This is the 5th blog in the Mothering Matters Spring 2017 Blog Series:
Single Mom Candour – Sage Insights into the Challenges of Raising Children after a Divorce
“It’s hard enough parenting children when there are two parents in the picture. It’s even tougher when you don’t. Let people help you.”
– Anon single mom
This Mothering Matters blog is an interview with a single mom who has requested to remain anonymous.
Question #1: Thanks for being interviewed for Mothering Matters! How old are your boys now?
My eldest son is 12 and my youngest is 10.
Question #2: How old were they were you got divorced?
They were 5 and 3.
Question #3: How old were you?
I was 41.
Question #4: How many years were you married?
We were married for almost 7 years and together for 10.
Question #5: Can you tell me a bit about why you got divorced?
I was married to someone who, I believe, had some undiagnosed mental health issues that led to pretty disruptive levels of anger and paranoia. While we were married, we met with multiple counsellors and it became apparent the situation was not going to change.
I was faced with two crappy decisions: 1) stay in a dysfunctional home or 2) break up my kids’ family.
I took a long time to make the decision to leave, but finally was pushed to make it when I saw that my kids were starting to be affected by the dynamic in our house – in all sorts of really crappy ways. I knew it would only get worse as they got older.
I realize that marriages break up all the time but in my experience/observation, it is rarely the woman who leaves when there are kids involved. They suck up all manner of terrible things to make it work. So maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised that there was a big reaction from my friends and even from total strangers when they found out that I was the one who initiated the separation.
Many of my friends only saw the side of him that I fell in love with…the fun guy, etc. I had kept much of our marriage reality hidden so it was a huge surprise when it fell apart. I think there were some who thought that I should have stayed, whatever the cost. I don’t think people realize exactly how bad things have to be to leave your spouse and the father of your children.
Question #6: What is your current living situation in regards to when the boys live with you and when they live with their father?
During the school year, the boys spend 60% of their time with me and 40% with their dad. In the summer, it’s 50/50.
Question #7: In addition to raising your sons, I know you also work full time. Do you work from home? How do you handle all the responsibilities that come with juggling a full time career and raising kids?
I do work from home and I work for myself. I think it’s the only way I could do it. Last year was a huge year for my business and I felt like I had absolutely no down time. When I had my kids, it was too much, trying to juggle it all. I was driving them everywhere and taking conference calls all the time – and often international ones at weird times.
The upside was that I cleared the debt that had built up since the divorce. But the flip side was that my stress levels were through the roof and I wasn’t really present when I was with my boys – I was always thinking about the email that needed answering or the deadline that needed meeting. It made me wonder why I was working so hard – what was the point if I couldn’t enjoy being a parent?
This year, I am trying to find more balance. Because I work for myself, I don’t like to turn down work contracts. So I have had to ask myself, “What is enough for us to survive and thrive – but that also allows me to be mindful and present when I am with the kids?”
This shift was partly inspired by going to a 3-day Money Mindfulness course with Tracy Theemes at Hollyhock last summer. She is amazing…the whole experience was a game-changer.
Yes, it was about money, but it also helped me figure out my core values. One of my most central values is freedom. Yet my life was bananas! I was either working all hours of the day and night or running around trying to do everything with my kids to compensate for working so much.
An eye-opener was when my kids started to wake up in the morning and ask, “What are we going to do today? Let’s get going!” They were picking up the need to be busy from me.
I finally realized that work is never over. It never ends…so I had to create boundaries.
I also realized I was living in a prison entirely of my own making. Now I am finally learning to relax and spend some time at home. It sounds dumb but that’s really tough for me to do.
But I know now that I don’t need to take every trip, go to every show, be with friends all the time, etc. to live a peak life. Just being home and baking and reading and recharging is SO important – it helps me do better work and be a better parent.
Question #8: Can you tell me some of the challenges you face being a single mom with the dad still in the picture?
