I was a pseudo-single mom for about 5 years after separating from my ex-husband. That’s what I call it at least – a pseudo single parenthood, where my custody schedule was split 50/50 and my girls had two loving parents, just at different times. Those years were both happy and terrifying. I found myself to be a bit of a ‘yeller’ with my kids, which I didn’t seem to be when I was married, but then again my kids were very young when we divorced. As toddlerhood morphed into school-age, there was already a lot of drama in my house of three girls. I struggled with frustration, anger, hopelessness, but also a feeling of complete relief and freedom of my newfound “beginning”. This dichotomy of emotions would fluctuate, and I found out that I wasn’t being consistent as a single parent.
I had a lot of help during these times of emotional chaos. I leaned on good friends, and an excellent therapist to help figure out where my feelings were coming from, and how I could correct my direction when needed. And books! You are not alone – and I would read endlessly from other women who had gone through worse situations that I had. These days, I still yell on occasion, but it’s fewer and further between. Oh, and guess what I found out? It’s totally ok to surrender to the fact that you may have gone overboard. Accept and acknowledge it, and apologize for spazzing out – your kids will appreciate and learn from your accountability.
There were some days where I felt incredibly guilty and sorry for my daughters – flitting from my home to their dad’s home, on a fairly frequent basis. My instinct was to overcompensate for it, by eating out a lot (the girls found this fun) and some bribery too – I mean, how fun is mommy’s house!?
What I ended up learning from this is that stuff doesn’t matter. My daughters needed ample opportunity to open up and talk about anything and everything. They aren’t going to tell you they need to talk, so I would set aside time each week at bedtime to talk to each one individually at bedtime about anything they wanted. Sometimes it was about something funny that happened on a favorite show. Sometimes it was heavier stuff like, are you and daddy going to die someday? Oh those were interesting for sure. During any of our conversations, I found connection there – a bit of calm in an otherwise busy day fraught with school, work, errands, dinner, baths, etc. During some of our talks, if something made them feel sad or uncomfortable, I would tell them how great it was that they were talking about those feelings – that once those feelings were out in the open, those feelings would start shrinking. I wanted to encourage an environment of neutrality and support, even at a very young age.
What they also needed was lots of hugs, guidance, and discipline. Don’t sacrifice the discipline because you think you might be labeled as less than the other parent. Please don’t do that disservice to them or to you. Be authentic, be their guide even when it’s hard. They will learn that you are always going to tell them the truth, in any situation – and I believe this will reap giant rewards as they get into teenage years and beyond.