Monday, September 19, 2011

10 Simple Steps for the Newly-Single Mom

I want to tell you the secrets I've learned, because it's taken me almost 4 years to get here and I don't want to keep this stuff to myself anymore. It's valuable stuff. Life-changing, to be sure, but not in the ways you might think.

When you first start out as a single mom, no matter who did the leaving, you think:

This sucks.

And you're right and wrong. Parts of it are going to suck, but parts of it are going to be so good that they'll cancel out the sucking. So let me tell you the important bits:

1. You don't need a new man to replace the old one.

Some newly-single moms think, "OMG! I can't do this alone! I'd better grab me a replacement man, pronto!" and others think, "I'm never getting married again as long as I live." Somewhere in between, the right answer probably exists. I can tell you that jumping into a new relationship right away will rob you of your chance to find the real goodies hidden in single motherhood, and that you probably won't make the best choices if you're wearing Eau de Desperation. Try just taking time to be with yourself and your kids because it can really pay off in unexpected ways.

2. You'll figure it out.

In the beginning, it all looks so overwhelming-- "How am I going to do this? How am I going to do that?"

You just will. When it comes down to it, you'll figure it out. Try not to freak out about things that are six or more months down the line, because everything can change in six months. Take what's on your plate now and make it work. You can do it.

3. Downsizing can be liberating.

Separation or divorce usually means learning to live with less-- a smaller home, less "stuff," a less expensive car, etc. Before resisting moving, just try looking around. Consider how it might feel to get a true fresh start in a fresh place, no bad memories lurking in the walls or under the floorboards waiting to grab your ankles and trip you up. Consider how there will be less to clean, and that you won't have to take anyone else's tastes into consideration.

4. Don't sell what you'll regret. Sell everything else.

You probably don't need half the stuff you've accumulated through the years. Aunt Edith won't notice that you sold the tea set she bought you for your bridal shower. She'd be glad to know you got a few bucks for it and used it toward something you actually need now, like, y'know, food. Use Craigslist, eBay, garage sales, consignment stores. Don't waste your time listing $5 items on Craigslist and then sitting around all day waiting for someone to show up to pick it up, but anything you think you can get $20 or more for is worth listing.

For the cheaper stuff, consider using the honor system: "I'll leave the lamp by my front door. If you decide to take it, please leave $5 under the mat." That way you don't have to wait around and schedule times, and if someone steals it, big freakin' deal.

Don't sell all the baby clothes. Keep some to make a quilt someday.

5. Instead of calling a repairman, use YouTube.

Not sure how to put in shelves, install a disposal under your sink, change a tire, or figure out what kind of wall anchor you need to hang a heavy clock? Instead of calling for help or abandoning the project, first look for videos on YouTube that will show you exactly what to do.

6. Buy these things.

Here are some things I think all single ladies should have:

  • A good cordless drill. I was lucky enough to get this Makita one second-hand. This DeWalt one's a little cheaper.

  • A ladder. (Got mine for $39 at Home Depot.)

  • A toolbox filled with nails, screws, wall anchors, pliers, wrenches, etc. in assorted sizes. And, of course, a good hammer. And I love this screwdriver.

  • Jumper cables.

  • A solid deadbolt lock.

7. Don't waste your time or energy on badmouthing.

Sure, vent a few times when you need to, but then move on and realize that (1) it's usually in the kids' best interest to have their father in their life regularly (I won't get into the situations when it's not in their best interest, but use your judgement), (2) you don't want them to overhear you and be confused about their loyalties or about what love means, and (3) negative thoughts can just weigh you down. Lighten your load and do as little thinking as possible about people who bring you stress. Redirect your focus on people and things that bring you joy.

8. Keep a daily organizer on your desk.

There are things you'll probably need to keep track of now that you might never have had to track before. Do you know when garbage days and recycling days are? Do you know when bills are due? Buy an organizer with a decent amount of room to write every day, and use the space to note everything from birthday parties to triple-manufacturer's-coupon day at the grocery store.

9. Take what's offered.

Pride is expensive. You can't afford pride. Plus, pride is idiotic. Look, if you need stuff and people are willing to give you stuff, take the stuff.

No one needs to go hungry in America. There are food pantries and soup kitchens that you can go to, no questions asked and no judgments passed. There are community centers and churches that can point you to places to get clothes and school supplies, free or cheap health insurance, and even temporary shelters. Before it gets desperate, look into these programs and don't be embarrassed to need them. That's what they're there for. Use them as long as you have to, then move ahead with your head held high and pay it forward when you're able. You'll get there, too.

10. Bask in your amazingness.

You are SuperMom. You are so capable and smart and strong. You can do this. Go ahead, let it get to your head. Fix that darn leak in the sink yourself and then brag to all your Facebook friends about it. This is where the goodies come in... if you let yourself be single, you'll learn that you are capable of more than you imagined. You'll be more whole and at peace. It's not about giving attitude and saying, "I don't need a man!" It's about feeling great about yourself and choosing to share your life with someone else only when and if you feel really good about it and ready to do so. But by then, you'll have learned so much more about yourself that you'll be an even better mate. And if you choose to stay single, that's okay, too!

Allow your priorities to change. Allow yourself to make new friends, aside from the ones you shared with your ex. Find things that make you feel good about yourself and do them. Exercise, knit, play guitar, whatever.

But mostly, treat yourself with kindness and know that you're doing the best job you can for your kids and yourself. What they need from you more than anything else is love, and you've got that. Even when all else fails, you've got that, and no one can take it away from you.

You're amazing, Mom. You can do this.



