I’ve had my ridiculous “baby mama drama” moments. I’m not proud. They were more frequent in the first several months of the separation but I think I’ve been a much more controlled and cooperative person the past five months or so. I have a lot of single co-workers and one of my best friends is a single dad. I’ve seen and heard a lot of stories regarding the experience of single parenting. This is a note to me that there are certain things I can do and not do to make single parenting as easy mentally and emotionally as possible.
Speak negatively about the other parent to your children or where they can hear you. Speaking in a second language isn’t a ticket to freedom either—children understand more than they let on. More importantly though, body language, tone, and emotion betray more than you can imagine. Keep the trash talking to moments alone with loved ones or pour it all into a private blog or paper journal (yes, those reportedly still exist).
Sweat the small things. Ok so you’ve wanted to take your kids to see Despicable Me since you first saw the trailer months ago but opening weekend was his weekend, and he took them. Maybe you mentioned how much you’d wanted to take them, maybe you didn’t. It doesn’t matter because at the end of the day, it’s just a movie. Focus on the larger picture—quality parenting– and let the small things slide off your back.
Be a control freak. When your kids are not with you, they are simply not with you. This is somewhat terrifying on different levels for different people. But, this person is your children’s father. You trusted him enough to sleep with him and now you must trust him with your children. You cannot control the quality of his parenting, decision-making, etc. so let it go. As long as your children are not in danger when they are with him, there is nothing you can do so don’t work yourself up about it. A poor parent is a poor parent regardless of whether or not they’re in a relationship with you. It is something every person must work through, your children included. I know you want to protect them but it is simply life.
Compare yourself to their significant other. Do not compare your significant other to your ex. You split because you were incompatible and that is it. It is not because you are a lesser person than their new sweetheart or because you deserve better than your ex—you deserve different, so do they. Relationships are that simple and complicated at the same time. Leave the past where it belongs.
Adopt “An eye for an eye” with the other parent. The only thing this does is create a cycle and it’s usually not a positive one. It guarantees more pain for you and double the pain for your children—they get to see the effects on you and him while you only deal with yours. Let go of the vengeance, the injustice of it all. It’s just poison for your spirit and fills your home with nastiness.
Make assumptions. You’re going to get all kinds of very interesting bits and pieces of information from your children. Depending on their age, the accuracy of the information will vary tremendously. Also, if the moniker “To assume makes an ass of you and me” isn’t enough to get it through your head, just remember Shirley Miller Sherrod and the USDA. You do not want to be the USDA. Let the little things slip through, if something highly alarming comes through the child wire, do not confront the other parent. Call them, calmly tell them exactly what your child said, and ask if they know what on earth they’re talking about because you’re completely baffled. You need two way conversation with the other parent and you’re not going to get it if every time something comes up you assume the worst and launch into angry accusations before they even finish saying “Hello”.
Focus on the quality of your parenting when your children are with you. This is especially important, and difficult, when the children are young and one parent is flashier than the other. You may feel unable, and pressured, to keep up with the other parent’s level of spending, but that’s not important. Your children will grow older and they will see, understand, and appreciate different things at different stages of their lives. Be the best parent you know how to be when they are with you and that stays with them forever. Remember you are irreplaceable in your children’s eyes. The other parent may have interesting, fun, and exciting friends, significant others, and relatives, but you are their mother. That does not, will not, change.
Accept that single parenting is challenging, exhausting, stressful, and frustrating but entirely possible. Remember that staying in a poor relationship with the other parent is 100 times worse than going at this on your own. You will likely doubt that at your worst, darkest moments, and that’s ok because you will also be (quickly) reminded that it is indeed true. There is no undoing the past and fretting what the future brings is an exercise in futility.
Experiment with your parenting style. Many times in a relationship people assume specific roles because it is what is handed to them. When you’re single, you are free to maintain that role or abandon it. Most of the times, tweaking it is the best solution. I was a lot more strict with my children when ExMutant and I were together. Now, I am more laid back with my children when I feel it is appropriate—an option I didn’t have when parenting was a team effort. I also choose activities that I enjoy doing but weren’t a priority for my ex. I feel this is an opportunity to show my children who their mother really is and that there are options in life– their father’s way is not the only way.Treat the other parent as you would have them treat you—even if they don’t return the favor. Someone eventually will. And for those things you can only rely on the other parent for, like information regarding your children, payments, etc. insist on finding a way that works even if it’s not exactly what you want. You may like chatting on the phone to find out about the kids but every time you do, you hear the girlfriend in the back and want to vomit or he is insanely rude and you get all worked up. Ditch the phone calls and text or email. While written conversations can often cause problems because there is nothing attached to it, I have found that to be exactly the reason it is my preferred communication method with my ex.
Think about what values you want to instill in your children, what lessons you want them to learn, what habits you want them to develop. Then do everything possible to show them you practice what you preach. Kids don’t learn by listening to your lectures and then modifying their behavior—they learn by mimicking you and others. Since you can’t control the actions of others, make sure yours are as impeccable as you can make them. Do your best and forget the rest. It applies to single motherhood too.
Pay attention to what your heart and soul need you to do when your children aren’t with you. Forget the To-Do list, errands, and chores if you want to. Listen to yourself and react. Clean the kitchen to shiny goodness, lay on the couch and cry to really sad movies over a bowl of popcorn, make stuff, run, go to other people’s houses, get a manicure, rearrange the furniture for the seventh time, whatever, whatever, whatever. Stop the guilt in its tracks when it starts and remember you are caring for yourself because your children need, and want, a healthy you. Take advantage of the silence to listen to yourself and what you want—then do it. Unless it’s drunk dialing/texting. That doesn’t go well. Actually, most drunk-related things don’t go well in the early stages of separation/divorce. There’s just a lot of stuff going on alcohol likes to take advantage of. The only thing I advocate doing drunk when you’re still grieving is sleeping. That works like a charm.