Like many of you, I never anticipated raising kids alone. I married towards the end of college and eagerly moved towards building a family. Eight years later, out of the blue, my husband walked out the door and left me for another woman. Only weeks before, I had lost our third pregnancy at the halfway mark, and was still recovering.
Reeling in shock and pain, I now had to navigate a mortgage, no child support, two little kids and a serious lack of job skills. While the pain was paralyzing, even worse was figuring out how to do life on my own. Fortunately, I had a college degree and, with the grace of God and intense networking, I landed a job within a few months.
The hardest day of my life was waving goodbye to my kids and leaving them with a babysitter as I transitioned to a full-time single working mom. Tears streamed down my face as I drove to the office each day. How would I ever smile again when my whole world was crumbling? I knew I would have to battle to not let despair overwhelm me each day, and I would have to fight even harder to recover joy.
A Blessing In Disguise
One of the biggest obstacles for me was simply keeping my chin up and not feeling sorry for myself. Yes, I was in a tough situation, but God was my strength and he trusted me with these kids. I had to believe with all my heart that I could do this!
There are many tremendous single parents, and I wasn’t alone. Each day was a struggle (and some days I stumbled hard), but I tried to always begin again with a positive attitude and a grateful heart. I focused on what I had – the opportunity to care for two beautiful children – instead of what I had lost. This was a huge blessing, and I didn’t want to take it lightly.
I look back and wistfully remember pouring out my heart to God in my tattered journal in the wee hours of the morning, accompanied by a cup of coffee and my Bible. Although terrified to the core, my dependence on God sustained me, and I discovered a closeness with God I had never known that was forged only in the darkest hours. God knew from the beginning of time that I would be a single mom, and He still had a future and a hope for me and my babies. Yes, my spouse let me and the kids down, but I knew God would remain our eternal ally.
Creating A Stable Home
Loving and nurturing my kids came easily, but I quickly learned that my children craved stability and security more than ever amidst all the turmoil. After divorce, it’s crucial to do your best to create a protected and peaceful environment where kids can thrive. Every day, your children need to hear how much you love them and how proud you are of their efforts. Remind them that the divorce is not their fault, and seek counseling if they are struggling to process the pain.
Now, I’m not super-organized, but because I was parenting on my own, I had to get more structured. Part of creating stability and security in the home involved establishing predictable schedules and routines for my kids. Don’t be too rigid about this, but find a healthy balance. Bedtime is a great way to start with a fun routine of a warm bath, jammies, books, snuggles and prayers. I also tried hard to use the TV only when I needed it and not as a babysitter.
Single parents with a strong supportive community tend to fare better than those without one, so get out there and join a single parent church group. My kids and I went on amazing single parent retreats in the mountains (on scholarships donated by former singe parents) and found a loving community of people in the same boat whom we could mutually support and lean on.
Keep Expectations Realistic
Joy is not a thing you can grasp and hold onto; it’s a heart attitude and a journey you will move towards as you raise these kids. Focus on the smallest victories along the way and not on the failures. Set realistic goals as a family and work together to accomplish these goals. My kids and I saved for months to buy Disney annual passes, and the day we entered those gates was a victory indeed!
Decide what is most important to your family and prioritize accordingly. I focused on the kid’s faith, education, sports and family time. Those were our non-negotiables. I also knew I was a big softie when it came to saying “no” and backing it up. But I knew my kid’s needed limits, so I worked hard with a counselor to become more consistent with discipline and set clear guidelines for behavior with appropriate consequences.
Over time, my smile returned, but the joy I discovered was different than the joy I sought out before. This joy wasn’t based on a “happily ever after” paradigm; it was now grounded in an awareness of God’s provision and sustenance. I am grateful that I traveled through those dark days because I discovered a treasure that can never be taken away.
Time has slipped by. I’ve remarried and had another child. Although my middle daughter was too small to remember the most difficult years, my son and I share an uncommon bond because of what we went through together. I wept when I found his college entrance essay left on the printer. It described his spunky mom who fought with all her might to care for him and his little sister. Oh boy, did that slay me! You might not get credit for the long nights and endless days when the kids are small, but some day, your grown child will surprise you with a hug or a word (or an essay) that shows how much they appreciate you and the sacrifices you made for them. And your joy will be complete!
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