From hitting rock bottom to loving life as a single parent!
Updated: Dec 8, 2022
How to land back on your feet after separation and divorce
Going through divorce can be extremely painful for anyone, especially as a parent. From sharing the role of parenting and living in a family, suddenly you are thrust into a situation where you may need to find a new house, run your own household and may have to adjust to being a single parent family.
In terms of your parenting, you face a new world where the responsibility sits with you alone.
It's not all doom and gloom!
“And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life,” Harry Potter author Rowling wrote in her inspiring book, Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination. - J.K. Rowling
Of course there can be a huge relief, and for many, moving out brings an end to living in a context of constant disagreements or tension and new freedom. Equally, there can be the opportunities to do things that might not have been possible in your old life. But, for many dads, it’s a tough period and so real life lessons to help smooth the journey are vital.
In the book Single Dad’s Survival Guide, author and divorced dad Mike Klumpp went through divorce and came out the other side with hard earned wisdom. Klumpp suggests 5 ways to land on your feet. We’ve adapted these grains of wisdom with some of our own thoughts on what can help you to get through divorce to bring you 7 key lessons.
Lesson 1: Face the facts
This is what therapists might call acceptance and accepting reality. The potential loss of family life might be so painful it can be possible to deny the reality and to not make steps forward to creating a new life. It may be even hard to describe yourself to others as “single” or “divorced” after years of having the status of being married or part a couple or talking about your “other half”. Accepting your new status is another thing that takes time and can be emotionally difficult and involves feelings of sadness.
“It’s sad, something coming to an end. It cracks you open, in a way—cracks you open to feeling. When you try to avoid the pain, it creates greater pain,” Jennifer Aniston toldVanity Fair in 2006 after her separation from Brad Pitt.
It might take a while to find a label that you are comfortable with, whether it's "newly divorced," or "going through separation", "single parent", "single dad" or "co-parent".
Klampp suggests that it’s important to face the facts and remember what you do have, despite the loss. You might have been through an emotional hell but you still have yourself, your child or children, your job, your extended family and your beliefs and values. The other reason is that you can draw strength in the family that you have. Your children need you to be strong and support them through the change.
Lesson 2: Acknowledge your roles have changed
You may have to do more things or less than you did previously and your role will likely change as a divorced or separated dad. It might be that you never ironed, or you never talked to mums at the school gate.
You may have more responsibility than previously. If you have your children for a proportion of the time or you are their sole parent, you will be 100% responsible for your children whilst they are in your care. Perhaps your parents or siblings will help you with their care, or you find a babysitter or nanny to give you some extra support. However, you are responsible for their wellbeing, their schooling, you may have to face a greater level of responsibility and do things that previously your wife or ex-partner might have done.
Try to accept the new role of a single parent without blame, which is really hard, but can be done.
“You can come at it very aggressively and blame and blame and blame. Or you can put yourself in the garage, so to speak. Take yourself apart and clean off the bits. Reassemble," --Chris Martin told the Sunday Times in 2016 about processing his divorce from Gwyneth Paltrow.
Lesson 3: Hang on to your job
Your paid employment is important to support you to support yourself and your children. Your employer might be sympathetic to your situation and it’s important to communicate with your manager about your separation and divorce and particularly if there are any knock on effects for school pick ups or other childcare responsibilities. If you are struggling emotionally, hopefully you will have a manager or at least a trusted colleague that you can explain your circumstances to. They ought to understand that for a period of time you are going through a major adjustment and might not be able to give 100%.
Lesson 4: Draw on the support of your family
Your family are a potential massive source of emotional support and childcare support and to help you to feel a larger sense of family with special events, such as Christmas and New Year.
Not all of your family will understand what you are going through. You might see certain family members rally and others will not. It’s really important not to involve your family in conflict with your ex-partner in such a way that they speak about it around your children. Giving your children conflict around loyalties to each parent can give them a lot worry about and even cause psychological damage.
Lesson 5 : Lean on your friends
Whilst not everyone understands that it can be really hard. Friends that are able to help you as a single parent will come forward, particularly if you communicate that you are having a tough time. Others that do not understand your responsibility or the isolation that you might feel are likely not the ones that you will turn to when you need help.
Protect your children's wellbeing
Your children may try and blame themselves for the separation and family breakdown. It’s a common reaction. Klampp suggests opening up and being honest with your children, but at all costs, avoid using them as emotional sounding boards and forcing them to play a counsellor or parent role (this is called "parentification" of children". Provide clear and succinct answers so they are clear that they are not to blame, and avoid casting your ex-partner in a negative light.
Now that you are just one there is still a lot to do. Klampp suggests given your children tasks such as doing the laundry, whilst supporting them as children and making clear that they are loved and supported and not overburdening them with responsibility.
Lesson 6: Get the outside help you need
Whilst it’s important that we express our needs to the people we care about, in some cases we do need to get professional help or help that is separate from our dependents and immediate family. Klampp writes:
“One day I found myself voicing all types of concerns to my teenage daughter. Before I knew it her eyes were filling with tears. Dad, you need help. And it ain't me. She was right.”
This brings attention to the fact that if we don't get professional help for really serious problems, we may end up talking to the wrong person and our children are not placed to be our emotional support system. They do not deserve to be parentified at a young age! It can be difficult for their own mental health at a time when they themselves need support regarding living in two households and the loss of their family unit.
Lesson 7: You are not alone, find your tribe
Find other dads in your situation or have been through what you are going through and come out stronger. Whether its considering legal advice, a dad to go on playdates with, or someone to vent and share difficulties with, finding like-minded dads is really important for most dads.
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