First weeks as a single parent: feelings and challenges
When you become a single parent after separation, there's plenty of change to cope with. You might be dealing with the reality of single parenting, or the challenges of co-parenting as you and your former partner adjust to the new situation.
The early days can bring up all kinds of strong emotions. You might feel anger, sadness, frustration, fear, shock, guilt, regret, shame and grief. This is normal.
On the other hand, you might feel relieved, hopeful or excited about your new life. Some newly single parents say they feel liberated from the conflict and stress of negotiating with a partner.
It's challenging - but it can also be a time for learning about yourself and finding new directions.
I did grieve in the early days of separation, but got over it when I moved into my own home and established an independent life with my children. My children and I are very conscious of the benefits of a happy home life.
- Mel, 31, separated for four years and mother of two children
Tips for the early days of single parenting
To start with, it might be enough just to get by, doing what needs to be done and dealing with your emotions. It's fine to stay in coping mode for a while. Here are some suggestions to help you get through the first days and weeks.
Reach out for support
Your family and friends can be lifelines. If you can't get support from them, seek out other parents, or neighbours. Try chatting to people at your child's child care centre, playgroup or school, or your community health centre. You could also meet other single parents and share ideas and experiences by joining an online or a face-to-face support group.
Take time to adjust
It takes time to get used to big changes, so give yourself time to work through your feelings. And whatever your circumstances, the feeling of loss might be part of your experience. It's OK to feel this way and to talk about it - it helps you to heal.
Take it step by step
In the early days, don't expect too much of yourself and your family. There might be some things that you don't really need to think about right now. Or you might be able to put off some big decisions until things become clearer - for example, moving house.
Focus on what you can control
Some things will be outside your control, like what happens when your child is with your former partner. Save your energy to tackle the things you can influence. For example, you can set some family routines to help your child feel secure and looked after when he's with you.
Remember that you have choices
Even if you can't change the situation, you might be able to change how you respond. For example, you can choose to behave well, even if your former partner behaves badly. You can choose to look after yourself and stay healthy. You can also choose to surround yourself with positive and supportive people. These choices will make a big difference to how you feel.
Go easy on yourself
It's easy to start blaming yourself for everything that goes wrong. But you're not a superhero, and no-one expects you to be. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge your progress whenever you can.
Focus on your strengths
You'll feel more confident and resilient if you recognise your strengths, remember how you've coped with challenges in the past, and set realistic goals. For example, you might be good at soothing your baby, you might have worked out good routines in the past, or you might know when to ask for support. These are all things to be proud of.
Think positively about the future
Allow yourself to dream a little about how you'd like things to be. Develop new goals for yourself and your child and gradually work towards them.
I must admit it was just such a relief when I left. I had spent so long walking on eggshells. I didn't care how hard it was going to be to raise my kids - I just wanted to feel safe and find some kind of calm. Four years on, I am a hundred times stronger and no regrets.
- Lillian, 27, separated for four years and mother of three children
Thoughts from other single parents
The challenges of being a single parent change over time. You and/or your former partner might repartner, which will add a whole new dimension to your arrangements. And of course, children constantly grow and their needs change.
Here's what other single parents say:
- 'I'm able to instil a sense of values and responsibility, and be a positive role model to my children, without the conflict of another parent to deal with. Hard work? Yes. Lonely? Often. But easier? MUCH!'
- 'I feel our home environment is better than it was when I was married.'
- 'I've discovered my inner strength and trust in my abilities as a parent and as a woman.'
- 'I made sure I kept connected socially and made an effort to stay active.'
- 'I tried not to fixate too much on the relationship ending, and instead focused on a future with my kids.'
- 'I make my own decisions about my life now, and I feel more at peace.'