  1. Great advice (as usual), Jenna, and not just for newly single moms. There isn't a single bit of advice there that's not good for everyone.


  2. I'll second what Ruth said, Jenna. Great advice for everyone, including single dads. (And for the record I do own a drill, though I don't wield it very often. I'm no handyman, and am quite willing to admit it.)


  3. Great advice Jenna! You have really laid it all out in simple terms. Being a single mom is not the end of the world, but simply part of this journey called life. We get through it and try to learn the lessons along the way. All the best to you.


  4. Hello Jenna!
    I am a lurker. It sounds terrible but rest assured I am a good lurker! I know you from Absolute Write and have always admired your writing, your posts, your attitude, your pictures of you and your little girl, everything. I used to come here once in a while and read your latest posts and, believe me, I learned a lot.
    I am single, no kids, but, as other posters have mentioned, your ideas are good and practical to every single person endowed with common sense. I wish you and your girl the best of luck in your new life as a single mom, good health, and a productive life. I love your writing style and I hope that you'll write more so that we, your fans, would enjoy a good piece of writing.
    Best of luck, and my warmest hugs,

  5. hey jenna,
    i´m from germany and i´ll say, i read a lot of american blogs, but your blog is different... and the best of all.

    hugs and all the best 4u


  6. Hey Jenna,
    Way to stay positive and keep it real at the same time. It takes a unique and talented voice to share the tough experiences from grit to glory. Thanks for sharing on your blog.


  7. Well said Jenna! I was a single Mom for over a year with an ex that caused many issues. That was over 5 years ago and although we still don't talk, our children have been able to spend time with both of us. You're right, it isn't easy but we do what we have to. Plus I have acquired some pretty cool tools over the past few years. My partner now takes me for who I am and doesn't try to change me.

    I also learned being a single Mom is not the end of the world; it is great to give kids undivided attention. My kids and I did some fun things when it was just us 3. Stay strong and don't settle for just anyone.

    Take care!

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  10. I need to give this to my sister. Thanks for the post!

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  12. Nice blog...after my husband and i split my house stayed cleaner longer even with 12 and a 10 year old. So we know who the messy one was...another thing for newly single moms, lean on friends and family for support. One of the best things that my mom did for me was sit on the phone while i cried, she never said anything, she just let me cry. Most of the time I just wanted someone there. Did not want them to fix it, but just to listen as I ranted...

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  14. >food pantries and soup kitchens that you can go
    >to, no questions asked and no judgments passed.

    Soup kitchens, yes. Food pantries, not so much. I write this as a single father who has been there and done that, and I cannot begin to explain toyou the amount of judgement I was subject to. Some food pantries are run by folks who want to help. They don't ask questions. Some are run by people or groups who feel the need to know every detail. Quite frankly, if I could produce ID, my prior year tax return, proof of residence (electric or gas bill, landline phone bill is unacceptable), I probably wouldn't be in a position where I needed the help.

    Does anyone remember Blackstone's speculation that it its better to let one innocent person go free than...?

    'tis better to let ten liars and con artists screw the food pantry than to let one needful, innocent person go hungry.

    >supplies, free or cheap health insurance, and even

    Really? You're a self-righteous fool. Allow me to share my state's guidelines for an individual applying for Medicaid.


    Yes, you read that right. Two hundred and twenty-nine dollars. And fifty cents.

    Consider those with two earners in the hosuehold making $25-30k a year. Nevermind that $30k is an obscenely low figure for two earners. That's only roughtly 12.5 times the income limits for "free health insurance," you fool. (approximated the numbers, but it's between 10 and 15 times.)

    >temporary shelters. Before it gets desperate, look

    What if you're a man? And have kids? And are the subject of a backhanded attempt to wrest custody from the functional parent? Shelters of any kind will tell you to toss off. Anecdotal evidence is all I have, but I have enough of it to know this to be true/ Shelters don't allow men and/or male-headed households because it might offend some poor abused women, and that's more important than making sure that everyone with kids has a roof regardless of their situation.

    >don't be embarrassed to need them.

    I'm not embarrassed to need them. I am, however, gravely concerned that many people who should qualify, and whom the programs are designed to serve, don't qualify due to income (last six months is not representative) or gender (Yes, I'm male. Yes, I can raise children. Yes, I need help after she used every aspect of the law to try to ruin me.)

    >and pay it forward when you're able.

    This I could not agree with more. It's important that these service be available to anyone and everyone who needs them. It's also important that those who have benefited pay it forward when they're able.

    This is not men vs. women. This is abused vs. abuser. Any person who is abused would be making a grave mistake to defend themselves - you don't fight back, you use the law. Any abused person who is male doesn't have that recourse.

    Perhaps in the future you should be more inclusive and recognize that not all resources are available to all people - right or wrong,

    I stand behind the concept that we should stop domestic partners from hitting each other, period. I don't care what your gender is. No one should hit another person, but no one should be judged for hitting back.

    If ALL people understood that abuse in all its forms was unacceptable, this might be less of a problem. Don't paint domestic abuse as a women's problem. It's short-sighted, lazy, unfair, and factually incorrect.

  15. Hi Jeff,

    I'd respond to your comments except that I see you have your anonymous boxing gloves on. I'm sorry you're so angry that it colors your perception of what I actually said... and didn't say. Good luck to you.

  16. Thank you. Just tonight I realized that the onl opions left are for my child to grow up in a seperated home or grow up with an emotional broken mother. I know the right choice, but I am scared. Your words give me some much needed courage.

  17. Thank you i needed this.


Nice to hear your voice! Er... see your voice? See your text? Bah! You know what I mean.