Saturday, May 12, 2007

Life After Divorce-Coping As A Single Parent

When the ink has dried on your divorce papers, and the dust finally starts to settle, you will find yourself facing an entirely new set of problems. Now you are alone with your responsibilities. The scheduling of your life is different, and probably more difficult.

If your husband is limited to brief visitation rights, then the day-to-day responsibility for your kids is now completely yours. Even if your spouse has your children part of the time, you will discover that you are more limited. If your ex did anything at all around the house you will now have to do it yourself. If he did any of the family bookkeeping, or helped the kids with schoolwork, or took them here or there, that service is no longer available. You have a household. Once there were two people who could take on the duty of running it. Now there’s one.

You will probably begin to see this happening from the start. During your divorce these things present themselves. But in some ways they aren’t as obvious then. This is partly due to the incredible turmoil you are already facing. There may also be other factors disguising the truth. Your friends and family knew what you were going through while the battle was still raging. Often some of them stepped up to bat, and helped in so many ways. Your best friend drove your boy to sports practice through an entire season, and maybe your sister took your daughter to shop for clothes. But that was when your days were endless cycles of lawyers, court dates, and searching for records. Now life is supposed to be normal.

The only problem with that is the workload: it seems to be permanently bigger.
In most cases the ex-spouse should be of help, but there are almost always problems and disagreements. Most likely these will last as long as your children are still underage and a shared responsibility. How much support and help your ex is giving you with the kids is usually a measure of your sanity. I’ve had my own problems with this, as does nearly every parent who keeps custody most of the time. My ex-husband’s mandated times with the kids only cover a couple of weekends and some weekday evenings each month. Often the evenings simply don’t happen.

Many divorced parents face the same dilemma: doubled responsibility not only for kids, but for shopping, cleaning, paying the bills, taking care of the pets, doing the laundry, and the list goes on and on!

Being a single parent is no easy task. For each of us the new responsibilities take different forms. When they are still together most parents gradually take on some aspects of the good cop/bad cop relationship with their kids. Sometimes dad is the one who is judge and jury, while mom seems willing to listen. Or those roles might be reversed. Maybe your ex-spouse was the disciplinarian; while you were the sympathetic one they could always come to. Whatever role you played before, now you must be both. If your boy gets in a fight, or your daughter mistreats a schoolmate, you have to dole out the punishment. Yet, if there were extenuating circumstances, you also have to understand. How can a person do both? It seems almost impossible.

This is aggravated even more by the divorce. A split inevitably sets up a competitive situation. In a conflict people always look for allies, and in a divorce both parents want the kids to be on their respective sides. This doesn’t end with the decree.

If dad was once the disciplinarian, but now only sees the kids for a few days a month, he’s likely to be much less help when they do something wrong. He’ll want his house to be the place where they have fun. At the same time, mom is going to get tired of always being the one to give punishments. She doesn’t want her children to hate her. This often turns into a competition for affection that can only hurt the children.

What every parent in a divorce must learn is that their children still have the same needs they had before the divorce. That means they need the adults in their lives to take on adult responsibilities. For instance, if you are about to leave your children off at your spouse’s, don’t work extra hard to leave the best impression. There’s no need to make your last stop one at a fast food joint where you fill them full of sugar and empty calories. Instead, just make them understand that you love them, and are concerned with their well being in every way. Ease them into the transition by assuring them of their place in your life, while helping them see that they still have that place in your spouse’s life as well. If your spouse doesn’t cooperate, try to resolve it when the kids aren’t there. Do all you can to make sure that the facts of custody are not rules of engagement, but rather are simply a structure for your children’s benefit. If you and your spouse still have lingering differences in this area, the best way to help your cause is to simply be the best parent you can be.

But whatever your arrangement is with your ex-spouse, life can’t help but be more difficult alone. So what do you do in the face of overwhelming odds, and the seemingly inevitable nervous breakdown?

First, remember you are not alone. There are millions of single parents out there facing the same thing you are. You probably know other mothers (and/or fathers) who are, or have been, in the same situation. Don’t be afraid about turning to them now. They may know things you don’t, and if not, they can always lend a hand, or at least some sympathy.

Others who have gone through the same thing will realize what pressure you are under. This isn’t simply a matter of finances (though that issue usually has a lot to do with it). You are now the one that your children come to every day of the week. They need you desperately for their own sense of security, especially after their world has been turned upside down from divorce. You are the one who picks up after them, feeds them, and gives them allowances. You are the one who talks to their friends’ mothers and fathers. You get the call from school. You talk to their teachers. You are the first one to hear about bills for education and health. If your children are about to go to college, you are the one they talk to about those possibilities.

If you are the parent they stay with most nights, and you are the parent they see in the morning before they go to school, then you are simply the one.

Because it used to be different, because there used to be two of you, and because there used to be two parental roles being played in this house, you now have to learn something new. Now you must develop some skills you never needed before. If you can do what is necessary you’ll find that this new order isn’t that scary. If you can adapt, you will not only survive, but thrive. A new exciting life is just around the corner. Your job is to figure out how to keep from getting so exhausted that “just around the corner” turns out to be an impossible distance to cover.

Your job as a newly single parent may not be easy, but in time you will adjust, fall into new routines, and discover a new found strength you never thought you had.

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