Whether you’re divorced, in the process of divorcing, or were never married as a mother to begin with, chances are you know what it’s like to fear the future. And I’d be willing to bet that you’ve asked yourself all of these five questions:
1. How the heck am I going to do this? Being a divorced single mom of four in my 30s was not what I had planned. It can be completely terrifying to wake up every morning and remember anew what your life has become. People frequently told me they didn’t know how I did it when I was married, and my answer then is the same now: I just do.
I get myself up and dressed every morning. I wear bright, coordinated outfits to help me feel more put-together. I do my hair. I get the kids to school in the morning. I make checklists of the work I want to accomplish each day—and I don’t feel guilty for the things I leave unchecked. I let a lot slide, like dishes and laundry that needs folding. I make time to regenerate with yoga and bike rides along the river, stopping to dip my feet in the water and watch the morning sun; I dance and sing my head off in the kitchen at midnight when I finally do finish that sink full of dishes.
I surround myself with friends and family. And I make time for quiet: to sit, reflect, meditate, and breathe through the pain, fear, and loneliness. I show myself compassion and give myself extra credit for the things I do accomplish, even if it’s just cooking dinner or remembering to pay the phone bill.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find a good counselor (I have two), and lean on friends and family. Let the people in your life know when things get too heavy to carry, and they will rise up to help.
And realize that no one else out there really knows any more than you do about how to do life. We’re all just fumbling our way through, really—our circumstances may have changed, but life will shift back on its axis in its own time.
Some days the fear of doing it all is bigger than others, and that’s perfectly fine. Feel the fear and then let it go.
2. How am I going to support myself and my kids? I was fortunate to spend the last six years of my marriage as a stay-at-home mom to my four kids. I did have hobbies that turned into side work, but I didn’t embark on single mamahood with a full-time income. I’m not the first or last woman to be in this situation.
Fortunately, I’m in a position to turn my freelance work into a full-time career, but it’s scary as heck getting myself there. Battling the fight for my own self-worth after a damaged relationship while simultaneously striving to create a fulfilling and stable career is no piece of cake. Whether you’re faced with finding your first job or already have an established career, and even if your ex is helping with child support, there is less financial support and stability than there was before, and that’s a huge burden on any mama’s shoulders. But we have more strength and talent than we often give ourselves credit for.
Seek out odd jobs to get started if that’s what you need to get back on your feet. If you didn’t oversee your family finances before, learn them like the back of your hand now. I love the You Need A Budget (YNAB for short) app, and it’s been a great tool to help me get on track mastering the money I do have. Take a good, hard look at your money and figure out exactly how much you need to make each month to bring some security back to your life.
If you’re looking for work, get on LinkedIn and update your resume. Search online and ask around in your network of friends and former workplaces about any job openings. Reach out to your church (or find one to join), and look into career services from your alma mater. Put yourself out there, and don’t feel discouraged if you don’t find the perfect fit right away. Opportunities have a way of showing themselves when you incessantly search for them.
3. Are my kids going to be scarred for life? There is absolutely no one on this earth capable of giving their kids a perfect childhood. You could be the richest man in Babylon with the best of everything and the brightest education to offer your kids, but we all mess up with our children in some way, shape, or form. It’s part of the human condition—and why there are so many parenting books out there. We like to think we can get it all right, but it’s just not possible. Now is not the time to hold yourself to impossible standards. But you can keep our standards high and show your children how strong you are. For as many times as we fail and fall down, we can show them the best example when we pick ourselves up and dust off our knees.
Most importantly, make a conscious effort to be present. It’s hard for me to let go of the anxiety of juggling so many balls day in and day out, but sometimes the best we can do for our kids is set those things aside and just be with them. Those are the moments I cherished most as a kid, when I knew my parents cared about being there with and for me. My kids are going remember those times, too. Sure, they’re going to have some scars to heal from, but I’m going to be right there with them to help them find that healing.
4. Will I ever find love again? This one’s a biggie on so many levels. The last time I dated I was a college student. Fast forward 10 years, and now I have four kids and a world of online dating. Sometimes I wonder if there’s a man out there who would want to join in the chaos of my busy life, let alone where to find him. But there’s no rush, and good, family-minded men do exist (right?). Recovering from a broken relationship takes time. I know the right person will come along at the right time, and the best thing I can do is learn how to really love myself so I’ll be ready when it does happen. And there’s nothing wrong with a coffee date or two to boost morale in the meantime!
5. What if people think I’m a failure? I’ve lived a good part of my life worried about what others think of me and making choices based on my interpretation of what the world says I should do. You know what happens when you live like that? You end up unhappy in a world you created for other people. Not that we need to become selfish recluses or reckless daredevils, but when we ignore our gut about the things that truly bring us joy in life, we lose out on sharing our unique gifts with the world. So stop getting hung up on what others think. Make your decisions for you—you’re the one who has to live with them in the end. Embrace who you are—faults and all—and let your light shine for you and your kids. The life you create for you and your family, not for the world, is the one that truly matters. And however you find joy and happiness in creating that, that’s true success.
Life is full of fears no matter what your circumstances, but life as an unplanned single mama has its own special set. Whether you move on to a better future relationship or stay single for the long run, your fears are something to face and overcome. And this time next year, I know I’ll be that much closer to conquering mine.