I’m a single mom raising two terrific kids.
I’m having trouble finding the joy in my life. I’m focused on my two children, but feel like there’s nothing beyond that for me.
I just ended my first serious relationship after my divorce. He wasn’t ready to partner and had issues with my children. I’m feeling very lonely and sad.
I’m overwhelmed by the conflict with my ex-husband. He fights me on every.single.thing, and his new wife has adopted his same habits. They are horrible to me.
I read your blog and things seem so happy and fun for you. How do I get there from here? It feels impossible.
Oh, Darlin’. I can hear how exhausted you are. I’ve been there. Sometimes the exhaustion and the chaos are so loud they drown everything else out. Things feel overwhelming and hopeless and totally out of control.
Let’s not focus on writing the end of your story together, shall we? Let’s focus on making the middle more manageable. Think of it like running a marathon when you have the flu. You wouldn’t, right? You’d take the time to get over the flu, and then think about the marathon.
Let’s focus on building your strength. A stronger Maxine will be able to find the joy in her current life. A stronger Maxine will make her own joy. Here’s how you get strong.
First, give yourself time to grieve the loss of your relationship. Don’t rush yourself through, because rushed grief just pops up later. It’s okay to be sad about the end of your relationship. That first relationship after a divorce holds so much hope. I know from experience that the promise of love after loss can be just as intoxicating as the object of that love. You’re mourning the loss of both your partner and your hope. You’ve suffered a loss – walk through that pain.
Don’t indulge in panic. Don’t worry that you’ve made the wrong decision (you haven’t) or that you’ll never find someone else (if you want to, you will) or that you have to be ‘doing something’ to move through this (you don’t). Panic just pauses your progress.
Shut out the noise. Stop reading about everything that’s wrong in the world. Stop watching holiday movies that make you flash forward to you as an old woman alone in the world. Stop refereeing the annual Christmas fight between your siblings. If the noise swirling around you drains your energy, shut it out. The world will keep turning if you’re not fully up to speed on the latest political crisis or the PTA elections. You can re-engage when you’re stronger. In my experience, you’ll find people didn’t even notice you were gone. For now, shut the door on the noise and focus on building your strength.
Become radical about self-care. You must care for your sweeties, yes. But other than the care and feeding of those two little ones, you must do nothing except care for yourself. Remember when your ex used to get a cold and the world stopped? Pretend you have a man-cold.
Get plenty of sleep. Eat nutritious foods. Shower regularly. Read a good, totally involving book (Furiously Happy or Carry On, Warrior or Leaving Time are some of my favorites). Move your body – even in simple ways like taking a walk with the kids after dinner. Indulge in any activity that builds your strength and reminds you of your healthy self.
Limit conflict with your ex. I know conflict with an ex can be all-consuming. It is mean and ugly and entirely out of your control. It invades your space and opens old wounds. He controls so much of that, but you have control too. Don’t allow it in now.
Don’t respond to hammer-texts or angry emails. Avoid seeing them by removing your phone from your bedroom and checking it only at regular intervals. Put your text chains with him on Do Not Disturb. Consider using an email rule to group his messages into a folder, or a coparenting communication tool. If you have to, ask him to speak only with your mediator or attorney. Make your home a safe sanctuary.
Only engage with your ex on the children’s immediate needs. Now isn’t the time to renegotiate your agreement or consider summer vacation plans. You’ll be stronger soon, and can do that then if necessary. Don’t make any long-range plans now.
Journal your progress. Not in a mandated, one-page-of-writing-a-day-way, but in a capturing-where-you-are-as-you-heal-way. Capture the worry that you’re not doing enough by writing it down, and then list all the things you’ve done to care for yourself. Address the panic that you’ll miss a negotiation window with your children’s father by writing down what you’d like to do, and a date when you’ll revisit the decision and take action. Celebrate small successes by capturing them in writing. Reading what you’ve accomplished will remind you of your strength. Create evidence of your healing.
Keep asking for help. Write me again. Meet a friend for coffee and ask her to make it a standing date. See a counselor regularly. Connect with people who care for you and have your best interest at heart. You’ve helped others before, now it’s your turn to receive help.
There you are, Maxine, seven steps for strength. This hard, sad time won’t last forever. You’re not alone.
Sending you all the love and strength I have,