Keeping Connections After Divorce
Parenting can feel like an isolating experience. Making friends with other moms and dads can be intimidating and honestly, sucks sometimes. For me, as a single parent I struggled to feel welcome amongst coupled parents. My experience altered vastly from those who had never faced divorce, custody battles, and the complications of being outside from potential circles of support. So while friends helped me as best as they could… I just struggled to make meaningful connections where I could identify with my peers.
But after years of floundering to cultivate a new identity separate from my marriage I discovered a few things others may find helpful too.
1. Find other single parents. Go to a support group, playgroups, Facebook groups, old friends etc. Some of my current heroes raise children in similar situations as mine.
It’s important to find someone who “gets it.” Many people will love you and support you but they may not understand the crisis of feeling like you’re parenting on an island. Keep your village because they are important; however, expand your circle to finding an avenue of support you can relate to. These deeper relationships can help sustain you when you’re feeling like life is hanging by a thread. Oprah once said “All people want is to feel understood.” Single parenting may feel like a constant battle: fighting for more time, fighting schedules, fighting exes, fighting the clock, you name it--- if you don’t have to fight to feel understood in one category that’s one less challenge to take on.
2. Practice Patience.
Give yourself time to grow. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your new identity. Take your time finding your footing after divorce. It’s ok to date and go out with friends. People may tell you that you shouldn’t or that you aren’t ready. Now that I’m departed from the immediate experience I would contend joining in the dating world was good practice for me. I had no idea how to date or how to socialize post marriage. Getting to know different people helped me to know what type of relationship I didn’t want and what I needed from relationships. I trimmed down the pool of potential suitors by practicing dating. In fact, I recognized after several poor dating experiences I needed more time to regain my self- esteem. I needed those blunders to get to that realization. And honestly, the initial separation from my son created loneliness I needed to distract myself from. I went on dates, accepted invitations to makeup parties, jewelry gatherings, leggings pop-ups etc. I needed to do something to cope with the silence of my house. In doing so, I met other single parents and new friends. These invitations became a lifeline in getting back out there.
Outside of dating, give yourself and your child/ren time to adjust to new routines. Rough patches are to be expected. One thing I focus on is also working in time for snuggles and just being together without having a task in mind. These moments reinforce our bond and help my son regain his center when he experiences transitions from house to house. We try to tidy his room for five minutes and then together we make his bed (he has a specific setup he prefers) and then snuggles commence. This time is sacred—I never take away cuddles at bedtime because the laundry needs folded or I have some writing that needs tackled. Our time together is precious. Often these are the times I hear about worries or feelings that need addressed so he can get a goodnights sleep.
As a person who often lacks patience, it’s hard for me to accept I won’t be owning a new car any time soon or having all my debt managed within a year. But the reality is divorce tacks on bills and expenses that can overwhelm even the best of planners. Be kind to yourself as you manage new stressors related to finances. Use a budget, seek advice from strong finance minds, and know that you may have impossible decisions to face financially. Do your best. It’s ok to spend $20 on dinner with friends occasionally--- do not let guilt prevent you from finding ways to share quality time with others. You can get creative with potlucks and cheaper alternatives to margaritas at the bar.
3. Get sleep and read articles when you can’t.
This point might seem weird but looking up topics that directly pertain to you may help you feel less alone. Reading about ways you can manage your concerns from experts or other parents who have come out on the other side can foster hope or comfort. When you find yourself awake during the wee hours of the night try reading a blog, an article, or watching a Ted Talk. Having something to do may help ease the tension and be a strategy for coping.
In that same vein, if you aren’t sleeping or can see that your health is in decline due to the stress seek out support from a therapist or medical professional. You need to be eating and sleeping to maintain your energy needed to handle the rigors of parenting alone.I remember my physician looking at me and asking me if I had slept in the last year. My answer was I couldn’t remember when I last slept. She worked with me to find ways to help me relax enough to rest. Being well-rested resulted in my willingness to accept invitations to join friends for meals, playdates, and girls’ nights.
As a single parent, you probably have very little free time on your hands. Find ways to give back during the times you can embed in activities.
For instance, I volunteer while I am already at church. I may miss parts of the service, but I know I am directly contributing to my community. I also help post online items for them because I can work on it on my own time. Helping others helps me so I keep this in my wheelhouse to stay connected.
When I know I need to make freezer meals I make an extra for an elderly couple I know. I drop the meal off on a route I already take during the week so I don’t have any extra trips.
Or try this: When I pick up my son, I read to his classmates. I know my son’s teachers work hard all day. When I arrive to snag the Bear I sometimes read the kids a book so the teacher can address another parent or finish a cleaning task. I can’t volunteer during the work day so this way I can give back to his providers.
5. Call your mom.
My mother lives far away. I feel lucky to see her once a year so we talk almost every day. While she can’t contribute to my care-giving needs by watching my son when I need a sitter; she can listen to me. Having a person I can talk to about the struggles of parenting or bounce ideas off of helps tremendously. And keeping in contact with someone I care for maintains my connection to the past. Sometimes after divorce, you grieve the lost relationship that was a part of your personal history. Friends whom stayed connected to you while married trickle away after the divorce.Having a connection to your past positively helps the healing. Let your mom love you through it. If you talk to few people, keep her or someone like her, on your calling list.
Take the risk to be vulnerable during this delicate time and after. You control very little in terms of divorce--- you can control how you heal. Meaningful connections serve as a lifeline (I promise), so the vulnerability is worth it.You may find old friendships no longer “give you joy” and taking the time to meet new people can rejuvenate your soul. Stay connected and put the work into the process of relationships that bring you happiness—it takes effort. This effort will benefit you in the long run and help you have a healthy village to support you as you navigate the world without a partner.
Life isn’t over when the marriage ends. In fact, finding yourself after divorce may stand to serve as one of the most liberating experiences of your life. I feel more free now than I had felt when married. Why? Simple: I married young. My entire identity was embroiled in my spouse’s. We grew up together and we were a singular item for almost 17 years. I never got to grow outside of him while with him. Now I direct my sails and experiences as an individual. I get to explore my heart, my path, and my parenting as ME.A stronger, better me means I can be in all relationships (friendship, romantic, professional) more effectively and bravely.
Jess and The Bear