Twelve months ago I separated from the father of my children and thought I was going to be the poster girl for amicable, straightforward separations.
Since then I’ve learned that no matter how mutually the decision to part was made, the road to sole parenting always has its challenges.
This is what I’ve learned:
1. Focus on you (so you can focus on the kids).
I like to think of myself as a tough chick who can cope with most challenges. And so I can. But in hindsight, I was so focused on minimising the impact on the children that I didn’t allow enough time for me. Having more childfree time would have allowed me to work through the financial and emotional challenges more quickly; worrying less and sleeping better.
As it was, I survived on around five hours sleep a night for months. Although I don’t think I was a bad mother during that time, I was sometimes disengaged too – the children’s bedtime routines got a bit lax and my three-year-old didn’t get enough one-on-one attention from me. So she started throwing (more) tantrums to make me focus on her. In other words, you can’t focus on the children if you don’t take care of yourself.
If you’re not functioning very well on a daily basis, go and see your GP who may also refer you to a counsellor. These days there are lots of non-addictive medications that you can take for sleep problems and a counsellor can give you useful strategies for how to deal with worries. Switch your phone off and put it somewhere hard to reach to avoid the temptation to check it for texts/emails during the night. Choose a happy topic before you go to bed and if you wake, divert your mind to that. Tell yourself that you trust yourself to find a solution to whatever problem occurs – tomorrow – also helps.
2. Uncertainty is a bitch
Nothing takes up headspace like dealing with uncertainty. Your mind runs through the ‘what ifs’ and then the solutions to problems that haven’t happened yet. You don’t need to sprint down to court but get legal advice sooner rather than later. A 50/50 split is by no means inevitable. Your lawyer will want to hear a financial history of the relationship as well as what non-financial contributions to the relationship you both made. Remember, being a SAHM counts as a contribution. The best advice my lawyer gave me was try to sort it out without going to court. Use your lawyer’s advice about the most likely outcome if it went to court and work out what you think you would be happy with. If you’re on relatively good terms with your ex, try talking or use a mediation service. Both these options are far, far cheaper than going to court.
3. Get your head around your finances
I tell my friends that learning to live on welfare may well make me a millionaire later when I start earning a salary again. I’m enormously proud of managing my money sensibly and putting modest amounts into my savings each fortnight. Working out your finances isn’t rocket science but it is time-consuming and essential.