Surviving (and Thriving!) the First Year as a Single Parent After Divorce: Six Common Challenges and How to Overcome Them
Take it from someone who has “been there, done that” – the year you become a single parent after divorce is one of the longest years of your life.
No matter how you become a single parent – whether through divorce, the death of a partner, or by choice – you need to be ready for a year that promises many emotional highs and lows, lots of self doubt, and making mistake after mistake; however, if you are the kind of single parent that is determined to make this year a good one for you and your kids – despite this major life change – then this year can also be a good one.
What?? Isn’t divorce supposed to promise doom and gloom for both you and your kids? You know – you made your bed, now lie in it kind of mentality?
You MUST be the kind of parent like me who refuses to helplessly watch her family slowly rot away into a severely sad state, or you wouldn’t be reading this blog right now. Good for you! Divorce does not have to equal messed up kids, a ruined life for you, or constant fighting with your ex.
Based on both my professional opinion and by my own personal experience, both you and your kids can thrive after a divorce.
Do you want to know the secret of how to do this? It’s not based on your income or how much your ex makes, or your gender, or your educational level. It doesn’t matter whether or not you share custody with your ex or even the ages of your kids!
The secret to whether or not you and your kids will survive a divorce is based on having a positive attitude, maintaining a warm relationship with your kids, and lots and lots of hard work.
Below is a list of 6 common challenges that often take place during the first year of becoming a single parent. In addition, I have included 6 solutions to address these common challenges, and if you are the kind of parent who wants what’s best for your kids (and for yourself, too – just because you become a single parent shouldn’t mean that YOU don’t matter anymore!), then make the effort to follow my advice.
#1: Your Self-Esteem Will Plummet (Only Temporarily!)
Challenge: During the first year of single parenthood, expect to question every decision you make.
It makes sense, right? You go from consulting with your partner from everything from childcare decisions to financial issues. Now its time to stretch your “decision muscle” and learn how to make your own decisions based on your own passions, values, and beliefs.
In addition, you might also feel unlovable, vulnerable, and lonely. Divorces, just like break-ups, play horrible games with our sense of self-worth. While it is normal to feel this way during the early stages of a divorce, do not let it define your new you.
Solution: During this first year of being a single parent, find the courage within you to try new things and to explore new passions. Sure, you might find out that you hate pottery making, for instance, but you will have learned some valuable new insights about your new self. Try to tap into your pre-married self and discover hobbies that you haven’t thought about for years or have always wanted to try.
In addition, it is important that you do not try to solve extreme problems with shallow solutions. What I mean is, do not jump from one bad post-divorce relationship to another one just so you don’t have to feel lonely. Of course you will feel ugly and lonely right after a divorce and you will continue to feel this way no matter what relationship you are in until you work on YOU!!
Put the work into realizing how AMAZING you are so that the right partner will be attracted to you when the time is right.
#2: Other People Will Judge You
Challenge: People are mean. They like to judge other people for many different reasons; mostly, though, people judge others because it somehow makes them feel better about their own lives. These kinds of people tend to think along the lines of “My life sucks, but at least not as bad as theirs” and they find comfort in this.
Solution: You can’t change these people, but you can surround yourself with people who are supportive and positive. I once had a parent at my kids’ elementary school ask me how my kids were doing since the divorce. When I told her that, so far, they seemed to be adjusting well, she replied, “Well give it some time.” Wow! That went from concerned and caring to downright critical in no time flat!
When things like this happen, all you can do is move on and don’t dwell on these situations. These kinds of judgmental statements are more about that person who spoke them than they are about you, so just try to go about your day and forget about them.
#3: You WILL Make Mistakes and You WILL Have Successes
Challenge: Single parenting is new to you and it involves a major learning curve. The only way to avoid making any mistakes is to avoid making any decisions at all! I can’t think of anything more useless for you and your kids than to sit back and not live life out of fear of making the wrong decision.
In contrast, you will also make some really great decisions that will make a positive impact on your family life. This is great when this happens because as you attempt new things and notice that you are making good decisions, you will also increase your confidence and your self-esteem.
Solution: Give yourself a break – don’t expect perfection. The only way to accumulate a scorecard of successful decisions is also by having made some not so great decisions. You can try to set up yourself for success by surrounding yourself with trusted family and friends who you can consult with regarding new decisions.
#4: Your ex Will Make You Want to Scream
Challenge: You wouldn’t have made the hard to decision to divorce if you felt all warm and fuzzy all the time for your ex. The first year of single parenthood means that both you and your ex are figuring this new life out. That means that your ex will do things that will make you want to scream, and this is normal.
