Divorce advice for lone mums

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Seven helpful steps for mums or dads caring for children in divorce

'Consult not your fears, but your hopes and dreams.
Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed at, but with what is still possible for you to do.'
Pope John XXIII

Looking after children on your own is sometimes one of the hardest jobs but it is definitely the most rewarding. Lone mums and, of course, lone dads coping alone - are special and so are your children; this is evident in your commitment to them and in your ability to bring them up to be happy and loving children. They can discover the very best in you. You can, likewise, deepen your love for them. At the moment, you may be coming to terms with your changing situation and feel occasionally overwhelmed by the prospect of coping alone but read on for further information on who can help you. There is so much support out there. There is no need to feel alone.

Nine out of ten parents living alone with their children are female and only 3% are teenage mums. The average age of a lone parent is 35. You come from many different backgrounds and ethnic groups but you all have one thing in common, your determination to better the lives of your children as you cope with all the responsibility and challenges that this entails. You are amazing. It can get tough but it can be great. Along with the many difficulties you may have to face, there are so many triumphs to look forward to.

"Who ran to help me when I fell, And some pretty story tell, Or kiss the place to make it well? My Mother." (A&J Taylor 1804)

Fathers who don't get involved
If you are a lone mum and the father does not want to get involved with bringing up his child, then you have to be truthful and realistic. It is impossible to change things that are beyond your control unless this behaviour is a direct result of your actions. Try to keep any communication open as things could change with time. It is important to prevent your child from feeling rejected. Remind him that he is loved by both parents. Even though it is important, in normal circumstances, to have a father's input, it is not the most important thing in your child's life. You are. If you are a good mother and you are doing your very best, there is nothing to stop you from bringing up your child in a successful and loving way. Leave the guilt behind and focus on being a good parent. Remember, all parents, whether living together or apart, can only do their best.

Come mothers and fathers,
Throughout the land
And don't criticise What you don't understand.
Bob Dylan - "The Times They Are A-Changing."

Be careful not to criticise the father as this will only hurt your child. It is a direct reflection on him. Focus on the positive but if you have been over critical, be sure to admit this. Relationships change with time and any positive input should be welcomed. Be open to this change for the sake of your child.

Replacing the absent parent
When parents divorce, this affects the adult balance in the family and there is a danger that boys, in particular, try to replace their father in the home. They could try to comfort you and concentrate on your distress. If you look to your child for emotional support, this can be quite unhealthy and you should reach out for help from other adults. 'He is my best friend; I don't know who else I could lean on,' is a phrase often heard from lone mums when speaking about their son. With hindsight, one could see that this may not be the best for the child. He has other important things to contend with - his own life as a child and all that this entails. A child's life does not normally include adult decisions and emotions. Look in the Further help section for a range of people to help.

"Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, And it is tiresome for children always and forever explaining things to them."
Antoine de Saint-Exupery "Le Petit Prince" 1943

At first, you may naturally focus all your attention on your child but he will need to come to terms with his own feelings and emotions. He needs to return to his childhood and you must attempt to maintain your own healthy balance of family life and outside interests.

"The truth is that it is not the sins of the fathers that descend unto the third generation, but the sorrows of the mothers."
Marilyn French

Seven helpful steps for mums or dads caring for children in divorce:

  1. Take care of yourself.

    "When we truly care for ourselves, it becomes possible to care far more profoundly about other people. The more alert and sensitive we are to our own needs, the more loving and generous we can be toward others." Eda LeShan

    This sounds simple but if you are having difficulties in coping alone, you must reach out for help. (Read further for agencies that may be able to help you or check back in the Emotions section.) You need to be well and healthy to cope with your extra responsibilities.
  2. Keep in touch with friends
    We need to treat friends as preciously as we truly believe they are. It may seem difficult to do this but you really are the same person that they love and want to be with. You may not feel this now but your self-esteem and confidence will return to normal or even improve as you learn more independent skills. Try to socialise and have an adult life of your own. Your child will be happy to see this.
  3. Keep to a routine

    "Work is love made visible." Kahil Gibran

    Try to keep to a normal routine at home, especially regarding meals and bedtime. Younger children feel more secure in a routine. They also love family rituals. This may also help you as you adapt to the changes.
  4. Avoid the negative

    "Bless a thing and it will bless you. Curse it and it will curse you. If you bless a situation, it has no power to hurt you, and even if it is troublesome for a time, it will gradually fade out, if you sincerely bless it." Emmet Fox

    If you can avoid being negative about the father, this can only improve the new family relationships. Try to establish some communication without involving your child in rows or hurtful behaviour. Mutual respect is the main aim together with a positive father/child relationship. It may seem impossible now but look to the future. Make the other parent count. Involve him in your child's activities and friends. Show that this matters to you. This will make him more positive about himself. You are the adults. Do not make him choose sides. Should he be free to love both parents? And in an open way? He is under so much pressure to please you both. Always remember to see things through your child's eyes.

  5. Keep finances away from Children

    "Often people attempt to live their lives backwards: they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want so that they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then, do what you need to do, in order to have what you want."
    Margaret Young

    This is easier said than done. Finances and loneliness are a lone mum's main concerns and, to a certain extent, the children have to be made aware of your changing financial circumstances. Money can't buy love. Your time is more important to a child. Try to meet your child's father together as adults, away from the children, to discuss finances and legal matters. Any kindness to each other will be rewarded as the family heals and moves forward.

  6. Get help from adults

    "No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit."
    Helen Keller

    If you are very unhappy, seek out adult company and assistance. If you are feeling very low, have a chat with your G.P. Have a look at our Health section for information and sources of assistance. Try to have fun times with your child. He needs this. Young children find it easier to express their feelings through play, and, especially, through art.

    "It should be noted that children at play are not playing about; their games should be seen as their most serious-minded activity."
    M. Montaigne, French essayist, 1580

  7. Love your child. Love yourself

    "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; What is essential is invisible to the eye."

    Love is all that matters. Children deserve to have the very best that each parent can give: unconditional love, security, honesty and a good example. Are you a good example to your children?

    "Children reinvent your world for you."
    Susan Sarandon

Talk to your children and ask then how they are even though you may think they are fine. Tell them you love them. Listen to them. Teenagers too! Getting through this trauma can lead to compassionate and caring children. Be gentle on yourself.

Life accidents happen without warning and whilst we are making other plans. They can knock us off our feet but if we will ourselves to benefit from this adversity, then we become stronger and more confident people. Life accidents prune us back but as any gardener will tell us, pruning and caring can strengthen the core. This is a time for reflection and then for onward growth for us and for our children. The best is yet to come.

"Let us, then, be up and doing
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labour and to wait."

Read on to find out about useful agencies, especially Gingerbread/One Parent Families. Joining this organisation can only benefit any lone parent and child.

You are not alone and it will get better.

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