Whether you felt like you had a choice in your situation or not, this new reality has probably hit like a brick. The first year for me felt like I'd moved to an alien planet, everything was new and scary. As the new year approaches, I've spent some time looking back and it's been healing. I’ve experienced some amazing support, made some big mistakes, but through it all, I can see the threads that held my journey together in my first year after separation while single parenting. I feel so thankful for the strength I’ve gained along the way. One thing I remember wishing, in the beginning, was that there would be a guidebook to help navigate this new world. And while as each person’s journey is so unique and complex that nobody could write a complete guidebook, I decided I could share some helpful steps to survival, I discovered along the way. "The 10 essentials after separation and single parenting", if you will. So here is a survival lists so different from my outdoor posts. A list I never thought I’d experience, but one I am so thankful to have uncovered. This list isn’t complete, and maybe 2 years in I’ll rewrite the whole thing. But as we near the holidays, knowing this will be an especially painful time for some of you, I felt it was time to write something out.
1. Seek and Accept Help: I put this first because it is probably the most important piece of advice given to me. The process of separation and divorce is traumatic, and while it is a lonely process you will not be able to face it completely alone. Leaning on a few close friends continues to get me through the darkest of times. You might feel like you should be able to do this on your own, but the weight of this first year, for whatever reasons you ended up here, will be heavy. When people offer you meals, babysitting, or even just a coffee accept it graciously. If you’ve never tried therapy this might be the right time to start. If you can’t afford to pay for a counsellor or psychologist, seek out resources in your community that offer free support. You may also need to visit your family doctor if you feel your mental health slipping too far. This isn’t a sprint towards healing, it will be a marathon. You aren’t alone in feeling like it is too hard. You aren’t a failure for needing help.
2. Set new routines: I was recently listening to a CBC radio cast on survival rates after devastating disasters. They found when tragedy strikes an area; people have the highest survival rates when they are provided with routine and structure as quickly as possible. While divorce is physically not a tsunami or earthquake, it does feel like one for the people involved. Whether you need to write out a list of what to do every minute just to keep moving forward, or if it’s as simple as planning Pizza and Movie nights on Fridays, creating a new routine for yourself and your kids will give a sense of stability to what will feel like a very unpredictable world.
3. Allow Yourself to Fail: Failure is part of learning. This new load of expectations will be a huge adjustment. Don’t get down on yourself for messing up sometimes. What’s important is that you keep looking forward, even if you’re moving in just tiny steps each day. If you find yourself unable to recover, or if you can’t stop thinking about the mistakes you’ve made, it might be time to talk to a good friend or therapist. Remember we are all just humans, we all mess up sometimes and all we can do is keep trying our best.
4. Explore self-care: I read recently about how self-care is so much more than the hot topic of self-indulgence in the media. Self-care is also facing your financial situation, writing to-do lists that are attainable and checking off each box as you go and keeping small promises to yourself every day. Self-care does also mean allowing yourself to enjoy life too. Take a hot bath to relax, even if you have to wait until 11 pm because your kids just won’t go to bed on time anymore, (it’s still worth it) or ask a friend or relative to watch your children for a few hours so you can do an activity you’ve been missing. There are lots of simple things you can do to make sure you take care of yourself. While this entire post could be considered different types of self-care, it also worth mentioning separately!
Image by Roxanna Froese
5. Don’t be scared to sit with your emotions: The emotions that come up this year will arrive in waves. They will hit like a downpour in the dark of night and flood you at the worst of times. Emotions can be a scary thing, especially if you haven’t been good at dealing with them in the past. It’s easy to mask our emotions when we are just wanting to survive, but for true healing to happen, you will need to learn to stop pushing them away and/or using crutches to hide. There are tons of great resources in learning how to witness your emotions rather than letting them control, and back to step one, this might be a good time to start therapy.
6. Allow your kids to express themselves: I didn’t want to talk too much about kids in this post, simply because they deserve a book of their own. But helping your kids through this adjustment will be another scary task, so it’s on this list. Just like you need to experience your emotions, your kids will need to do the same. Don’t be scared to let them tell you how sad they are, or how much they miss the way they imagined it used to be, (they hopefully will not know how it truly was). Allow them to share their feelings, even when it’s painful to hear, and you will help them to move toward healing. Keep the conversation open around what they are experiencing, this will help you identify when your kids are struggling. And while you will not be able to take their pain away entirely, you will be able to be a huge comfort in their time of need, and that is a win. Which leads me to…
7. Celebrate the small victories: You might have had big expectations of yourself before you found yourself facing single parenting and separation, or maybe you had big expectations put on you. When you had a partner to help with even some of the daily duties, you probably got a lot more accomplished. Instead of getting down about all the things you aren’t getting done in the day, focus positively on what you did accomplish. If you wrote an application for a new job or even looked up an address of where to go to find a new job, celebrate every win. Some days I write a list of everything I need to do. When the list is scary, I make sure to include simple things like “Eat breakfast” so that I can feel some sense of accomplishment to fuel me through the hard stuff. Every step forward is one step further from where you were, and one step closer to where you are going to be. You will find your way.
8. Get organized: As someone with an artist's brain, I will be the first to admit I have been horrible at organization, for some of you it might come naturally! When my life came crashing down, the best thing I did was buy a large binder, filled it with dividers and envelopes and started saving and filing everything. I knew if I was going to keep my head above water I’d need to get my stuff together. Bills, daily lists, advice from others, phone numbers, records, pamphlets, they all went in. Practising organization early on will give you something to rely on when you are in need.
9. Discover a new hobby: Losing a partner, even if it means you are now a full-time parent, will leave you with a hole in your days. That time you would have spent with your significant other, will eventually be filled with something, and why not fill it with something that brings you joy. As much as you need to be present for your kids, and to sit through your emotions, you also need to discover the new you. Have fun with it. Finding something that will get you and maybe your kids out of the house or just keep you busy, will give you something positive to look forward to and hopefully will introduce you to new people which is another step towards finding your new self on this difficult journey.
10. Find time to be active outside: This is important to do with and without your kids. Whether this means strapping the kids into a stroller, to get some fresh air every day or if you’re able to go for a run or a climb, make sure you take time to keep your body active outdoors. A healthy body will be able to support you through the mountains and valleys you are going to face in the future and regular connection with nature has proven to boost mental health, increase self esteem, lower anger, reduce stress and so much more, And in this time, who wouldn’t want all those things!
So wherever you are at, I hope you have found this list helpful. I hope you are finding support and kindness in this intimidating time. This road can be long and lonely, but remember life is not easy for anyone, and if it seems like it is, they are probably lying. If you do find yourself alone for the first time this Christmas, know there are so many of us walking the journey around you. Please reach out, there’s probably lots of arms that can hug.
You will grow stronger through this, even if you just feel broken right now. I promise one day you will look back and see you are in a different place. And if you put the right work in, it will also be a beautiful place that is full of peace.