From that whirlwind moment when you first become a single or divorced parent, your life is turned upside down like never before.
Divorce is the second most stressful life event that can occur to a person.
Unless you're one of the lucky few who happens to separate amicably with their partner, for the majority, it can be an intensely painful, frustrating, upsetting and highly stressful ordeal.
You can be faced with the wrath of hurt feelings, ego, anger, betrayal, violence or even abuse.
The issues involved with a divorce don't tend end there when there are kids involved.
There may be disagreements about parenting decisions that suddenly become a battle ground for power, unlike never before.
Special events, for example, the first Christmas — who has the kids at their preferred time? Who misses out? What about being alone for some or all of your Christmas day? What about your first weekend in an empty home, without your beloved kids — let alone trusting they will be okay on holidays with the other parent.
When you come across a divorced parent, they've likely been through some very hard times.
How would I know? I am child from a divorced family (I was about 12 at the time) and I have been divorced too.
Here are 6 things you need to know about divorced parents:
#1: We Had To Make A Really Tough Decision
Divorce is not something most parents take lightly. It's highly likely one of the most difficult things they'll ever do in their lifetime.
No matter if we made the decision to leave, or if we were the person picking everything up off the floor after having a partner leave — emotionally it's really, really tough.
As soon as you announce to friends and family that you're getting a divorce, the first thing parents often hear is, “But what about the kids?” — when we're a trembling wreck inside. It fuels our doubts, wondering if we've truly made the right decision (especially for the kids).
But that's exactly why we did what we did — for the kids. Children should have a healthy example of a relationship. They're modelling their parent's behaviours for their own future relationships. They're seeing what a normal relationship looks like, feels like and how people should interact with one another. If the relationship is an unhealthy one, the kids aren't going to be better off in a troubled home. They'll be set for a life of unhappy relationships. Read more in our article, should I leave or stay for the kids?
It takes courage to say enough is enough, and start a new life so we can give our kids a better life.
How you can help: Please trust our decisions and trust our journey, no matter how messy it looks to you. We'll work it out and come out stronger the other end.
#2: We Get Lonely Sometimes
Without another adult to lean on and share the journey, parenting on your own can be really lonely at times. Similarly, when the kids are with their other parent (unless the parent didn't want to be part of the children's lives), we sometimes don't know what to do with ourselves. Especially at first, it's easy to slip into sadness, anxiety or even depression, if we don't have good support.
It's a huge shift from having your beloved family all around you, to feeling really lonely — and we didn't expect we'd ever feel this way. Sometimes we even lose good friends, because they're also friends (or family members) with our ex, and they feel awkward remaining friends with both of us.
Many of our parent friends have their own responsibilities with their own children, so when a divorced parent has time alone, often our friends are busy.
How you can help: It's really nice when you want to spend time with us, check in on us or ask us out somewhere. Especially in the early days, we appreciate you keeping us company while we get back on our feet. If you're worried about us, please let us know without judgement.
#3. The Kids Are Okay — Really!
Yes, divorce is tough on kids, especially in the first year or two. Sometimes we have struggles with issues that bubble up to the surface as a result of the divorce. But as time goes on, we find our groove and a new way of life.
Kids are resilient, it's human nature to be that way. While they may be sad about the divorce, they do just want to spend time with their parents and to be loved. They do want life to move on with as much normality as possible. When they're surrounded with lots of love, supportive parenting, peaceful co-parenting and support from the extended family, they can indeed be very happy and healthy children.
It's not necessarily the act of divorce that is the most damaging to kids. It's often what happens before and after the divorce — any conflict or harmful behaviours the children are subjected to. Of course, as a divorced parent, we do our best to make sure our kids aren't exposed to that.
How you can help: If you're worried about something specifically with one of the kids, let us know. But trust that we will do all we can to help our kids get through this. It'd be awesome if you could be there for the kids too, so they know they have lots of support rallied around them.
#4: We Are
Good Great Parents
There is such a toxic stigma about divorced and single parents, which is ironic considering the divorce rate is so high. Many of us will become divorced parents.
It's not just ‘bad parents' who end up divorced. Some divorced parents are the most involved, caring and educated parents I know.
Sure, we might not have the support and help like we used to (or not), but just because we are one parent, it doesn't mean we put in half the effort. In fact, we have to step it up most of the time.
How you can help: Trust us that we are parenting our children to the best of our abilities. After a divorce, many parents become closer to their children than ever before. Some parents may become more distant with stress. If that happens, let us know you're worried about us and encourage us to seek support. On the other hand, if you feel so, let us know that you think we are doing a great job.
#5: It Can Feel Like Living As A Uni Student All Over Again
Starting over financially is very tough, especially if only one partner was earning income and you have children to look after. Child support may be refused to be paid, there may be refusal to fairly split debts, or you may be left with a financial mess. Someone needs to find a new place to live, a house will need to be filled with furniture and other items, a car may need to be bought – you lose more money than you ever expect when you divorce.
There will no doubt be some sort of money stress, and while we always put the kids first and ensure they don't miss out, it can be a great source of stress for us. It can take many years to recover to a comfortable level.
How you can help: Please don't leave us out because we don't have any room to move in our budget. It doesn't cost anything to spend time together — let's have family or friends meal nights at home, have picnics in the park with the kids, or just be present with each other. If you can help with the kids so we can have a well earned break now and again, we'll be forever grateful. Babysitters are so very expensive, and we just need a little bit of time out to fill up our tank. It helps us to be the best parent we can be.
#6: Sometimes We'll Make Decisions You Don't Understand
It's a massive journey winging it through separation and divorce as parent. It's an erratic rollercoaster of an emotional journey, one which we try and shield the kids from as best we can. Sometimes we struggle to keep the tough emotions stuffed down in front of them. As a result, sometimes we make unexpected decisions in our personal life, trying to build ourselves back up again. We may even be a blubbering mess in front of people we haven't ‘let in' before.
Dating again for the first time can be a crazy and strange thing too — for some of us, it's been a decade or more since we were out there dating. We'll make mistakes and date the wrong people, just like before. Times have changed, and it takes some getting used to. But we'd never put our kids in harm's way.
How you can help: Please don't judge us. It's hard to keep it together 100% of the time, be everything for the kids, and try and put our broken selves back together. If you don't understand, please, just ask if we're okay. We're likely already being a harsh enough critic of ourselves, and our self esteem pretty fragile.
Like everything in life, time heals all wounds. Every experience we make it through (not over or under – we must go through it) makes us stronger. It's hard to see people you love and care about in pain and having a hard time. But you can't have that hard time for them — only they can do it so they can claim it as their victory. But with your loving support and trust in us, we'll get there so much faster. Thank you for being a caring support person.