I'm trying to model being single and happy for my preschooler. Some days it's hard, but I want him to know how strong I am.
- My husband and I separated when my son was 3.
- I decided I wanted to show my child that I could be single and perfectly happy.
Since the days when my biggest worry was whether I'd be able to handle AP classes, I've wanted to share my life with a partner. During the periods in my life when I was single, I fiercely harnessed my independence, gaining my validation from nothing other than my accomplishments and belief in myself. That confidence, however, seemed to wane as soon as I found myself becoming attached to someone new.
Then I had a kid.
I'd been married for two years before I had him. It was rocky before our son came along; that didn't change once he was born. After sleepless nights, tears, more sleepless nights, and countless gut-wrenching conversations, I decided to move back across the country with my 3-year-old son to my hometown in Pennsylvania.
While the relief from the Texas heat was a breath of fresh air, I was faced with a challenge: I had to be alone. And I had to show my son how to be OK with being, in the highfalutin words of Gwyneth Paltrow, uncoupled.
I had no idea what I was doing.
At first I felt like a baby giraffe. I knew I had legs — in my case, the ability to be happy on my own — but I had no idea how they worked. With a 3-year-old shadow following me around all day, every day, I had to figure it out on the fly.
Kids don't just need to see you happy — they need to see you healthy
As parents, we know that kids are sponges who pick up on even slight changes in our demeanor. This doesn't mean you need to pretend to be happy in every moment with your child. Rather, it means you need to practice self-care, feel your feelings, and model how to move forward after a tough day, week, month, or year.
Your kid knows things are different when your relationship status changes, and talking to them in an age-appropriate way about what you're feeling can help them accept their own difficult emotions. By no means should your child take the role of your therapist, but letting them know that you're having a tough day after they see your tear-filled eyes can help them feel comfort in knowing that things won't always be this way.
There's no need to make an excuse when your child witnesses sadness or frustration. Show compassion and understanding for yourself and you'll help your little one do the same when their big feelings rise to the surface.
I wasn't the first person to have to figure this out, and neither are you
Your situation is unique — just like everyone else's. You aren't the first person to have to figure this solo-parenting thing out, and you won't be the last.
While it's hard to figure out what will work for you and your kid in your new situation, reminding yourself that most parents and kids who experience divorce come out on the other side relatively unscathed can help you pause, take a deep breath, and remember you're doing just fine.
Don't be afraid to reach out to others in situations similar to yours. Even if they don't have advice that you can put into practice, hearing firsthand that you're not alone can work wonders for your mental health.
It's OK to take a day off from stress — to whatever degree is possible for you
As someone who works for myself, I understand it's not always possible to take a day off, especially if you're a newly solo parent working to support your little one. But allowing yourself to take a day off from worrying can give you the step back you need to refocus.
For me, that means reaching out to my mom when I need an hour to lace up and run out the stress. It can also mean setting the little man up with watercolors while I hide and eat cookie dough. Different days require different solutions — and that's OK.
When you're navigating a new phase of your life while also working to be an example for your child, it's easy to get caught up in the what-ifs and the how-will-I-figure-this-outs. Give yourself permission to take a break from the voice in your head that never stops worrying. When you realize you can get yourself to a place of calm — without relying on someone else — your new life can begin to grow roots.
Mom, Dad, Parent: You've got this. Even if you have to fake it till you make it, even if you're not sure how you're going to persevere until bedtime — you're killing this thing. I promise.
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