I’ve been through this thing called love enough times that when I look back, the pattern is still crystal clear.
It always starts the same way.
My eyes make contact with the most wonderful man on this planet and in a short time blissful love traps us in its net.
Our souls merged into a fusion of love.
Plans for the future laced with laughter, long talks, and endless sharing take up space during our days and nights.
Then one day, well, you know the story.
This happens, when that happens, then this happens again and so one and the bubble bursts.
You attempt to fix it over time, but it seems to last an eternity but to no avail.
You try to bury the problem, but it comes back up.
You put forth persistent efforts to ignore it, but it’s transparently in your face.
He says you are the problem. You defend yourself. And at the end of each day, the conflict gains traction and becomes an insurmountable obstacle to moving forward together.
Three abortions and two kids later he decides you are no longer worthy because, in fact, he never wanted kids.
And one morning violently shows you the door.
You take the babies, the blankies and your passport.
Rehashing the past is not for the faint-hearted.
My independent, stoic self morphed into a shattered human.
Life was once again leading me into the unknown without my explicit consent.
This time as a single mamma of two beautiful children who still smiled when playing with dolls even though they battled their way onto this earth.
Confused and broken-hearted, my self-esteem plummeted to depths I never thought possible, yet, incapable of putting a stop to this disaster, I followed.
When life gives you lemons you make lemonade right?
Well, I didn’t.
Instead, I tried to get back on my feet the best I could.
I had two angels to take care of, feed, clothe and above all try to protect — and of course love.
Unarmed for this particular future, full of doubts, in addition to my ex’s constant criticisms, life just got emotionally hard.
In the middle of the night, between mourning and searching for the way out, I slowly built a wall around my sensitive self, one brick at a time.
Feelings had to take a back seat to fill up the fridge.
My girls were small but not stupid. They felt something was up, especially the oldest.
I think I was able to hide the hard stuff to make life lighter for them.
I guess I’ll never really know, kids are so smart and have radars on all the time. Maybe 15 years from now they’ll throw something at me which I’ve entirely forgotten.
The pain that weighed me down had lodged itself so deeply within my heart, and these small humans were the only reason I didn’t entirely fall apart in the abyss of sadness.
Several years have passed, but I remember it all like it was yesterday.
In hindsight, here is what I learned about being a single mom. These techniques helped me clear out the overwhelm and focus on essential points in my life.
1. LEARN TO LISTEN
When we officially broke up, I moved out of our relationship with my two babies.
Our friends went through a reasonable range of emotions and showed clear signs of shock. Comments like “what? Why? How? You’re made for each other” overlapped loudly at each conversation.
Their next step was listing everything I should or shouldn’t do as if they knew.
This was particularly true for family, who of course had ready-made solutions they never needed to test.
All these noble intentions only proved friends and family wanted to be helpful.
But none of it was truly helpful.
When unsolicited advice darts at you from every direction, the information gets very confusing and make you feel worse.
So learn to turn them off.
It’s very hard not to listen to friends, especially when you’re going through so many mixed feelings.
They act as lifesavers and have bottomless listening capabilities, but sometimes they just don’t know.
Unless they’ve gone through the same experience, it’s best to listen to yourself.
Yes, even if you’re lost. By clearing out the confusion, your own voice will emerge. Listen.
“The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’.”
― Alfred Brendel
Listen to your inner self.
That’s the part of you that will rise to the occasion if you let it pass the barrier of doubt and confusion created by your mind.
Before collapsing into bed each night, take 15 minutes to sit quietly. You could also lie in bed, but all too often I fell asleep. So try sitting first.
Close your eyes.
To clear your mind, focus on one sentence and repeat it 30, 50, 100 times if needed until no other thoughts interfere.
For example: Choose a positive phrase about yourself such as- I trust myself.
Or ask a question: Which step should I take next?
If you find it hard to make your own affirmation, then pick a longer phrase from a ready-made list that you find helpful.
The only requirement is that the phrase or question should closely relate to your difficulty or your desired outcome.
Another exercise that helps clear the mind:
Close your eyes.
Focus on a colored circle. Make it as big or small as you like and try to sharpen the borders and the shapes within the circle. By concentrating only on the circle for a few minutes, your disturbing thoughts will decrease.
These two techniques will train your mind to block out the confusion and allow for calmness to enter.
If this exercise is too hard to do for 15 minutes, then start with only a few minutes each day. Progressively add another minute every week.
Small children demand a mother’s full attention at all times.
Babies want mamma’s arms and when they learn to walk they follow you everywhere.
I mean everywhere.
Even when they grow older or become somewhat independent, they still need guidance and support.
With each birthday, a mother makes sure her children grow into healthy stable, loving humans which entails a myriad of personal values.
It’s all about raising them, and every mother does it differently.
In general, I had only a few rules.
But the ones I did have weren’t supposed to be bent at any time for any reason, except maybe natural disasters.
When I found myself with my two girls under my arms in the middle of our new space, well, I considered it to be a natural disaster.
It had nothing to do with taking care of them because even before the separation I was already practically raising them alone.
But It had everything to do with the additional pressure I put on myself.
My main objective was to preserve them from any negative feeling, and I went to great lengths to protect them.
Why should they have to bear more than necessary?
But in the process, I forgot to take care of myself.
Give yourself permission to fuel your energy. Otherwise, you won’t have enough for your children.
Wake up every morning 15 minutes before the children and write a few lines in a new journal. Any notebook will do.
Yes, I know moms don’t get enough sleep as it is, but these 15 minutes every morning can very well lead to better sleep down the road.
Being always exhausted I had a hard time getting up at first to write my few lines. Yet, I persevered and found that by liberating my feelings and thoughts on paper I felt less anxious and slept better over time.
