Whether you were married for twenty years or two, with your partner for a short time or what you thought would be a long-term relationship, it can be a shock to find yourself alone again. Relationships are often things that settle into the back of your mind and create an “it will always be this way” environment,f so the ending of a relationship creates a dramatic change between what you expect and what you have.
But before looking for the next person to form a twosome with, you’ll need to focus on rebuilding two important relationships first: the one between you and your children, and the one you have with yourself. When you’ve gotten those bonds as strong as they were before (or even stronger), you’ll be ready to look for a healthy, loving relationship with someone else.
1. Your Most Important Relationship Is With Your Kids
Why spend time focusing on your children when you just want to relax and go out on a date? Because separation, divorce, and change are hard on everyone, but especially children. Think of how emotionally unbalanced you felt right after learning that you’ll no longer be married or in a relationship, and then multiply that by ten – or even a hundred – and you’ll know what your children are feeling. While the very youngest children won’t have the mental and emotional difficulties that older children do, they’ll also be aware of the new situation in the home, even if they don’t have words to talk about it. You’ve got to help your children come to terms with the fact that your old relationship has ended before you think about starting a new one.
Help Kids Cope With Change
Is Dad still in the picture? Then your kids need to figure out how to adjust their schedules and their expectations to match the new situation. There’s a lot of change ahead for them as they cope with things like shared custody, different bedrooms to spend the night in, and weekends (or entire weeks) in a new and unfamiliar home.
Is your former partner or spouse no longer living in the area, or not interested in keeping up his relationship with his children? While kids won’t have the same weekly or monthly scheduling complications creating multiple hassles, they’ll have one major difficulty: trying to adjust to the hole that Dad has left in their lives.
One thing that’s very important in helping you create a new “just Mom” relationship with your children is to make sure that you stay out of the new “just Dad” relationship they’re creating at the same time. If your kids go to their father’s house for a long weekend, you can casually ask what they did, but don’t try to control what happens there. Unless you have serious concerns about their safety while they’re away from home, let them enjoy their time with their other parent without feeling like they need to be taking notes to report every detail back to you when they return.
Keep The Communication Going
Some children handle change by expressing their emotions in no uncertain terms. You’ll never wonder what these kids are thinking about the new situation – they’ll let you know what they like and what they don’t like, and you can talk about it as often as they bring it up. Because a child who talks about their feelings and questions often uses arguments and complaining to release their negative emotions, you’ll need to keep your own temper during these discussions. Be truthful, but don’t be negative in return. Help them see the positive side of things where you can, and be honest about the down side of the situation. Children are remarkably practical when they understand a situation, and honesty will help them adjust more quickly.
You’ll also have to stay positive when you’re dealing with a child who tends to keep everything inside. Let them know that you’re there, always, if they want to talk, but try not to force the conversation. Talk about everyday events, or their dreams, or your plans for the family over the weekend, or even what you’re thinking about making for dinner that night. Just getting a quiet child to open up and start talking about any subject at all can help them relax enough to bring up issues that are bothering them. Once they start talking, they’ll be more comfortable asking questions, especially if you keep a welcoming, positive attitude. You can get some good advice on how to stay calm and relaxed in this article.
Avoid Dropping Bombshells
Although sometimes a breakup or divorce is a surprise, more often it’s fairly obvious to children that something isn’t right between you and your partner or spouse. However, children don’t always make the obvious connection between an unhappy relationship and the end of that relationship. This is especially true if you and your partner have always argued or fought, especially in front of the children. If kids grow up surrounded by conflict, they’ll assume that it’s “normal” and will still be surprised when the family breaks apart.
You shouldn’t trouble your children with all of the details of the conflict between you and their other parent, but as soon as the decision is made to split up, you need to tell the kids. You need to be honest here as well, and it’s okay to say things like, “You’ve probably noticed that we’ve been fighting, and now we think it’s better if we don’t live together so that we don’t fight so often.” Be sure that each child knows that there’s nothing about the situation that is connected to them: it’s not their fault, it’s not related to anything they did or didn’t do; it’s just between you two adults.
