Updated: Oct 21
As a divorced parent, finding my bearings as a Parent in a society and culture that is strictly built for two-parent households was a mammoth challenge that continued to deplete my health, wealth and wisdom for almost a year after the end of my matrimony. Aside from having to deal with my own mental health and my child's, I also had to carry the burden of society’s judgement of me.
The way people looked at me and made me feel was a new type of hell that was not prepared for.
I remember all too well how in the early days, I would dread questions from people who would want to know where my kid's dad was and why he was nowhere to be seen and this dread was enough to make me want to cocoon myself inside my home and never want to come out again! But, thankfully, even in my worst days, I knew that that was not a fair imposition on my child. He deserved a chance to make it in his life despite the playground and school politics, and general bullying that children of divorce inadvertently have to face in this big, bad world.
But somehow with practice and intention, we managed to overcome big mountains.
So, how did we make it, you ask?
Here are the Big 4 daily habits that worked for us;
1. Accepting that some people will always be judgemental of my position as a divorced parent:
I remember I once had a close friend who seemed quite committed to misunderstanding me, and no matter what the conversation she would somehow find a way to turn it around to my situation.
‘Why did you not try harder?; ‘Why are you being so casual with your child’s life?; and
‘how can you even separate your child from his father’… etc were her favourite questions. And this despite knowing the heartbreak that I had endured to end my marriage.
Needless to say, I cut her off after one particularly heated conversation and have not regretted that decision for a second of my life since. This has been the case with about 90% of my family as well.
I do accept that this is hard and does lead to loneliness occasionally especially around festivals and weddings, but accepting the painful truth that I do not need gossipmongers, judgemental or hateful people in my life, even if they are family or lifelong friends was the real game-changer for me.
2. Seeking out the good people I already have in my life:
I soon learned that merely accepting that some people are always going to be bad fruit was not enough. As a next step, I also had to seek out the good ones, whose friendship and support would help them grow into those spaces left vacant by the bad fruit. This was an enriching experience for me, and I started by bringing to the forefront old friends who have always been supportive, and with their love and light shining on me, I slowly learned how to embolden myself to face the world again. The friend that I spoke about in point 1, lets just call her A, was my best friend for all intents and purposes in my old life, but our friendship did not hold enough water to carry over into my new life as a Single Parent. In stepped an old friend, who we shall call B, who unexpectedly held space for me and loved my child as she did her own. These are the kind of friendships that a Single Parent must intentionally and consciously seek out.
3. Practise my boundaries like a sportsman practises his sport:
Once you become a Single Parent, time and energy becomes very limited. The only way to conserve and ensure a healthy flow of both is by learning to say ‘No’ to people, matters and situations that are not of high priority.
This is a very difficult practise to learn, because culturally we have not been taught to say no to parents, family or authority figures, and I had to consciously remind myself daily, and still sometimes do, that I reserve the right to say no to anybody, even to my own child to preserve my own sanity, otherwise I risk serious burnout and resentment.
For example, healthy practices that I now follow are that I no longer work long hours, or reply to emails or call after 5 pm. I also make sure that I only work with people who understand my personal obligations. Surely, this had led to some professional bridges burning and loss of income, but by sticking to my guns, I have found good and understanding employers and clients who accept that I have a personal life that I manage alone as a Single Parent. As a Single parent, I sometimes have no choice but to accept that I am running on limited funds and energy, and to make those run extra for me, I would have to choose my battles and entertainment wisely, and practicing strong boundaries proved to be a good way to start on that journey. The question does remain though, how does one choose ones priorities, to answer this point, I use the indomitable Nora Ephron’s example where she says that everyday is a juggling act, and sometimes some of the balls fall, or we let them drop for other more important or heavier balls, but we are allowed to choose which ones we pick every day. This really brings home the point that we do have a choice.
4. Me-time before we-time:
There was a time when I was fresh out of my divorce when I would try to do everything. Work, childcare, laundry, cooking… EVERYTHING!
And obviously, as you would have already guessed, I burned out even before the month turned into the next one. I became short on my temper due to lack of sleep and nutrition, was losing work and friends, and I began to hate my life even more. Asking for help was a total No-no because I was also scared of people thinking that I was a complete and utter failure and not just in my marriage.
But, after multiple health set backs and an intense session of therapy. I slowly realised not only the importance of me-time but also the importance of teaching my child the same, because honestly, if I don’t openly enjoy leisure and rest time then how will he?
And if I don’t openly ask for help then how will he learn how to do it?
After all, children model their own behaviour around ours, and their pure minds have no distinction between good and bad behaviour. So, I started by vocally asking for help, getting a maid to clean the house, started to learn yoga and meditate, started therapy, picking up hobbies, meeting friends.. etc. This small switch to taking care of myself before taking care of everything else made a world of a difference in my approach towards Single Parenting.
So, these are 4 core habits that I exercised to get a steady footing as a Single Parent during my early days as one, and here is a fun fact, these are still the Big 4 that I go to when things get hard, as they sometimes do.