None of us aspire to be a single parent, just like none of us dream of getting divorced when we’re exchanging our vows in front of some officiant with probably 50 or more of our closest friends and family as witnesses. So let’s first acknowledge and accept that the choice to be a single parent is not an easy one, and for some people it was not even a decision they made willingly, but rather it was just thrust upon them. But there isn’t much time to wallow in self pity about the fact that things didn’t work out as you’d hoped because there’s now a little one counting on you to make it all okay, and while this is no small task, every day I get to see so many strong and resilient people rise to that challenge.
In addition to getting over your personal disappointment or anger that things did not work out as expected when you first thought to bring a new child into this world, single parents continue to face difficult issues through each stage of the child’s life. As first, people usually focus on securing the basics, and by secure I mean getting to the point that you are not relying on anyone other than yourself to provide for all the basic needs for yourself and your child. That can take no time at all for people with a great education who never left the workforce, or it can take years for those without a college degree and/or minimal work experience. Those in the latter category are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to moving onward and upward from a split, unless they are able to find someone quickly that comes in and rescues the day. These days, I would not hold my breath waiting for that to happen.
Long after you have secured the basics for yourself and your child, there are still so many variables that play into whether you will weather life’s storms okay: Will you and your child remain healthy? Will your ex be a cooperative or difficult co-parent? How will the introduction of a new significant other impact your family dynamics? Will someone decide to relocate outside the child’s home state? Will you have on-going legal expenses to deal with your ex? Any one of these variables can throw you off course on your path to creating a stable home life with your child.
Even if by the grace of God you manage to obtain the ideal scenario: you are economically independent, healthy, your ex isn’t a difficult co-parent, no one relocates or incurs ongoing legal fees and the family dynamics remain stable, there are still emotional challenges we all have to face, especially around special occasions and holidays. Creating new traditions with your kids should be the easy one, but the harder one is what to do when you’re on your own. When your kids are not with you, how will you spend the holidays? What if you want to take a vacation and your teenager doesn’t want to go? Are you secure enough and independent enough to travel on your own?
Because the holidays are just around the corner, I want to make sure it’s clear to single parents that anything goes– if you want time to yourself to decompress, that is fine. But if you don’t want to be alone, you need to let others know, otherwise most people will assume you’ve got plans. If you don’t want to eat a turkey sandwich by yourself on Thanksgiving, now is the time to speak up. If your choice is to have some quiet time then by all means enjoy the day pampering yourself, you’ve earned it! My point is that as a single parent the one thing we all learn rather quickly is that no one else is going to take care of you, so if you want something you’re going to have to plan it and make it happen.
Single parenting is not easy, but it is what you make of it. Over the past decade, I’ve found it to be an interesting lesson in so many areas of life– and I’m a much better person and lawyer as a result of it. But the challenges aren’t over by a long shot, and one of the most important coping skills I’ve developed over the years is that while most days you just have to take deep breaths and take it one day at a time, when it comes to holidays you need to take proactive measures well in advance to make sure those special days live up to your expectations.
By Regina A. DeMeo