I thought being a new parent would be the hardest part of the job. I was wrong. While pregnant with my son and waiting for my girls to end their day at City & Country School in New York City, I asked another mom, “What is the best parenting advice you ever received?” Her answer was the greatest quote I ever heard on the subject.
“Everyone told me everything and I still didn’t get it.”
Nothing prepares us for the challenges of parenting. It’s a 24/7, no sick days, zero down-time, patience-tester, frustration-checker, tongue-biter, never, ever, EVER sleeping through the night thing.
Daughter number one introduced me to diapers, breast-feeding, dodging unsolicited advice while educating myself on child development, struggling to get her to sleep and then waking her to make sure she was breathing (repeat!), doctor appointments, grocery shopping (but with a totally dependent, tiny human in tow), and every bit of money we had was suddenly caught in a wind tunnel and sucked into a vanishing vacuum. The list continued while also trying to determine what the HELL had happened to my body.
Then I had a second daughter. (See previous paragraph and multiply by TEN).
The birth of my son/third baby delivered complete and utter chaos and I thought to myself, “Being a mom is the hardest job in the world. The only thing that could possibly be harder than this would be the job of a single mom.”
And then I became a single mom.
Divorce is hard and, whether we leave or are left, we are recipients of a broken heart. For most of us, part of the grieving process includes anger. It takes some of us more time than others to recognize that anger is a Band-Aid for the gut-wrenching sadness. Some never let go of it and choose to use it as a weapon of mass destruction. My ex-husband was so angry with me for leaving him that he fought every move I made in connection with our children, admitting how much he wanted to hurt me. Unfortunately, the ones who are hurt the most in this process are the kids.
I had every intention of going back, but “temporarily” gave up my career as a concert pianist to be home with my kids when they were young, so when they were 9, 6 and 3, I divorced their dad with no car, no savings and no career and went in search of an apartment, a car and a brand new profession. I had no game plan or clue how I was going to manage, but that’s how miserable I was and how much I needed out.
My ex-husband is an alcoholic who initially and temporarily quit drinking so, as long as my kids were safe, I agreed to share custody. I thought it would be better for them to finally have relationships with their father, so for the first time in their lives, he was involved in their daily activities. I felt they were old enough and smart enough to alert me to any issues when they were with him, and they did.
There were incidents I wish I could have prevented, like (to name a few) his 2:30 AM blackout when he woke them, fed them, bathed them and got them dressed for school. He had no memory of it. Another morning, while sleeping off a fifth of vodka, he was awakened at 8:00 AM by loud music, so he stumbled across the street, pounded on a neighbor’s front door and was greeted by a family getting ready for a funeral. When he realized he was at the wrong house, he spun around and fell off their front porch, breaking his arm and knocking himself unconscious. The family was forced to call 911 and wait.
But the worst episodes were the public outbursts in front of the kids. He once showed up at my son’s pee-wee football game and chose to alternate between publicly confronting me about custody issues and screaming at the coaches and five-year-old players while my younger daughter cried, begging him to stop. It was 9:00 AM and he was drunk.
I was broke and terrified and he made it clear he would do everything in his power to hurt and not help me. That level of negative toxicity was exactly what I wanted removed from my life and, though I could not completely remove it from the lives of my children, I wanted to minimize it as much as possible. I chose not to take him to court for fear of staying stuck in that system and because of the negative impact I knew it would have on my kids.
After a few years of sharing custody and working hard at maintaining a positive environment, my children moved in with me full time and with that came total physical, emotional and financial care. His level of help at this point was to sometimes give them rides to and from school. I wanted and needed continued forward movement and that’s exactly what I set out to achieve. I made a decision to stop asking him for anything, because to do so only created more negativity and drama. The only way to properly take care of myself and my children was to remain fully focused on being the best single mom I could be and to let go of expectations that he would be the father I hoped he would be. So I did it on my own. Here are 15 things I learned.
- Money is vital, but it does not buy the most important things.
- We are stronger than we think we are and there is a positive solution to every problem.
- Sometimes crying our eyes out is necessary.
- When we are done crying, we must find the laughter and share it with our children.
- We create our own obstacles, we are the only ones who can remove them and we are capable of incredible things.
- Listening and collaborating are necessities, and consistency is essential to trust.
- Loving my self inspires my children and the most powerful results are in the ways it affects them.
- Kids don’t miss a thing and it is our choice whether we want to be positive or negative role models. Either way, they will see the truth.
- No matter how much someone else wants to control the choices we make, staying true to ourselves and making healthy choices for our children is always a win/win.
- Being independent and self-sufficient teaches our kids independence and self-sufficiency.
- Actions truly speak louder than words.
- Acknowledging our mistakes and apologizing to those we have hurt is the only path to forward movement.
- Every choice we make has a direct impact on our children, it is our choice whether to hurt them or to help them and helping them helps everyone.
- Forgiveness is everything.
- Being a mom is the BEST job in the world and I’ve got this. All by myself.
In order to operate at our full loving capacity, our lives must be rooted in honesty. Whether it is cultural or genetic, many of us, on some level, lie about who we really are and what we really want. As a parent, it has been my job to provide a balance of guidance and freedom. As an adult, it is my responsibility to provide those things for myself. We are a culture of liars about our beliefs in religion, politics, sexuality, education, finances and individual creativity among many other things. We are constantly informed that our feelings are wrong and we have participated in a community of judgmental negativity and cultural narcissism. I wanted to stop this cycle for my children, and becoming a single mom was yet another step in that direction.
I still have a lot to learn about myself and I forge ahead at truly loving myself. In the beautiful words of Lin Manuel Miranda, “Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love, cannot be killed or swept aside…”
Maybe being a single mom is exactly what I needed.