How does an (almost) full time single parent cope with loss, change, and loneliness?
April 16, 2012 10:56 AM   Subscribe

How does a single parent cope with an already limited social life and general stress with the added crap of breaking up (again!)?

I'm 33, divorced, and just recently moved (within the same town, but still major stress). My relationship (with a truly great guy) of ten months has ended. I'm very sad about it, and need to figure out how to deal, pick up the pieces and move on. I read all sorts of advice about new hobbies, new friends, getting out and doing stuff...but I'm a single parent of a small child, whom I have physically about 90% of the time. The nights are lonely in particular. Just about all of my friends are partnered and I'm feeling isolated and just sad. I currently do not live in the same city as my family, and the time difference doesn't help when I could use someone to talk to in the evening.

What gets me is that when I was newly divorced with a little baby, I was going through hell, yet incredibly happy because I knew the end of that relationship was the best thing for me and my kid. I felt like I got my life back and I could do anything I wanted. I maintained that feeling for a long time, until now.

It seems like this feeling (loneliness, rejection, despair) will last forever. I just want to crawl into bed and cry. I can't. I have to work full time, cook, clean, play, transport, shop...I want to be a happy, functional Mom, and I also want to be happy and content with my own life. I feel like I can do neither at the moment. I did see a therapist back in the day, but I don't think that is possible at this time.

I know there is hope for a 30-something single Mom to be happy again, I just can't quite grasp onto it right now. I'm in the "I will be single forever" mode (which, once upon a time, was totally fine with me!). Help me find that hope.
posted by retrofitted to Human Relations (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Any chance of sharing the parenting load with the father of your child? 90% custody is a lot to shoulder by yourself when they are really young like yours sounds.
posted by PsuDab93 at 11:56 AM on April 16, 2012

I'm so sorry you are feeling so low. So I'm not a single mom, but I do have a good friend who is, with two young children. The father spends one evening a week with the kids -- a free babysitter. I can't speak for her directly, but there are a few things I can offer.

It seems to me that some of her social life, at least the one with my other friends and I, is based around activities with other families from our elementary school and preschool.

What I think might be helpful is that we look after each other's kids. Sleepovers, all day playdates, shared extracurricular activities, carpooling -- these things give us all a break, but I'm sure it gives my friend the chance to get out and do something on her own.

You don't say how old your child is, but when you choose preschools and elementary schools, look for those that have a strong community of families. Once your child gets a little older, we started sleepovers in Kindergarten, it might provide some much needed respite. You would have to host some of these sleepovers and such, but having them reciprocated is a great opportunity. You don't have to become best friends with other families either, but you do need to feel comfortable with them.

Big hugs to you. I'm sorry it's so hard.
posted by mamabear at 12:03 PM on April 16, 2012

Full time single mother of 3 here. Birth father is a deadbeat. I would fall to pieces if I didn't have my parents to help me. They take the kids one night a week for an overnight visit. Sometimes I go out, sometimes I stay home and enjoy not taking care of anyone.

You need time for you. Have you met any other parents of children that your child gets along with? When I was living out of state (away from parents), I teamed up with other moms to trade off babysitting duties. Everyone needs a break. Find someone that you trust. Offer them a night off in return for you getting a free night.
posted by myselfasme at 12:13 PM on April 16, 2012

My life as a single mom changed when I made other single mom friends- they get me and my life more then any of my other friends. I also ended up renting a room in my house to another single mom. We have lived together for almost 3 years, and that helped a lot. There was always an adult around and someone to rely on. My kids are now 11 and 14, and her son is almost 4- so both of our needs are different and so she is moving out- but our relationship has been a lifesaver for us both. Even if you can't do a roommate situation- trading childcare with another parent is a great way to get a break. In addition while I do have my kids 80% of the time, my ex does help out- but this only happened by me holding home accountable for his agreed times and letting go of me having any say in his parenting- this was much harder when my girls were little.
posted by momochan at 12:33 PM on April 16, 2012

I think you've got two separate things to deal with, which are compounding each other right now.

