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.


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