I spent more than half of my life with the man I married, and because of our lengthy history, I never imagined that one day I would find myself a single mom to three young kids. But then two years ago, suddenly, I was. I left my husband and within a year I was raising my three kids ages five, three and one—all by myself.
As I went from mostly being a stay-at-home mom to being a working mom, money became tight and my time with my kids dwindled. I became more stressed and often wondered how I would be able to get everything done on my own. More than that, I felt guilty that I wasn’t giving them the best life possible.
But when I look at the big picture, I realize that parts of our new life are helping my kids grow into incredible people—not in spite of having a single mom but because they do. Here are nine life lessons I hope they take away from having a single mom:
1. Don’t stay in relationships that don’t make you happy
Amid an ugly divorce, my kids witnessed a lot of things—some of which I wish I could erase from their memories entirely. But my kids also saw their mom standing up for herself, leaving a bad situation even if it was scary and the future was unknown. One thing I wanted to make sure my kids understood was that if someone loves you, they treat you with respect. I want to model what a healthy, loving, compassionate and respectful partnership should look like. And if it doesn’t look like that? It’s important to me that they know they aren’t ever “stuck” just because they are married or have kids. Bottom line, I need my kids to know that if you’re unhappy, it’s OK to leave.
2. Let yourself be sad, angry, hurt… but not forever
During my divorce, my kids saw me broken and crying in pain. But they also watched me get up, dust myself off, pick up the pieces and rebuild our lives. It was important to me that my kids saw my raw emotion and understood that I was very upset about what was going on, because they were too. Sharing struggles and real feelings and showing your kids that not everything is perfect all the time is OK (important even)—as long as they also see you going through the motions to get through it. Show them your tears, but also show them what you do next. Your situation might be vastly different, but you are learning to cope.
3. You’re more capable than you think
My kids have seen me do small things like mow the lawn or take out the trash, but they’ve also watched me do very large and tedious jobs like put up drywall, assemble furniture and install a pool. Recently, my son said he wished I had a husband to help because I shouldn’t have to do these kinds of things and it STUNG. Not just because I don’t want him to think these tasks are gender specific, but also because I don’t want him to think I need someone to help with the activities that his dad once did.
When I started considering divorce, it was overwhelming to think of the things I would have to do on my own. But as time went by, I learned how to do more than I thought I was capable of. I want my kids to see that even when the future is uncertain, we learn and grow and somehow, we figure out a way. Having a partner may be helpful, but you don’t need anyone.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Because I do all the things (school, sports, camps, babysitters, field trips, doctor’s appointments… you name it, it’s my job), I sometimes get stubborn about accepting help from others. I feel like help somehow equates to weakness or admitting that I’m in over my head and not capable of doing these things alone.
But the reality is, we all need a hand sometimes. And knowing how and when to ask for help is probably one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned. Just because I can do something by myself doesn’t mean I should. I want my kids to learn that accepting someone’s help is a sign that you are in tune with your own needs and you understand that taking care of your family sometimes requires outsourcing.
5. Having less isn’t a bad thing
This was not my dream. But I’m glad I chose to be a single momIn the beginning, I was very concerned about how drastically my kids’ lives changed now that we were a single-income family. We don’t go on vacation often, if at all anymore. Christmas and birthdays are much different than they once were, and even the tooth fairy has become far less generous.
But as time has gone by, I’ve realized that it’s not a bad thing to say “no” sometimes. Not all families are created financially equal and I made sure my kids know that if I say “no” to something, it’s not because I don’t want to do those things with them, we just financially can’t swing it right now. And they have grown to be understanding about that in compassionate and empathetic ways.
6. Take breaks when you need it
I also want to show my kids that it’s important to take a break in life and that saying “no” when your plate is too full is OK. Being a single mom has forced me to take a hard look at the constant moving parts of our lives that I am frantically attempting to keep moving smoothly. Sometimes, our day starts and ends on schedule and everything falls into place like a well-oiled machine. But, other times, everything comes to a screeching halt and I’m forced to break out my tool box and fix it.
In the moments that I’m running on fumes, we might decide to stay home instead of going out for dinner like we planned. Why? Because it’s important to know when you need to take a step back and recharge. It’s essential to me that my kids understand that you can’t possibly help take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself first.
7. Nothing in life stays the same, and that’s OK
This is not the picture-perfect life I had envisioned for my family. I didn’t anticipate being divorced, and parenting three kids completely alone. My kids may get sad at times because they only have one present parent, and they’re sometimes at a disadvantage to peers who have two parents, two incomes, or who don’t have a mom that works multiple jobs to stay afloat. They are missing someone important in their lives and sometimes that hurts.
Over time this has become our norm, and I want to make sure that my kids walk away from their childhood knowing that in life, things change. At any moment, your life’s plan could take a complete detour and you’ll be forced to find your way all over again. Relationships change and chaos is inevitable at times, but amidst your struggles you find strengths you never knew you had.
Stay in touch
Subscribe to Today's Parent's daily newsletter for our best parenting news, tips, essays and recipes.