For most Grownups, becoming a single parent is not part of the plan—but it happens. Blogger Carl Unger shares his experience moving forward with solo parenting.
In most cases, being a single parent is not part of “the plan.” Few people wake up and decide, “You know what? Raising a kid myself sounds super easy and fun. Sign me up!”
No, becoming a single parent often results from said plan collapsing in difficult and sometimes tragic ways. Suffice it to say I fall into this category—a tragedy turned my life upside down several years ago, and in the aftermath my wife and I drifted apart, separated, and ultimately decided to live independently. We remain very close and have fought hard to maintain a loving, supportive relationship, but we could not make it work as a couple. So here we are.
Everyone’s path to single parenthood is different, which makes offering advice rather challenging. No two relationships are alike after all, meaning every breakup is unique as well. But with that in mind, there are some experiences I can share that may help others find their way.
(Writer’s note: I want to stress these are simply my experiences, meant as a touch point for Grownups going through similar transitions.)
First off, as a single parent, you’re not alone: This stuff happens. It’s awful and sad, but it happens. You may feel like a failure because your relationship fell apart. You may feel surrounded by “successful” couples and perfect families and want to crawl under a rock and stay there. But trust me: There are people out there who have made the same choice as you (hi!), and you can find them if you want. Meetup.com is a good place to find groups in similar situations (if that’s your thing).
An unbiased ear can be helpful: Despite some initial reservations, I found therapy immensely helpful. Speaking with a therapist helped me admit that the status quo wasn’t going to work no matter how much I wanted it to, and that our son was better off living free of the tension continuing our marriage would create. Friends and family can be helpful as well, but speaking to someone who has no investment in your relationship can lead to a more honest assessment.
The worst will pass (really): Even the most amicable breakups bring feelings of pain, loss, and betrayal, and in the weeks and months following it’s almost impossible to avoid some conflict. This is major “your mileage may vary” territory, and while every situation is unique, it was important for me to remember that it won’t always hurt this much and to keep the long-term picture in mind. Throughout the process, my wife and I knew we wanted to move forward with as healthy a family as possible. Keeping that in mind prevented us from doing irreparable harm to each other or our hopes for the future.
Simplify as much as possible: We were proactive about separating finances and divvying up basic responsibilities, and this helped us avoid unnecessary confrontation down the road. We then settled into our new partnership without worrying about who had to pay what bill or who was shouldering more of this or that responsibility. Now, obviously both parties need to choose this approach, and occasionally additional conversations are required. But within the context of your relationship, anything you can do to simplify things is worth at least discussing.
Keep moving, but give yourself space: It’s hard enough to deal with a breakup itself, and even harder to maintain some semblance of normalcy for your child during the transition. Admittedly, this is hard. Ever see those cartoons where the character plugs a hole in a dam, but then water comes out a different hole, then another and another? That was me. But life doesn’t stop, and I came to see my role as a dad as a reprieve from all the chaos. There was comfort in the routine, in the bedtime stories, and in the fact that there was still so much love in my life.
The key, as I see it, is balance. Because as much as I threw myself into being a single parent, I also needed time to process the other things going on in my life. So to the extent that I could, I made time for myself—I went running, I read books in a coffee shop, and sometimes I just sat quietly on a bench or a beach and allowed my brain to slow down. After all, you have to take care of yourself if you want to take care of your kid.
Carl Unger is a writer living in Massachusetts. Follow him on Instagram @cunger38.
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