Form your village to be a successful single parent
No one said it would be easy after divorce. Trying to support two households on the finances that used to sustain one is hard enough. But no matter how bad living together might have been, many find that living apart and trying to maintain a calm, organized family and home can be overwhelming.
"Bringing up a kid on your own is extraordinarily difficult; bringing up two isn't twice as hard, it's 200 times as hard," said Cliff Greenberg, a divorced adoption attorney who has raised his two children solo for the last three years. "And stressing and at the same time, so amazingly wonderful."
Greenberg, 43, says he was one of the fortunate ones following his divorce in the sense that he has flexibility to his work schedule. "I work for myself and have for years, so I can make my own hours."
But with his ex-wife not just divorcing him but also leaving the country, he has found dealing with the emotional fallout has been almost devastating.
"The toughest time I have had was with my little one who was two and a half years old when my wife and I broke up. That was really brutal. She was traumatized, screaming, 'I miss Mommy' for five hours at a time. She was frothing at the mouth with such pain. I was overwhelmed. I cried. I didn't know what to do. So I took her to a psychiatrist," he said. "It was really heartbreaking. Here she was still in diapers, and I was pushing her in a stroller to see her psychiatrist. It was overwhelming. I look back on that and wonder how did I do it? I have no idea."
Which is often the case with divorcees who have custody of the children and find themselves single parents, putting one foot in front of the other. They look back and wonder how they got through what many say are common hurdles of being a single parent.
"You do what you have to do," said Brenda Rodstrom, LCSW, a therapist in private practice in Manhattan. "While you wonder in the beginning how you are going to make it, I have found that if people go full circle in their divorce recovery, they will come out stronger on the emotional side. It is a time for great personal growth."
Which is where the process of developing life as a single parent begins, according to Rodstrom.
"If you don't care for yourself, you can't sufficiently care for your children," said the 59-year-old, who has developed a Single Parents Survival kit for her clients.
The first step toward that self-caring is putting yourself right at the top by getting the help you need emotionally to deal with the loss of divorce.
"The shock of divorce and death are really overwhelming. Before I was divorced, I was used to hearing that, but I was not prepared for the pain I was going to go through when I got divorced. It takes a long time to build up again," she said. "Whether you admit it or not, there still a lot of shame and guilt about divorce. That is where a recovery group can be so helpful."
Perhaps almost as important, a recovery group can get the single parent out of the house.
"You have to de-isolate yourself. What better way than be with people who have gone though the same thing?"
And it's a start. Networking with friends is the next step, according to Amy Sue Gerstel, a divorce coach in Boca Raton, Fla. "What I tell my clients is that your friends become your family. When I got divorced, I was living down here in Florida with no family. I surrounded myself with my friends. And when people offer their support, especially in the short term, you must take it," she said. "These are people who don't feel sorry for you; they just want to help you. It's so hard to not be independent. Take that burden off yourself and accept the help."
But that's hard for many single parents to do, since they are trying to establish independence, she said.
"I like to save my chips. I don't want to call them in, but sometimes I have to," said Greenberg, single father of two. "I don't like to rely on anyone. But it helps that the parents of my son's best friend are friends of mine, too. I can count on them."
Make sure you have some resources to draw upon, said Tara Fass, 48, a divorce mediator based in Los Angeles, Calif.
"This is when it's good to know your neighbors. Find that one support person who is willing to step in when there is 9-1-1. You can't be shy about reaching out. Other people will respond," she said. "There is the reciprocal part. You only say no to people when you have to, say yes to people when you can. And when it comes time when you have to reach out it will be there for you."
While you may have a solid network in place to help take care of emergencies and routine tasks, divorce coach Gerstel says don't overlook the fact that your kids still need to be watched to make sure that they are getting the help they need overcoming the trauma of divorce.
"There are going to be outward signs that something is up with the child even in the best divorces," she said. "Obviously having a strong link with the teachers who the kid is spending seven hours a day with is important."
Personal relationships with teachers become even more important when there is only one parent on the scene, she says.
Just as children have the tendency to bounce back, Rodstrom says, so do parents.
"Know that it isn't going to be like this forever. Patience and perspective," she said. "Be patient with yourself, be patient with your child. Give it time. Time helps me, and it helps children. It does help. It really does. It is the most miraculous, amazing thing in the world," said Greenberg.