Solution: Through a multitude of patience, compromise, and hard work, chances are that you and your ex can, at some point, be on friendly terms. This is not going to be easy on you and will require great amounts of determination and perseverance on your end to inspire this kind of relationship to happen. Don’t give up on the hope that this relationship can develop. Your kids will be grateful to you for having the determination to help this relationship develop.
Of course, the exception to this recommendation is if your ex was abusive during the marriage, is a current addict, or suffers from a severe mental illness. In this case, you might need to have the courage to endure long court custody hearings, resolve to not get dragged into unnecessary drama created by your ex, or to be both a mom and dad for your child if your ex chooses not to have a healthy relationship with your kids.
#5: Expect That Your ex Will Have Different Rules at Their House
Challenge: Not only are you creating a new life as a single parent – so is your ex; therefore, expect some lifestyle changes by your ex. Maybe they always thought the family rule of not allowing the kids to see their “crazy” brother was stupid and now they take your kids to see him. Perhaps they let the kids go to bed at 11:00 at their house, but your rule is lights out at 9:00.
Solution: This difference in household rules is very common with divorced households and (believe it or not) kids CAN learn to handle different rules at different households. Of course, kids are prone to prefer the more lenient rules – they will probably also complain to you if your rules are more strict than your ex’s rules.That’s ok.
You are the boss of your household, so as long as your rules are reasonable and based on your personal passions, values, and beliefs, then your kids will learn to adjust to this.
#6: Your Kids Will Misbehave
Challenge: EVERY time your kid misbehaves or acts out, you will blame yourself (or you’ll blame your ex, which is a cop out in my opinion). Repeat this to yourself: every kid acts out – that’s part of being a kid!
Kids from traditional families, single families, divorced families, and gay families all misbehave at one time or another. No kid is perfect and sometimes the way kids learn is through making mistakes.
Remember that line from the Batman movie? You know, the one where Bruce Wayne’s father asks him why we fall? Bruce tells his dad that it’s so we can learn how to get back up. This lesson can be applied to our kids (they sometimes need to fail so they can learn to succeed) as well as to ourselves (we also learn how to parent through our mistakes).
Solution: Have a plan for when you kids misbehave. This plan should include:
- A warm explanation
- Clear expectations for behavior
- Clear communication of consequences
The most important thing that you can do for your kids during this first year of single parenthood is to show them that you love them and care for them even when they feel out of control and confused.
You CAN Do This!
If you follow my advice when you encounter any of the 6 common challenges that I discussed above, then you will set yourself up for success for being a single parent. Just remember that you can be a great single parent. We all have unique challenges specific to our individual divorces and/or situations, and that simply means that we need to be flexible (and sometimes creative) when handling these challenges.
Tips to Help Your First Year Start Off in the Right Direction
- Parent with purpose – if your attitude is positive (even if you do not feel like it in the moment) about the divorce, then your kids will be more likely to feel as if they can conquer this first year too
- Take care of yourself! It’s ok to take time out for yourself. Go out with supportive friends, get a manicure, take a warm bath at night. This not only prepares you mentally and physically to take on new challenges during this first year, but it also models to you kids that taking care of yourself during hard times is a smart thing to do.
- Let go of judgmental, negative family and friends and surround yourself (and often) with positive influences.
- Address your kids’ needs as soon as possible. Don’t let small problems get out of control. If you kids need extra support with adjusting to the divorce, then be sure to get that support for them. There’s no shame in getting therapy, tutors, or simply just giving your kids extra attention during this adjustment period. It is irresponsible to ignore cries of help from your child.
- Be the boss of your household – don’t hand over authority to your kids because you feel guilty about the divorce. They need you to lead them even if it seems like they think you are incompetent. Believe me, kids excel in putting up a tough front, but what they really want is for you to put your arms around them and tell them that everything is going to be ok.
- Recognize that you are doing the best you can. You’ve got this! Give yourself the credit you deserve.
- Do not treat your kids as your peer, your therapist, or your quasi-partner. Let them be kids.
- Have realistic expectations for the divorce, for your kids, and for yourself. If you set the bar too high, then you will always be frustrated and disappointed for not being perfect. No one is perfect.
As I said in the opening paragraph, my kids and I have survived (and thrived!) as a Modern Family who has experienced divorce and your family can too. You might be doubting whether or not you can really pull this off, but I know you can.
Keep coming back to Parenting The Modern Family for more tips and insights as you navigate the adventure of Modern Parenting. Contact me either in the comment section below or through my email to let me know what challenges you are facing as a Modern Parent. I also want to hear about your successes – I love celebrating with my readers!
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