2. Your Second Most Important Relationship Is With Yourself
There are many ways in which it’s crucial to think about yourself first; for example, if you’re not taking care of your health, you’ll damage your body by getting sick, and also be unable to care for your children. When it comes to relationships, you still come first – after your children. There’s a good reason to put these two priorities in order: if your children are confused and stressed, you won’t be able to concentrate on your own confusion and stress, which will just make the whole situation worse for all of you. When you’re confident that your kids are settled into their new reality as best as they can, stop and take a look at how you’re handling the situation.
Are You Settled Into Your New Reality?
You know what they say: “Denial is not just a river in Egypt.” It’s something that flows through everyone’s life at some time, and during divorce and separation, it’s tempting to just let it wash away any idea about facing up to the changes in your own situation. However, the sooner you accept the change and stop feeling angry and resentful about the difficulties caused by that change, the easier it will be to cope with the new (and probably longer) list of responsibilities you have to deal with every day.
Are You Organized?
You might not think that organization is key to a good relationship with yourself, but think about how you’d feel if you had a partner who was always forgetting to do things. You’d be angry, irritated, under pressure to make up for lost time and complete last-minute fixes. Now put yourself in the role of the partner, and you’ll quickly realize that if you’re not organized, you’re going to be angry and irritated with yourself. Like any other relationship, that’s not the way to keep a healthy and loving connection. Since you can’t divorce yourself, however, this is one relationship you really need to work on.
Getting organized will make your life easier in many ways. You’ll have more time to spend on yourself, you’ll have more time to spend helping your children, and you’ll be more relaxed, which will help you deal with any conflicts involving your ex.
Let Others Help You Stay Strong
It’s vitally important that you don’t try to go it alone. When you’re suddenly single, you might feel as if you’re obliged to do everything yourself, but there are people and organizations that are out there just waiting to be asked to support you through the first difficult days, and beyond. Keep the lines of communication open with your friends, turn to your family, and look for community or church groups that offer help. Your doctor may have some good suggestions about local groups that offer advice, services, or just a place to go to talk with other single moms. If you can’t get out to a group meeting, you can still get good advice by reading about the experiences that other single parents have had in articles like this.
Let Yourself Be Number One Sometimes
Even after stating above that your relationship with your children is the most important one, it’s also true that there will be times when you just need to think about yourself first. Sometimes people call it “taking a mental health day.” It’s a day – or half a day, or even an hour – when you don’t have to think about your to-do list, or your responsibilities, or even your children. Here’s where your support network comes in handy. Find someone who is willing to be a babysitter, and simply spend time alone if that’s what you need to get your batteries charged again.
3. Your Third Relationship Is The One You’re Scared Of
If you’ve been out of the dating game for a while, you’re probably nervous about looking for or starting a new relationship. If your last relationship wasn’t a good one, you might be even less open to the possibility of getting burned again. And remember – there’s nothing that says you can’t be completely happy as a single person, even if being a single mom is sometimes difficult! Take some time to listen to your inner voice and think about what you really want, right now and into the future. You don’t have to find a new partner right away. You also don’t have to wait if finding a new relationship is important to you. No matter what decision you make, you’ll have the most luck in finding your happiness if you start out with a feeling of self-confidence.
Confident People Are Attractive People
Because your second most important relationship is with yourself, start by focusing on being happy with yourself. When you’re happy, you’re more self-confident, and you’ll be able to make better decisions. It’s great to find another person to love, and who loves you. But if you don’t love yourself, you might not do what’s right for you. There are a lot of books out there that talk about building a good relationship with yourself, like Kamal Ravikant’s “Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It.” When you feel great about yourself, you’ll have the confidence you’ll need to get back into the personal relationship mode when you’re ready.
Be Prepared To Be Happy
Remember the advice above about preparing your kids for a change in their home life? Preparation is a good idea in many situations, and when you’re getting ready to look for a new relationship, that’s definitely one of those situations. Reading a book like “The Single Parent Dating Solution: A Guide Through Roadblocks In Dating And Romance While Single Parenting (by author Imogen Reed) will help you really think about what you want. There are a lot of aspects to dating as a single parent that you might not have realized, such as how to introduce a new person to your kids, and when it’s appropriate to include someone outside the family into things like dinners at home, or even trips to the zoo or the park. The more you know, and the more things you’ve considered, the better prepared you’ll be for anything unexpected.
Once you’ve created a stable relationship with your children, developed a support network, and gotten a good idea about what you want in your next relationship, it’s time to go out and see what, and who, you find.