First order of business, take care of yourself through the breakup. It's ok for kids to see a sad mom occasionally. A full range of emotions are human, and you can help them learn how to deal with sadness by showing them a way through it with grace, tenderness, and self care. (At least, this is what I tell myself!) Rituals around sadness are great for acknowledging, and then putting away, that sadness. Crying in the bath or shower, getting teary and then moving on, eating a pint of ice cream are all ok. Save the more dramatic, ranty stuff for after hours. Then take a breath and say, "Still here. Ok, not so bad."

Second thing is flexing your social muscle within the constraints of your childcare reality. Without knowing the age of your child it's hard to be specific, but I do agree with the advice up-thread of seeking out a community that feels like a good fit when it comes to schools. I know some single moms who bring their kids to lots of family friendly events (festivals, evenings at the museum, etc.) and it's a low-stakes way to keep your skin in the game. Good luck!
posted by cocoagirl at 12:40 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

When my first child was very young back in the early 1970s I was part of a single moms' overnight babysitting coop. We all agreed that it was very lonely being stuck at home with a sleeping child, and most of us could not afford babysitters. There were seven of us moms with a total of 10 kids ranging in age from 1 year to 9, but most were between 1 and 4.We were each responsible for a night. We shared a space (and split the rent) with a daytime childcare co-op, the parlor floor of an ancient townhouse on the Lower East Side of NYC. (E. 3rd., between 1st. and 2nd., in case you're wondering.) The mom of the night would arrive there at 6 with enough food to feed however many kids got dropped off. By 8 the kids were fed, bathed (all together in the giant cast iron clawfoot tub), read to, and tucked into individual sleep mats on the floor. The mom of the night spent the night with them. The other moms picked up their kids by 8 AM. No one was ever responsible for more than 4 or 5 kids, including her own.

We never had all of the kids at once. Some moms needed specific nights: Donna bartended Friday and Saturday nights and made enough so that she didn't have to work other days/nights; Bonnie had classes Tuesday and Thursday nights. Dolores liked to go to the lesbian dances on Saturday nights. The rest of us just liked having a night or two off to do whatever we wanted.

I think one of the reasons that it worked so well was that it was not in our own homes (tiny tenement apartments), it was in a space totally designed for kids. Another reason it worked is that we were reasonable about accommodating each other's needs. Thanks to rent control it was very cheap: our share of the rent was only $40./month, and that was split 7 ways, so we each chipped in just a few dollars. We were also back then perhaps more trusting, less afraid of people we didn't know well.
posted by mareli at 12:52 PM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thank you all so much for your feedback. It is so nice to be heard and to receive insightful responses.

FYI, my child is two.
posted by retrofitted at 1:36 PM on April 16, 2012

I just googled "single moms los angeles" and some meetups came up that were focused on sharing experienced, help, etc. Try googling it in your location, or even setting up a meetup yourself.
posted by Vaike at 1:56 PM on April 16, 2012

Hi! I was you a few years ago! I am writing with some practical advice, and lots of hope!

When I first became a fulltime working single mom, I was wretched and panicky. I had gone through an awful, awful breakup, and thought I was just going to be alone forever. I wanted to sink through the floor and crawl in bed and cry.

I was fortunate enough to have an excellent therapist on call, and she gave me excellent advice that I am going to pass on.

Your child is going to be okay if they eat takeout Chinese food and watch movies once in a while while you cry in bed. Your child will be fine, and even happy, if sometimes, you are not the "perfect mom." You need to take care of yourself, and sometimes that means it's okay to fall down on things that are not essentials.

I went from there to being enormously happy with a wonderful man, who loves my daughter, and who I am engaged to be married to. Which is something I could never have conceived in, from curled up under the covers unable to do anything but cry.

Relax. You'll be okay.
posted by corb at 5:04 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you work? Call in sick. Take your child to the babysitter. Go back to bed. Apply movies and reality tv as needed. If its really bad, take a second day for your "flu". You can't do this often, obviously but don't underestimate the soothing power of the fetal position. If that's what your body is telling you it needs, respect it. Oxygen for you first baby. Also chocolate.
posted by katyjack at 6:58 PM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

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