When my ex-husband and I decided to divorce in October of 2016, we stayed living together through the holidays because we thought it would be best to wait until after Christmas to tell the kids and have him move out. Those months were hard for both of us. It gave me time for my new single mum reality to sink in.
After he’d leave for work, I tried to imagine myself as a single mother. I knew it was coming, but I wasn’t able to take it all in at one time—it’s incredibly overwhelming to think about being the only adult in the house with three kids who are counting on you.
I wanted to stay in our family home but doubted my ability to take care of the house on my own. My mind would spin out of control, and before I knew it, my day was ruined before it had even started because I couldn’t wrap my mind around doing the single mum thing.
And honestly, there’s no way to know what it’s going to be like, unless you’re a single mother yourself, but here’s a little taste of the single mum life:
1. There’s no backup. Ever. It’s all you. It doesn’t matter if you’re sick, too tired, or need to be in two places at once. For single mums, there’s no one to look at across the dining room table when you are racked with worry about one of your kids, a huge bill, or had a fight with your best friend. You are it. You pick yourself up when you’re down, you do bedtime solo, you plunge the toilet, get the grocery shopping done, pay all the bills, and take care of the lawn. If you don’t do it, it just doesn’t get done. And you have to learn to be okay with that.
2. Saying goodbye to your kids never gets easier. Dropping your children off with your ex-partner is pretty damn hard. I keep thinking this part is going to get easier, but it doesn’t. It’s a reminder of what used to be, and it tugs at my soul every time I see the back of my kids’ heads as they walk into their dad’s house.
3. You dig deep. Single mothers figure things out on their own. You are rediscovering yourself. You want to learn from your mistakes. You don’t go through something like ending a marriage without becoming a different version of yourself. And doing all this soul-searching while managing a family leaves you exposed and raw. Some days, it’s impossible to do anything other than breathe.
4. You cry all the damn time. I cry because I hate leaving my kids (see #2). I cry because I’m utterly exhausted. I cry because seeing my kids do something sweet, like hug each other or buy each other something from The Dollar Store with their own money, makes me realise we are going to be okay. We are still a family, we are just different now.
5. You are going to forget a lot of stuff. You aren’t just managing your schedule and your kids’ schedule now, there is a whole other element throw into the mix. Because your ex doesn’t live with you, you have to relay the kids’ schedules to them, too. They don’t see the permission slips, or the afterschool activity calendars all the time. You have to make sure you are both on the same page with school holidays and where you are comfortable with your kids going. You are going to forget a shit-ton of stuff. It’s okay. As long as you remember the breathing part, you are doing enough.
6. It is scary. Your mind constantly goes to the bad place. What if we get robbed? What if I get into a car accident? What if something happens to the kids when they are with their dad? What if I forget to tell them how much I love them? Have I totally screwed them up?
7. A good night’s sleep is hard to come by. Having another adult sleep in your home gives you peace of mind you aren’t alone if the kids wake up sick, you have a bad dream, or hear a strange noise. It’s comforting to know someone is there. Not to mention how snuggling or a back rub can lull you back to sleep.
8. You don’t have time for bullshit. This is a single mum superpower. You can literally detect it coming a mile away. You are able to weed out the toxic shit that doesn’t lift you up, because these days, you need some serious lifting up. You recognise that and don’t make room for people or things that don’t serve you.
9. You learn how to be present. You don’t really have a choice. When I was first parenting solo, I felt like I was just skimming everything I touched. I wasn’t giving anything my full attention: not my kids, not my job, but especially not myself. That gets exhausting so quickly, you’ve no option but to check yourself. You realise if you’re constantly thinking about the next thing, you’ll let your relationship with your kids suffer, be average at your job, and let your health go. So instead, you straighten up, force yourself to be present, and have faith things will work out even if you don’t know exactly what’s next.
10. You realise how capable you are. When I was first separated, a fellow single mum told me I could do this, but I didn’t believe her. She didn’t expect me to, either. She said she’s felt the same when she first got a divorce. She followed up by telling me, “Just wait. Wait a year and see how amazing and awesome you feel.” Now I know she was right. I just had to get through it. Because the thing is, you go from thinking there is no possible way it’s going to work out to realising you’re not only doing it, but you are nailing it. And that’s when you learn, if you can get through all that mess, you can get through anything.