If you’re a single parent, Don’t Panic! Writer Carl Unger shares some first hand tips on how to navigate this grownup situation.
In my previous posts on single parenting, I focused on the periods of adjustment and settling in that you may encounter as a new single parent. But once you’ve found your bearings…what then?
As I said in my prior post, everyone’s path to single parenthood is different, so offering advice can be challenging. Because no two relationships are alike, every breakup will be unique. With that in mind, I’ll share my experiences that may help others find their way.
(Writer’s note: I want to stress the following are simply my experiences, meant as reference points for Grownups going through similar transitions.)
Go easy on yourself
All parents experience feelings of guilt at some point, and being a single parent brings its own unique forms of that emotion. You may feel guilty because you’re overwhelmed and not (in your opinion) attentive enough. You may feel guilty for wanting a break. You may feel guilty for being in this situation at all.
Valid or not, these feelings will slow you down and make things harder. Don’t ignore them, but deal with them in constructive ways, such as therapy, support groups, or by talking with friends and family. Truth is, there’s a good chance you’re doing a better job than you think or allow yourself to admit—I had to hear this many times from a lot of people before I believed it—and it’s helpful to acknowledge it.
Find a community
This could be anything—a single parent support group, a gaggle of regulars at the local playground, the old guys at the record store—but it’s important to build a network of people for you and your kids. I wasn’t always an especially social person, but it has been immensely helpful to find these small groups of friends (even just acquaintances) in and around town. If finding an organized group is your thing, check out your town’s library, peruse the bulletin board at your local coffee shop, or try a site like meetup.com. Signing up for yoga classes, lessons (surfing, etc.), and other activities can be a good way to get a social network going.
Date! Or don’t. It’s your call.
Eventually, you’ll probably want to date again. It may take awhile and you may want to start off really, really slow, and that’s fine. There’s no rush. Friends and family will give you tons of advice, both solicited and otherwise, but ultimately it’s your call and something you should do when you’re ready.
Entire books have been written on the subject, so I won’t try to address all the ins and outs here. The hardest part is likely going to be how much to tell your kids and when, and at what point you involve a new romantic partner in your kids’ lives. Most of the literature I’ve read advocates taking things slow. Just like you, your kids are adjusting and dealing with a whole host of emotions and may find news of a new relationship to be disruptive. You know your kids better than anyone—a healthy mix of caution and intuition is a good place to start.
When it comes to actually going on dates, one of the trickiest hurdles to clear is also the simplest: time. Most weeks I have two or three free evenings, sometimes four. These free nights are my time to do my freelance work, go to the gym, see my friends, catch up on errands and chores, go to concerts or movies, and—oh yeah—relax. Fitting dates into that equation, let alone a functioning relationship, is almost impossible.
Communicate with your kids
Whether your kid is four or 14, they’re going to have questions—even after the chaos of transitioning to your new life. This is especially true of younger kids who may not realize those changes are permanent. It can be hard on you, too, when your kid randomly throws you a heart-wrenching question like “when are we moving back to the old house?”
So: Talk. Be realistic about what your child can understand, but be honest. They know something isn’t right, so make them feel secure in their ability to navigate things with you. This is hard work, and it’s often sad. Speak to a professional if you need guidance on how much or how little to say.
But talking with your kids will help you as well. You guys are in this together, after all, and whatever you can do to make this easier on your kids will make this easier on you, too.
Carl Unger is a writer living in Massachusetts. Follow him on Instagram @cunger38.
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