Navigating Divorce With Small Children

When I was 24 years old, I left a marriage that was no longer safe, or serving me, or my children well. At the time, I was a stay at home mom to a 3, and 4 year old. My children were my first priority, and through the emotions, legalities, and logistics of divorce, I stumbled upon the greatest well of strength I didn’t know I had. I had to dig deeper into myself, and think outside the box, while maintaining a sense of stability, and normalcy for the children, as a newly single mother. It wasn’t easy, but I learned a lot along the way. And the truth is that until you walk through fire, you don’t know how to navigate it.

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At this point in my life, I have been able to verbalize, and put down onto paper what helped me the most through such a precarious time. I now have a degree in Behavioral Science, as well as multiple other certifications in related fields, but it wasn’t the education that has led to my reflections, but talking with other parents, years of therapy, and a lot of self accountability.

So, for those mothers that are moving through the grief, the guilt, and the curiosity of what life is like on the other side of divorce, let me tell you, you’re going to make it. But, even better than just “making it,” you’re going to thrive.

The most important part of this transition of life is finding someone to talk to. Someone that can help you make sense of the mess, especially when you feel lost. A life raft if you will. For me, this was a therapist. Luckily, I already had one, but finding unbiased, unwavering support that you can count on, can make all the difference when you need balance, and guidance. Friends, and family can be helpful, but as a birth doula, I take the approach that finding someone that is exceptional in non-judgmental support is crucial during such a big life change. Carving out this one hour a week allows you to let your guard down without the children around, and gives you the space to just be you, the woman, not the strong mother you feel you must always be. This time is critical for you to gain skills, and tools, so that you can go back to providing the utmost stability for a child/children. With therapy, a life coach, or a trusted friend as a guide, you will gain the insight needed to move through all the emotions a divorce will bring.

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But yes, feeling your feelings is hard. Especially in today’s modern world of instant gratification. I can truthfully say that the biggest mistake I made was two fold. Alcohol, and a new partner. These are tempting ways to deal with the grief, but in reality, they will not solve any of the problems associated with single motherhood, or a failed relationship, whether it was amicable or not. The same is said for parenting through guilt. Through a divorce children will need structure, accountability, and empathy. Focusing on creating a new family unit, navigating a new schedule, maybe a new house, or even a new school, are all things that will take time, yet diligence. It’s hard to do if your head isn’t on straight. Instead of using a new relationship to help get over a failed one, find a new exercise class, or take up a new hobby. As well as many communities offer free opportunities for adult education. This will allow you to find time for yourself, pursue some of your own goals, and find confidence in this new version of motherhood.

And most important, allow yourself to grieve with your child/children, while providing them true, and honest information, that is age appropriate when they ask. Give them space to question, be angry, and cry. At one point they will do all of this at once. As mother’s our jobs are to be the ultimate space holders, and it’s quite difficult to do as our own world is crumbling, (and re-building), but if we are anything at all, it is resilient. And our resilience will trickle down to our children if we allow it.

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Divorce is tragic, yes, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t valid. Putting the children first is always the ultimate goal, but in order to do so, we must put on our mask first. Be honest with yourself, keep it simple, find someone to talk to, and above all, keep showing up for your children in the best way you know how.

Words by Kimberly Zuleger

Muse and photographer Sharon Schuster

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