I remember the season in my life when I searched online to find what life would be like as a single mom. I remember the unparalleled pain. Needing that pain to end, not knowing how and being scared to death.
I had three small children. I lived in a different country than my family, albeit on the same continent and within a ten hour drive. To leave would mean the end of life as I knew it. They say the monster you know is better than the monster you don’t. I searched the internet for stories of what it’s like to be a single mom. I wondered if I could do it. At the time, I resolved that no – that wasn’t the path I wanted for my life and fought to save and rebuild my broken marriage. I loved my husband. I loved my children and I wanted the best for them. And how could it be possible that a broken family was ‘the best’?
Looking back, I know I tried. I gave my all. I sacrificed a lot – so much so that I died inside. I lost myself. Or rather, I gave myself – until I disintegrated. There are all sorts of quotes and jokes about how terrible exes are, but it’s possible that the person who caused you unparalleled pain, also gave you happiness, and times of excitement and love and wonderful memories. My then-husband and I went through some heartbreaking, exceptionally difficult times that nobody but he and I will ever fully know – but he is a wonderful man. An amazing father and a genuinely good person (who has done bad things – like me!) The first year after our separation, of course, I didn’t remember any of those things. Only the bad. As time has passed, I love and respect the father of my children and understand that all of us are human and all of us make mistakes. Sometimes, horrible mistakes. We both love our children and we are both good parents. (I also want to interject that I caused him pain too. Life is messy. I don’t believe in victims and bad guys. But there are mistakes and there is pain and there is no magic button to turn back time and undo anything)
And so my first word to any newly single moms is to take the time to let time pass. The first year is the hardest. And yet it’s a mix of emotions. There was so much stress in my home before I left, that I cherished the amazing relief of being able to sing and laugh freely in my own home. I hadn’t experienced that for a long time. And then there were other times that I wondered if I would be able to take even one more step.
During that first year, you have to give yourself time to rediscover yourself. Experiment with life. Try new things. Make time for yourself. Laugh with your children. Tickle them. Play. Feed on positivity. I used to carry motivational books around with me that first year, like The Success Principles by Jack Canfield and Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins. It’s almost impossible to read either and stay in a negative state. When I started to feel alone and hopeless and wonder ‘how the heck am I going to do this?’ – I would read one of those books. I also discovered meditation. Developed my love for wine. Learned salsa. Went back to school to get my degree. I worked hard to become the type of person I wanted to be, and took the time to explore in my own mind who that ideal version of me would be.
Although I feel more settled in my identity, I am still working hard to create the life I want. My situation is probably different than most single moms, as I am living in Ireland – an ocean away from my family. This has created a whole new set of challenges – not having a plan B or a man to call when my furnace breaks or I need to move something heavy. ( Nevermind the challenge of things being different in Ireland – who knew you had to flip a switch to have hot water…and you need to turn it off?! ) I remember when I assembled my bed I felt like Superwoman! “Who needs a man anyway?” It was an entirely different story when I attempted to BBQ – although I have since mastered the art. 😉
(My first attempt at chicken on the grill!!!)
That’s sort of what it’s like as a single mom. You face challenges, things that seem so intimidating and impossible and so incredibly frustrating when you try to do something you have never done before and you just don’t get it. But then, you become incredibly strong. Incredibly resilient. I’m never scared to try something new. Okay, sometimes I’m scared – but I never ‘don’t try’. I feel like I can do anything – and most of the times I’ve been right. But that has come from the times where I have honestly thought, “I can’t do this. I can’t.” But I did. Mind you, there are certain things I’m terrible at. My kids make fun of me for my feeble attempts to light a fire. I often make fun of myself and the crazy antics that follow me and my journey as a single girly-girl mom alone in a foreign country! Believe me, there have been plenty!
I am (have become?) an incredibly independent person and have done a lot in my life. I’ve faced a lot of challenges – and won. People don’t understand how it’s possible to travel alone, build a career, get an education, raise three kids alone in a foreign country – yet not know how to change a tire.
I have a single friend who stayed with me for a while and told me, “I’ve decided I want to be a single mom. You have children you adore but also have your own life. It’s perfect.” My god, it’s not perfect! It’s hard. I’m a happy person. I laugh a lot. I work hard. I play hard. I have amazing friends. Lots of interests. I’m lucky. But believe me, I fight an uphill battle. I work ridiculously hard, and sometimes, it feels like life is beating me. I still have moments where I feel like I just want a chest to lay my head against and someone to be fighting in my corner. This is not a luxury of a single mom. You are that chest. You’re the one fighting. For your kids and yourself. So, as the saying goes – pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick and pull yourself together.
Sometimes you feel like you have two lives. I have single friends and friends who are settled in relationships with kids. I don’t think either category fully understands the other half of my life. I’m single, but not fully… I have kids. I have a family, but not ‘fully’… I’m single. Life is completely different in each stage and yet my life is a blend of this duplicity.
I adore my children. They are the greatest thing that ever happened to me. We laugh. They make me laugh. We share sweet moments and we have an incredibly strong bond. Before I left, I worried about my children – and although there are many aspects of this new life that I wish were different for the sake of my children, I have to credit them for being amazing. The great part about kids is they push you to happiness. There have been days where I felt like the world was caving in – until my kids and I would spontaneously burst into a karaoke dance party in the kitchen or a full on tickle explosion.
They say you only live once, and yet in a sense I feel as though somehow I’ve had the opportunity to live a few lives. I practically ran an entire college when I was in my 20’s. (A season I often try to delete from my memory!) I did the children and housewife thing – complete with regular dinner parties and entertaining almost daily. I did cake decorating – as a hobby and then as a business. I started my own e-commerce business. Then, when I separated I dove headfirst into building a career – went back to college, worked full time, contracted on the side – in addition to being a newly single mom. Now my kids make fun of me because I always seem to burn their sausages – because I’m always doing ten things at a time! They talk about meals I used to prepare and tease me, “You lost that skill” – except for their birthdays, and Christmas and Easter – somehow my domestic self lovingly shows it’s head. Apart from the things I’ve ‘done’, I’ve also lived in very different cultures – Canada (mostly city life but a year of country life), America (from Pennsylvania to New York to South Carolina – the cultures and different lifestyles in America are incredibly vast!) and now I live in Ireland.
I’ve decided there is no ‘right’ path in life. Sometimes life is messy. Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes life is amazing. Sometimes you look back on the hard times and see they were a catalyst to something better. Sometimes you look back on the times that you thought you couldn’t take another step – and look where you are now! And then you find yourself with the ground pulled out from beneath you – but you’ve done it before, now you know you can do it again. Life is full of amazing people, opportunities, experiences, laughter, things to learn and discover, skills to master, wines to try! Like a tapestry – on the back it’s a messy conglomeration of coloured string that resembles nothing but chaos. On the other side, is a beautiful, handwoven piece of art. This is life as a single mom.