesn’t do this on purpose—and in fact he’s fairly cooperative when it comes to paying for the kids’ new clothes— but it still happens and it drives me bonkers! We had to come up with a system. Do whatever works for your situation, just come to an agreement before you find yourself in a heated debate over a pair of socks (true story).
10. Organize your finances.
Along with being the “fix-it one,” my ex was also the “money one.” Most of the bills were in his name and I rarely did more than check the balance on our joint account. I think I took an economics class or two back in college, but my knowledge of balancing a budget needed updating. I’m not the most organized person, but I can appreciate a neatly designed, color-coded spreadsheet more than most. Personally, I find my “Monthly Bills” chart to be a work of art. If you’re not as big an Excel fan as I am, there are lots of apps that can help you keep track of your bills and spending.
After a year of keeping a close eye on my finances, I was able to return the rusty SUV I’d been driving with more than 250,000 miles on it (yes, seriously!) to my antique car-loving ex, walk into a car dealership one random Thursday morning, and walk out with the keys to a brand-new car before lunch. Best. Feeling. Ever.
11. No matter how hard you try, you’re never going to feel like you’re doing enough.
We all know that guilt is just part of being a parent. But for divorced parents, the guilt can be twice as hard to bear. Your time with your kids is limited now, and there’s all the pressure in the world to make the most of every moment. I have my kids all week long, and I always feel like I’m the “boring one.” My ex has them on the weekend, so they do all the fun stuff together. I rarely have an ounce of energy to spare after a full day of work for family fun with the kids during the week.
Plus, there’s the guilt of the divorce itself! You might find yourself often wondering if you could (or should) have “stuck it out for the kids.” The truth is, you probably couldn’t (and shouldn’t) have. But that won’t stop you from torturing yourself about it every time your kids are upset.
My advice? Toss the guilt. You’re a single parent—people think you’re a superhero, for Pete’s sake!—you have nothing to feel guilty about. Instead of wallowing in regret or obsessing over every parental decision you make, use that energy to be selfish. I know it sounds crazy, but we all deserve to put ourselves first sometimes. So take some time for yourself. Get a manicure, go to the gym, order $100 worth of sushi and binge a whole series in a single day (my personal favorite). Treat yourself to life’s pleasures whenever you can. And don’t you dare feel bad about it.
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