One challenge is that my ex-husband and I still do not have a great relationship. When you divorce someone and don’t have kids, you can walk away. But when you have children, that relationship has to continue – potentially for a very long time.
You have to communicate with each other to make important decisions about their schooling, activities, health, etc. That can be torturous if the relationship isn’t great – and that’s typically the case if you’ve broken up (although I personally know of a handful of amicable and mature co-parenting exes).
If there’s one benefit to this, it’s that I’m reminded every week, if not every day, that leaving that relationship was the right decision.
Obviously my biggest worry is about the impact that the divorce has and will continue to have on my sons. The boys have heard and seen things between my ex and I – and between him and my family and friends – that I wish they hadn’t.
My eldest son used to feel stuck in the middle and he has gotten counselling for it, which really helped. I also get anxious thinking about their future relationships with women. If they see their father treat their mother with disrespect, what does that teach them? That is a big worry for me.
And financially, I totally underestimated how hard it would be to be a single mom. Especially starting my business, which took a while to build momentum. I have a master’s degree and tons of work experience, and yet I still find it is a very precarious financial situation to be in. I can only imagine that, for many women, divorce is completely financially devastating.
Another challenge is that when the kids are under my roof, they are under my rules. But then these rules change when they go stay with their dad. It takes a good couple of days to re-establish a routine every time they transition back to my house.
And single parenting is really difficult. When the boys are with me, I have to be good cop and bad cop. It would be so nice to have another parent there as back up, especially as they get older. It’s harder to deal with the boys now than when they were kids because they have way more tools in their toolbox!
I can see why the two-parent model exists, it makes a lot of sense. That’s what I had as a kid and still have with my parents, but unfortunately that’s just not how it worked out for me and my kids.
Question #9: What are some of the benefits?
Well, there was a huge amount of relief when I left the marriage because I was no longer in a really crappy domestic situation 24-7. To finally leave that environment was a huge relief. But other than that, no. I don’t see many other benefits. Maybe a sense of strength from having to do it all on my own?
Question #10: Do you have any concerns about yourself and/or your boys – either now or in the future – about being a single mom? I know your life is exhausting at times.
As I mentioned before, I do worry about the long-term impacts of their father and I not having a good relationship. This is a relationship they are learning from – and it’s not one I want them to learn from. So yeah, I do have many concerns about the long-term impacts. I just try to be honest with them – and not throw their dad under the bus.
Thankfully, my boys do have other healthy relationships in their lives to observe and learn from. My parents have a really stable relationship. Plus I have friends who are in healthy marriages. And my brother is as well. So all these people – and lots of others – are good role models.
And I try to be a good role model for them, too.
Question #11: Do you have any words of wisdom/suggestions/insights for other single parents?
Yes. I have advice for women who may be where I was, back when I got married. I had concerns about the man I was marrying. But I was 31 and wanted to have kids – and I think that fed in to my decision to marry him. Even though there were huge red flags, I still went ahead.
So my advice to other women is this: don’t do it. I’m not saying that I have any regrets – I am so grateful that I have my two boys and can’t imagine my life without them. But for those who haven’t yet gone down the path of having kids with someone who is raising red flags, trust me: you’re saving yourself a whole world of pain and suffering if you listen to your intuition.
Don’t ignore the red flags. There are other ways to have kids.
In regards to advice to single parents, in my observation there are two types of single parents: 1) the ones who will take advantage of help being offered to them and; 2) the ones who won’t accept help or ask for help. I fell into the second camp. And it doesn’t work.
It’s hard enough parenting children when there are two parents in the picture. It’s even tougher when you don’t. Let people help you! Let people pick up your kids from school or sports. Accept help and be okay with asking for help. It doesn’t mean you are a failure. People won’t think any less of you.
We’re all sitting alone in our own little homes, trying to do it all. But we need to help each other out – it truly does take a village. Sometimes we’re in a position to help others and sometimes we need the help ourselves. It all works out in the end….as they said in the film, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, “If it’s not all right, it’s not the end.”
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