Last updated on March 7th, 2023 at 10:45 pm
How I let go of my marriage dream and learned to love myself.
When my husband announced that he was leaving when our child was eighteen months old, I was shocked, sad, ashamed, and mostly terrified. I had not been employed for two years and was unsure if I could feed my child, much less keep our home.
The shame I felt made me believe that not only was the divorce my fault–which my husband and his family would mention quite often–but that I was the only woman who had this happen to her.
Instead of “baby on board,” I felt like the sign on my car should say “single parent on board” as a warning label to the world.
To me, it seemed as if I was the only mom walking a stroller around the mall without a husband. My ex-husband was already remarried and had a new baby on the way. On my end, I had money problems, self-esteem problems, anger problems, and a full-blown “poor me” mindset problem. My shame made it impossible for me to look into our child’s eyes. I was too busy trying to survive.
Months later, as the self-pity fog began to lift, I wondered what I wanted to teach my child about her dad leaving. It was probably my first sane clarity moment since the separation.
Most single parents do not choose to be single parents; the job is usually thrust upon you. Therefore, you must select the “job” of single parenting, or you will not be very good at it. The first step you must take is to stop looking at your ex and his new life and instead focus on building a firm foundation for your new family life.
After I began focusing only on my life, I knew I needed to find a job and childcare and prepare our child for preschool. Instead of worrying, I needed to switch gears and do something. Direct action helps you walk through your fears one step at a time.
As one seed takes root, newfound strength and bravery surface.
I found courage by making our child; she needs my singular focus. Focusing only on our child seemed shocking because I had never done it before. My focus had always been on our family as a whole. I was amazed at how resilient I became since I was “winging it” as a single parent. My best decision was to stop living emotionally in “victimhood” and choose instead to be a role model for our child.
I remember one particular night when I was out with some single women, 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, “No–who is going to be lucky enough to be with my child and me?”
My confidence grew because of my conscious decision to live my own life. I was smart enough not to over-expose our child to people I dated. I reserved dating for when our child was at her father’s house. I created a happy, joyous, and stable home environment without people coming in and out of our lives.
My daughter, Hara, lovingly calls those years some of our best years together. She is now thirty years old.
Some “higher power” had to be watching over me because I was clueless when I first began my single-parent journey. All I knew was that I desperately needed to get a job.
I remembered how, when I was in my master’s degree program, I’d successfully worked in a boiler room selling insurance. I was pretty good at sales. I used my insurance experience to reach out to offer fundraising help to a local non-profit. Thankfully, I was offered a paid position, which included a good salary and childcare. It was a miracle. When I was let go from my position a year and a half later, I took another leap of faith to start a private practice that is still thriving after thirty-plus years.
3 Single Parenting Lessons I Learned:
1. 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 self-pity from taking over your life.
2. 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.
3. 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 the best gift you’ve ever given me?” I thought she was going to say it was her beloved Barbie® Dreamhouse™. Instead, my daughter responded, “You, Mom, loving yourself.”
My marriage may have ended, but I was able to change my original marriage dream into a beautiful life spent providing understanding between divorced parents and their children. I’ve written a book with my daughter about creating a safe space for children to share their innermost thoughts and feelings while their parents are divorcing. We teach healthy coping skills for children to empower themselves during a chaotic and confusing time in their lives. We aim to take children out of the middle and give them a voice. We want them to have the tools that will allow them to grow into healthy, balanced individuals.
And that’s a new dream to be proud of!
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. Karen’s book, “My Parents Are Getting A Divorce I Wonder What Will Happen To Me: An Interactive Discussion Book for Children ages 4-12” came to life through Karen’s efforts to keep her child out of the middle of her divorce when Hara was young. Her book has been an evolutionary healing process for her and her daughter. For further information, please visit ImStillMeBook.com.
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