I’ve been interviewing a lot of divorcing people over the past few weeks, and one of the biggest themes I’ve seen is the inability to make time for healing, pleasure, and alone time. This is particularly hard for those of you who have a partner who isn’t exercising their right to see the children or who can’t be in the picture for some reason. Being a single parent is challenging, and while it often comes with some fringe benefits like closeness and quality time, it can also encroach on your opportunities for things like pleasurable activities, dating, and starting a new life.
How you manage full custody will depend on the age of your child. Smaller children can be both easier and harder because while they are usually home and can stay with a sitter, they’re often harder to leave and invoke strong feelings of guilt. If you work, then you’ll want to spend as much time with them as possible, and if you’re a stay-at-home mom, you might welcome anyone who can relieve you for a few minutes. Older children need a lot of supervision, help with homework, and they need to be driven A LOT! In this way, it can become challenging to get some sacred time, but if they can stay alone at home for short bouts, or if they’re spending more time with friends, you can take advantage of that time.
As much as being a full-time parent without any support from a spouse makes tending to the self harder, it’s easy to make this an excuse to not focus on your own journey. Putting your children first will always be the best option, but there’s a difference between making them a priority and using them as a way to escape facing the inevitable new life you need to be working toward. Waiting until they're “bigger” or until they are out of the house just delays things, and you don’t need any more delays in your life.
Parents are notorious for neglecting their own needs and pleasures in an attempt to keep a family in tact. In fact, many divorces are the byproduct of over-focusing on family care and under-focusing on the fundamental needs every man and women has as part of being a human being. This includes sexual needs, time to yourself, doing things you are passionate about, and visiting with friends outside the relationship. If you can learn anything from the nightmare of divorce, it would be that making your own wellbeing and fulfillment a priority is essential.
Here are five things you can work on to position yourself in a healthy place while being a full-time parent.
Guilt is a self-induced feeling, so it’s your choice whether you engage with it or not. Sometimes guilt is displaced, so be sure that your feelings of guilt for leaving your children to take care of yourself isn’t really guilt for the divorce. Be aware of your projected feelings onto your kids about the marital ending as well. It’s always hard on children to have a shift in the family, but often the parent’s perception of what the children are experiencing is really more connected to their own sadness and loss. The reality is that your children want to see you healthy, happy, and thriving to feel safe and secure.
Whether you tell yourself you're too busy, too tired, too angry, or too disorganized to make time for yourself, you are probably just avoiding doing what you know you need to do. Even if you carve out 15 minutes in your day, you’re making progress. Listening to something healing in the car on your commute home or taking a walk around the block to get some fresh air counts as dedicated self-time. Stop telling yourself you can’t, and realize that maybe it’s more that you won’t. Your excuses may seem like real obstacles, but you’re probably getting in your own way more than the issues you’re blaming.
We all have stories we inherit without knowing, and these become beliefs that are inaccurate and don’t serve our greater good. You may believe that, as a single parent, you’re not allowed to take time for yourself. Maybe this feels selfish, or maybe you can’t give yourself permission because it’s not what “other parents” would do. You may also believe that if you have free time, you should be spending it with your children, but modeling self-care is equally as important as being with them, and they’ll learn that your time and health is important. Respecting your own need to take care of yourself will serve as a lesson for the whole family.
Transitioning out of marriage means breaking old habits. You might have been the person that always picked up the slack in the relationship or stepped in to rescue anyone who needed it. This positions you as the person to depend on and turn to, which is great, but it can also end up as resentment for having to be the one who does everything. This could be a boundary issue, a need to please others, or you might be an over nurturer where you feel it's your role to make sure everyone is okay. Learning to release this as a burden or obligation that’s been handed to you, and instead recognizing it’s a role you’ve adopted on your own, will free you up to make different choices.
Time is probably a realistic problem as a single parent, so your schedule will be your savior. It’s not enough to put things in your calendar; you have to respect the appointment you make with yourself in the same way you would one that was for work or your kids. You might habitually blow yourself off because that’s easy to do when you’re only accountable to yourself. Learning that your time for yourself is as valuable as anything else you do will allow you to follow through and truly commit to yourself. Start small with one or two things you can easily commit to, and then start adding some longer spots for yourself as they come available. You’ll get used to this over time, and even come to depend on that time as “yours”.