A big part of parenting after separation or divorce is learning to parent all by yourself. It’s actually trickier than it sounds. When you were building up to the separation, you probably thought that you could not wait until you were alone with your kids and looked forward to not having to parent in tandem all the time. You might have believed that things would be so much smoother and easier when you could just make and implement decisions and schedules and not have the turmoil of your relationship interfering. If you are now separated or divorced, you probably know that it’s easier and harder, all at the same time!
Manage the Burden
When you parent after separation or divorce, it is all up to you — and that means a very time and labor intensive situation. You’re the one who has to do the driving, work on potty training, monitor a teen’s texting, stay on top of homework, parcel out snacks, turn off the TV to screams of protest, and enforce bedtime when your kids are with you. There’s no one else in the house to keep an eye on them, change a diaper, wipe up a spill, or fix the broken kite. When you’re alone with your kids it is all on your shoulders, which can feel very overwhelming, if you let it get to you. Give yourself breaks by using a sitter, turning on a video (gasp!), or shutting the bathroom door. Short moments when you can catch your breath do help a lot and let your recharge enough to keep on moving.
Remember that you are not in this alone. If you have a reasonable relationship with your ex, you may still be able to discuss important decisions about your kids together. If not, you need to have friends and family you can talk to about your life, who can offer their perspectives and advice.
Accept and Forgive Yourself
Parenting after separation or divorce is a very stressful time in your life. You aren’t at the top of your game. You’re going to make mistakes as a parent. And your kids will turn out just fine. You may snap at your child, say something you don’t mean, or make a decision you later rethink. Apologize to your child if you said something you regret. Feel free to rethink choices you made and go in the other direction. This is actually a very good thing to model for your child – that no one is perfect, that we all make mistakes and that it is important to own your missteps and still move forward.
Try New Things
This is your chance to retool your parenting. There are lots of things changing in your child’s life right now and while it is important to maintain continuity overall, it is also easy to make small changes without them becoming a major focus right now. Adjustments to bedtimes, household rules, chore distribution, church attendance, TV time, exercise plans, or even food types can be snuck in now without much disruption when there is already a lot of change happening.
Focus on the Positives
When you are parenting after separation or divorce, it can be easy to be a glass half-full person and focus on all the times you don’t have with your kids, when they are with the other parent. This kind of thinking is not helpful in moving forward. Instead, when you are with your kids, enjoy them. Love the time you have and be happy about it. And when you are alone, make the most of that time as well, enjoying the freedom it affords you and the time you can devote to other things.
Take Time to Get Into Your Stride
It takes practice, but soon you feel confident parenting by yourself and while you will still feel tired and sometimes resentful that this is the way it has to be, you will adjust. Your children will adjust as well and the difficult first year of single parenting will pass and everyone will adapt to a new routine.
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of The Divorce Organizer & Planner (McGraw-Hill), How to Parent With Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child’s Best Interest (Sourcebooks), The Complete Divorce Handbook (Sterling) and No-Fight Divorce: Spend Less Money, Save Time, and Avoid Conflict Using Mediation (McGraw-Hill). Her web site is www.BretteSember.com.