From One Single Parent to Another
When my husband announced that he was leaving when my child was eighteen months old, I was shocked, sad, ashamed, and mostly terrified. I had not been employed for two years and was not sure if I could feed my child, much less keep my house. The shame had me believe that not only was it my fault (which my husband and his family would mention quite often), I also felt all alone, as if I were the only person that had this happen to her.
Instead of “baby on board,” I felt like the sign on my car would say “single parent on board.” To me, it seemed as if I was the only mom walking a stroller around the mall without a husband. Oh, and did I mention that by this point, my husband was already remarried and soon after, had a baby on the way? On my end, I had money problems, self-esteem problems, anger problems, and the “poor me-victim mode” was in full swing. I am not even sure if I was able to look into my child’s eyes at this time because I was too busy trying to survive.
Months later, as the pity party started to lift, I found myself wondering what do I want to teach my child about her dad leaving? This was probably my first sane moment.
Most single parents do not choose to be single parents; the job is usually thrust upon us. Therefore, we must choose the “job” of single parenting or we will not be very good at it. So, the first step we have to take is to stop looking over at your ex and his life and instead focus on laying the foundation of your new family and home life. In my case, after regaining that focus, I had to find a job and childcare right away, as well as prepare my child for preschool. My experience taught me that instead of worrying, I needed to switch gears and start doing something. This helps to walk through the fear one step at a time. As one seed takes root, strength and bravery begin to resurface.
I found courage through making my child and her needs my focus. I was shocked because I had never done anything like this before, and I was amazed at how resilient I had become, especially since I was “winging it” at this point. The best decision I had made was the one to stop being in “victim mode” and choosing to step up to the plate and be a role model.
I remember I was out with single women one night and a woman I barely knew blurted out “Who is going to want you with a young child?” I turned to her, glaringly, and said, “Oh no, who is going to be lucky enough to be with me and my child?”
My confidence grew stronger in all the conscious decisions I had to make for myself and my child. I started having a life of my own. I was smart enough to not over-expose my child to people I dated. I also made sure the only date when my child was at her father’s house. We had a happy, joyous, and stable home environment without people coming in and out of our lives at this time. My daughter lovingly calls those years as some of the best years (she is now thirty).
Some higher power had to be watching over me because I had started this journey as totally clueless! For instance, I desperately needed a job. Back when I was in my master’s program, I was working out of a boiler room selling insurance. It was with this experience that I offered to volunteer my time to help a non-profit do some fundraising. Thankfully, I was ultimately offered a paid position there, which included a good salary and childcare. It was a miracle! When I was let go a year and a half later, it led me to take another leap of faith and start up my private practice (which is still thriving after thirty-plus years!).
I would like to share some parenting lessons that I have learned along the way:
Try not to feel sorry for yourself because your child will also feel sorry for him/herself. This might be when you and your family want to seek professional help to prevent the pity party from taking over your life. You need to be an authority figure with rules and consequences that are used consistently. If at all possible, create a co-parenting plan with your ex-spouse so there can be stability in both homes. Remember, you are your child’s stability and safety. Self-care is mandatory. My daughter approached me around age eleven and asked, “Mom do you know what the best gift was that you’ve ever given to me?” I thought she was going to say it was her beloved Barbie dream house. Instead, my daughter responded with, “You, Mom, loving yourself.”
My Parents Are Getting a Divorce . . . I Wonder What Will Happen to Me is an interactive discussion book co-written by my daughter and me. As a mother-daughter team of therapists with personal and professional experience with divorce, we wanted to provide a bridge of understanding between parents and their children. Our book creates a safe space for children to share their innermost thoughts and feelings, while also teaching healthy coping skills for children to empower themselves during a chaotic and confusing time in their lives. The goal is to take children out of the middle and provide them with a voice as well as the tools that will allow them to grow into healthy, balanced individuals.
Karen Kaye is a licensed mental health counselor with the State of Florida and received her master's degree in family therapy from the University of Maryland. For fifteen years she has written a column titled, "Ask the Therapist" in the Natural Awakenings Magazine of Broward County, Florida. My Parents Are Getting a Divorce came to life through Karen's efforts to keep her own child out of the middle of her divorce when Hara was young. The book has been an evolutionary healing process for her and her daughter.