Being a single mom is not something I ever expected to be. In 2010, I married a wonderful man, and we began building a life together. We were an amazing team, Garry and me. Our life goals and dreams were right in line with one another. We were both young, healthy, educated, and focused individuals, and as a team, we were unstoppable. A few years after our wedding, we started a family and a new chapter in our story as parents. We were happy and in love. But then, in October 2017, Garry suddenly and unexpectedly died before my eyes. A heart attack in the middle of the night. Out of nowhere. In the blink of an eye, I was a widow. And a single mom to my then two and four-year-old kids.
I can’t begin to describe how hard that initial transition into being a single mom was. After losing everything, more than most people realize, I still had to get up every day and take care of my two grieving children. I had two choices (as we all do when we face tragedy): let it destroy what was left of my life or rise and fight to thrive in a new life. Even though I have always been a fighter, that choice was still one of the hardest I’ve ever made. And it’s one I continue to make daily, weekly, and yearly.
Tips for Transitioning into Being a Single Mom
Transitioning from wife or partner to single motherhood is not easy. Whether you are a single mom by widowhood, divorce, or separation, the pain of loss and the loss of a teammate is life-altering. There will be days when you feel you can’t handle it alone. I want to tell you, first and foremost, YOU CAN DO THIS.
The first few months are the hardest, but soon you will find out what works for you and your family and find a rhythm. But you do have to be proactive in your transition. No one will do the hard work of transition for you, so put on your big girl panties, wipe your eyes, and take the next step. Here are some ways that helped me in my transition into being a single mom:
1. Get support for yourself and your kids.
This is one of the most important things you can do in the first stages of your transition. Find a support group or grief counselor and invest in some therapy. In my case, I joined a group called GriefShare. It was very helpful to be in a room of people who could understand my loss. For divorcees, many divorce support groups (like this one) meet on a weekly or monthly basis. Children going through this transition with you will also need someone to help them sort out their confusing emotions. I know this is harsh, but that person may not be you. Be willing to get them the support they need with a qualified children’s therapist.
2. Out with the old.
After you’ve lost your person, you may feel sadness or anger when you still have to walk into your house full of things that remind you of them. Don’t be afraid to purge anything that doesn’t serve you in this time of grieving. If that old chair was your husband’s favorite and you’ve always hated it, toss it. If the way your bathroom cabinets are arranged fills you with dread because of the suddenly empty space, rearrange them and take up all the space. Shortly after I lost my husband, I had to sell our house. I didn’t want to move all his stuff, so I had to go through the difficult process of getting rid of his things. As hard as it was, it was a blessing in our new home because I could start fresh. Making your space new and catered to your new needs will give you a bit of a sense of control when everything else feels so chaotic.
3. Create a mood board.
Start envisioning how you want your future to look now that it’s different from what you had originally imagined. Start clipping images, quotes, recipes, and anything that brings you hope for your future, and pin them to a bulletin board. Place that board in a prominent location in your home and meditate on it regularly. Encourage your kids to add to that mood board so they, too, can see brighter days ahead.
4. Rearrange your priorities.
The logistics of becoming a successful single mom can be overwhelming. The schedule that you once had may not work now that you’re handling everything solo. Throw your expectations and schedules out the window and start fresh. Rearrange your priorities so that you are making sure you get the essentials done. Everything else can wait. So if you no longer have time for your weekly mom’s night out for a few months because you don’t have a trusted babysitter yet, tell the girls you need a hiatus. You can start adding obligations back into your routine once you get back on your feet.
5. Build your tribe.
Having a tribe of girlfriends is essential as a mom, but even more so as a single mom. The best thing I ever did when I became a mother was to start “collecting” girlfriends. Even as we moved from city to city, always starting over, I continued to grow my tribe of trusted mom friends. When my husband died, those same girlfriends were the women who came to my aid, surrounding me with love and support when I needed it most. I know it can be hard to meet girlfriends as a mama, but there are many groups you can join to help with that (one of my favorites is MOPS).
6. Keep communication open.
I know it can be hard to talk about things you may be feeling, but you need to keep lines of communication open right now. That includes talking civilly to your ex if the need arises. This is especially important if he is the father of your children (or the only father they’ve known). Try to remember how you talk to each other will be felt and most likely heard by your kids. They will learn from you how to be kind, mature, and graceful, even in painful or uncomfortable situations.
Similarly, keep the lines of communication open with your children. Allow them to cry, vent, yell or mope about their feelings. They need someone safe to go to when they need to release emotions. Let that person be you, mama. It’s hard, but they need you.
7. Take time for yourself.
This may seem impossible right now, but it’s important to take some time for yourself. Regularly. Whether it’s just taking a bath after the kids go to bed or taking an entire weekend away with a girlfriend, do what you need to reconnect with yourself and your healing. Everyday life gets hectic, and it’s easy to stuff your feelings or ignore how you need to heal. Make sure you are taking time to focus on yourself, your needs, and your health. It will make you a better mom if you intentionally invest in some self-care.
8. Don’t be afraid to love again.
The thought of falling in love again may be the farthest thing from your mind. That’s okay. Take your time. You may have issues trusting someone with your heart again. You may find that you’d rather not risk being hurt again. Or you may still be in love with the person you lost. All this is normal. Just don’t let yourself get stuck there. Human beings were created to know and receive love. We were created to be in a relationship with one another. It is a basic human need and one that I would rather not live without. So do the work you need to do to get emotionally and mentally healthy. Give yourself time to grieve the relationship you lost. But then, when you feel ready, permit yourself to seek love again. You deserve to be happy, mama, and if you find someone worthy of you and your kids, don’t deny yourself that chance. Just be sure you are careful and smart when you start dating again. It’s a brave new world out there!
I hope you find these tips helpful as you transition into being a single mom. Although you may feel like it at times, you are not alone. And you are very capable of rocking this new role! You are a strong, resilient, and amazing woman, and you have a chance to show your kids how to take this adversity and rise above it better than ever.