Monday, June 17, 2013

Ask Single Mom in the South: Coping Mechanisms

 A semi-regular column that addresses your questions about single motherhood. Got a question about which you'd like my opinion? Ask in the comments or email me at 

Today's question is brought to you by Kay of Kay's Little Corner who posed this idea when I originally mentioned I was thinking about doing this series.

"...Coping mechanisms at the time of the divorce. I understand that proceedings can get ugly and how does a single parent try to help kids go through all that?"

Boy Howdy Kay, you have no idea!  I thought my ex and I would remain civil throughout it all. We said we would and even agreed to remain in counseling so we'd have a completely separate and neutral place to work through conflicts. Our intentions were good, alas by the time it was all said and done I'd had his visitation temporarily restricted when he confessed his mental health was at stake. ~ I suspect he was actually faking it, which is a whole 'nother mental health issue and post, but I wasn't willing to take the chance!

Anywho, coping is easier said than done, but when you have children you just do, because you need to keep things stable for them.  That, I think is key. The first step in helping the children through it is keeping yourself as calm and stable as possible. You have to take care of yourself in order to take care of the children!

Here are some things I did:

Counseling:  I went by myself for 2 years from the time my ex and I stopped until I moved Below the Mason Dixon Line. I truly believe my counselor helped me cope and make informed and not rash emotional decisions about how I was going to move forward. 

At the time, I did not get counseling for my children because they were so young, but they did go for a year when they were 5 and 6.  I STRONGLY recommend it for children as well. Give them a safe space where they can be honest and not worry about hurting the feelings of the two people they love most in the world.

Circle Your Wagons: Rely on your friends. You will find out quickly who you "real" friends are.  Some will take sides and some will not be able to cope with your situation and will flee, but there will be more than a few on whom you can depend. Do it. Unload... you will be able to pay it forward in years to come. 

Family Support:  My family has also been instrumental in supporting me and my children.  At the time of my divorce, my parents lived and hour away. More than once, they dropped everything and came to my house at 11 o'clock at night because my ex and I had words after he came to put the children to bed ~ They were really little so in the beginning when he did 'dinner visits' he stayed at the house with them and did bedtime and I went out...usually just to the neighbors or a friends house, but sometimes I'd use the time to run errands or grocery shop without two toddlers!~ and I was a wreck. They babysat for my children and then we even moved in with them for a year... all in the name of keeping things stable. The bond my children have with my parents because of this is so special.

Focus on the Children:  I was a young, SAHM, with two toddlers at the time of my divorce. My children were too little to understand what was happening.  In fact, at 17 months, The Girl would forget her father in between visits if he went more than a few days without seeing them.  I can truly say that during this time, I was probably the most patient mother I'd ever been. My son got a little clingy and whiny because he DID miss Daddy. I made it a point to focus on them. It's how I got through the day. We did crafts, played outside, went on play dates... anything to keep busy, keep my mind off things, and keep the focus on them. I figured that they were losing everything they knew... their dad, their home, their town and familiar surroundings, that darn sure weren't going to lose Mamma too! Thus far, that has paid off.  My children are thriving.

Try Not to Fight our Bad Mouth in Front of the Children: Easier said than done.  My children have overheard stuff by now, but at the time, all discussions were done when they were in bed or out of the house. ~ Actually, one time when my ex came here to pick the children up, we had a misunderstanding, which turned out to be totally my fault, and he had his wife go buckle the children in the car, came back into my house, shut the door and yelled at me. He was totally out of line, but at least the children had no clue what was going on! *grins*~ The children shouldn't have to pick sides, even when there is an obvious side to pick.  The children's counselor told me that they will eventually figure it out on their own and it's the other parent's job to help them through it when they do, not point it out to them before they are ready.

I'm no expert and all situations are different, but this is what worked for me, so far so good.  One of my children's teachers once told me that my children are so well adjusted, they don't seem like they come from a "broken home," which, okay, was maybe mildly insulting, but I understood what she meant and chose to see it as a compliment!


Liz @ A Nut in a Nutshell said...

I'm so with you on the not arguing in front of the kids. It can be tough at times, but we don't want them internalizing the idea that's how marriages are.

Oh man, I'm glad to be past all that stuff! I have to say it was much easier for me because the kids were away at college when it was happening.

Leah said...

Excellent advice!!!! I laughed at the broken home comment - I've heard it so many times! My boys were babes too when my ex and I divorced. Getting Counselling for me was so helpful and I relied on my good friends (the ones who stuck around). My family was too far but provided a lot of phone support. You really do need to rally people around to support you - and help keep things steady for the kids! Not fighting in front of kids is key ----- BUT don't be hard on yourself.We all mess up! I always try to be positive, but honestly too this day, I slip up (and it's been 8 years) and ill get frustrated over something my ex has done and my kids hear/see--- but I try to also then let them see me move past it, or say sorry and admit I shouldn't have said that about your dad. BUT it's hard!!!! It is also true that they start to see things as they get older and start to understand. However, that's hard for them bcs they sometimes don't like what they see. So do you say nothing? Ignore it? Try to protect the ex? I find that part tricky- they start to see truths, how do you cope with that???

The Dose of Reality said...

Excellent advice. We totally agree on all fronts. I think people forget that kids might need some counseling to help them with their feelings as well. Even if they're little, as they get older things come up. Excellent post!! --The Dose Girls

Michelle Nahom said...

Such good advice! I have one friend who is so amicable with her ex that some people don't even know they are divorced! I think they've handled it really well and the kids benefit when you follow this type of advice!

Sioux said...

SSSM--I left a comment to YOUR comment, in case you are looking for a place for your stories and haven't heard of "Not Your Mother's Book" ( They want snarky, edgy and funny stories.

Yes, I was a single parent (divorced) for a while and it was a rough row to hoe. And yes, "broken home" is a screwed up term. I don't know if I would have been able to hold my tongue.

Thanks for stopping by.

Ilene Evans said...

All phenomenal advice. Thank goodness for my friends this year, and my family, and my therapist! You could not have said it better!

Tettelestai said...

Thank you so much for answering those questions! It's not pleasant to go over those memories, but it does help me to support and love the single women I interact with better. There are several in our military unit right now and I am hoping to be a better support team for them.

Tettelestai said...

Oh, and thanks so much for the shout out :-)

Mommyof1 said...

Good question and great advice! My situation was a bit different because I was pregnant when we divorced, so my son never knew his parents as a couple. The one thing I would add is to allow time to be angry/grieve the loss. I was so determined to have a great relationship with ex for the sake of our son and because I had an awesome dad, that I didn't allow space for healing and I didn't set boundaries with him (a whole different post).

To Leah...My son is 10 and at this point, I don't go out of my way anymore to promote this "hero" image of his dad. He is who he is and just as my son gets to see the good,bad and ugly of me, that should also apply to dad.

bill lisleman said...

You shared good advice/lessons here. It was a long time ago now but I still remember going to a conference (Day of the Phoenix I recall, ? 1980's) about blended families. At the conference we had a discussion about shooting arrows at ex's and how the arrows go through the heart of your kids. That image really stuck with me. I didn't really need to worry about my ex bad mouthing me since I had custody and she moved on to some whole new life. The kids do figure it out on their own over time.