In this journal, let your guard down.
Write about what hurts you, things that you’re worried about, thoughts that keep you up at night.
Write about what your ideal future.
For once, it’s all about you. Don’t worry about spelling or coherence. It’s not an essay, just feelings on paper!
Writing is the first step to make sense of this complex situation. It’s not necessary to reread what you wrote. By just writing consistently for 15 minutes every morning your thought patterns will begin to shift.
3. RIP OFF THE LABEL
I work here. I am married to. I have children. I travel. I this I that.
Being locked into a role allows us to identify with its label safely.
As normal as this may seem, when the label changes, we feel lost and confused as if a part of us disappeared.
I see this a lot with friends who divorce or lose their jobs.
Yet, most of us never question if ours was a happy label.
Or if that particular role truly fulfilled us. We’re just content to fit in somewhere.
I was never very close to people who loved putting labels on me although I understood their need to label me according to their interpretation.
But my life has been so dispersed that no label ever fit long enough for it to be true.
However, when they labeled me as a single mom, I couldn’t prove them wrong. There was no escaping that fact.
I didn’t even try because the problem lied in what being a single mom meant to them. Not in what I was experiencing daily.
I always got the same look.
The fake empathy “that must be so hard” look when in fact they know nothing about you.
The look that feels for you, but then moves on to talk about the weather.
That look that says I knew a single mom once, but now we don’t talk anymore.
If I were anyone other than myself, I probably would have felt plagued by those looks.
I really couldn’t afford to listen to their comments. And didn’t.
I would nod and say I had to go. But inevitably I’d run into the same people again, and the whole process repeated itself as if for the first time.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
— Anais Nin
Let go of people that don’t help you move forward positively.
Tell them you’re busy and invest your time in finding other people that naturally understand and support you.
If you can’t spend time with close friends because they don’t understand, then get in touch with local organizations where other moms are experiencing the same thing.
Also, search for facebook groups according to your child’s age that have a proven track record for support and helpful information.
In addition check meetup groups for getting together with like-minded people in your area with to converse and also do fun activities.
Over time, ok maybe a long time, a strange feeling of relief and a sense of freedom starting sprouting inside of me.
Yes I was raising two kids, yes the fridge was usually half empty, yes I stayed up nights worrying about our future, and yes I was still heartbroken and feeling betrayed.
And yes, of course, I was running around trying to get everything done because I was the only one doing it.
But for the first time in forever, I had a “quantum leap” moment.
If this foreign thought hadn’t forced its way into my brain, I would have probably ignored it.
“I can be whoever I want to be” planted itself in my mind.
What a revelation. Seems stupid enough since everyone knows they can be whatever they want.
But I had just seen the light.
Really. A moment of grace.
Soon after, all my obligations and things on my endless to-do list came rushing back to press me.
I was late and had to hurry off.
However, lodged in a tiny brain cell, this thought started to grow.
Let choice whisper in your ear and love murmur in your heart. Be ready. Here comes life.
— Maya Angelou
Know that you are capable.
Make a list of forgotten thoughts, dreams, and ideas.
Think about them. Then choose the ones that accelerate your heartbeat and make you smile.
Imagine if there were zero obstacles, which would you choose?
Now make a rough plan. As impossible as it may seem, make the plan.
How can you implement the first step?
OPEN YOURSELF UP
Single moms have no time to relax.
Most of our day is a balancing act. Between juggling tight finances, working enough to support our family and taking care of our children we fall in bed exhausted.
Over weeks and months of the same schedule our emotional batteries run down, and impatience, nervousness, and stress take over.
In light of this cycle, it’s crucial to spend consistent time with close friends and meet new people. It’s obvious, but most of us don’t do it.
However, just like the priority of filling the fridge, you should also make it a priority to grow personally.
This may seem scary at first because you’re thinking about yourself instead of the obligations that need your attention — but push forth.
How to open yourself up to others:
If your finances allow it, hire a babysitter once every 15 days.
Make an advance note in your calendar that every two weeks you will need help because you’re going out.
Otherwise, accept when friends offer to watch the kids. I always had a hard time with this one but found that once all dressed up and out the door, I never regretted it the next day.
Now make a date with friends over a nice dinner or a movie. Dinner is better as you may meet new people and that’s always a good thing when trying to open up.
Use your lunch break to go walking and window shopping with a friend or alone. It doesn’t have to be long, but it does have to be consistent.
Join a class. Look at the dream list you wrote above and choose something you’d like to try. Research dates and times in your area. Solicit the help of a babysitter or friends and enroll in a trial class to confirm it’s a good fit. Remember, opening up means feeling better, which in turn will give you more positive energy for your children.
Baby steps are important in fueling your desires.
On days when you’d like to take a break from daily routines with your child :
- Look into a yoga class for mother and child. These are popular, and you’ll meet moms and dads that could become future friends.
- Wake up a bit earlier on the weekend and explore a new park to go for a run while pushing the stroller. Check google maps for new areas you’re not familiar with around where you live.
- Depending on the age of your children, pack a simple picnic, a few games and relax by the seaside or countryside.
Change doesn’t have to be dramatic. They only need to be consistent to see results and reap the benefits.
When I became a single mom, overwhelm was the primary word. I had no family to help out, my finances were a disaster, friends took a backseat, and my broken heart kept me from smiling.
However, the pressure I put on myself weighed me down much more than having to raise my kids alone.
By implementing small changes one day at a time, I created more serene, joyful moments for myself and my children.
And you can too.
Be patient with yourself and move forward. Use the techniques above to create quality time with your children and with yourself.
Until you’re fulfilled and proud of the woman you are.