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Divorce while parenting: You're not alone, but it sure feels like it

My husband and I were watching a Discovery Channel show on the science of reproduction a few days ago; the show posited that humans are more likely to look for a new mate after their first child grows old enough for one parent to raise him alone. "Well then!" I said. "I guess we're fine." We have three children, after all. We laughed, but given our often-tense relationship, it was through a lens of concern. Not only are we occasionally very un-fine, but many of our close friends have been through separations and divorce in the past few years, and the prospect of raising a child alone -- or as part of an awkward parental tag-team -- is too familiar.

Another urbanMama emailed me yesterday to say she, too, was in the painful process of separation and divorce. It's easy to see everyone else through your lens, and think, oh, they're fine! They don't have my problems. The marriage wasn't fine, and now she's just looking for advice and wisdom. While I sympathize, I haven't been in her shoes, so I'm hoping some of you, who have, can lend your stories to her.


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Surround yourself with family and friends (especially during the first few holidays). Focus on your kids. Try new things. Remember that it does get easier/better. It will never be the same, but different does not mean less than. Attitude is everything, as it is with most things in life. There will be those times you feel like grieving the loss of the “family”, but try not to get stuck there. One of the most important things I found was that when your child/children are with their other parent – don’t just try to accomplish all of the responsibilities you have as a parent. Remember to take some “me time” during that space. It is even more crucial now that you are a single parent. Please do not feel guilty. Children are so resilient. Having two loving, supportive parents is so much better than pretending for their sake. I wish you courage and peace through this next part of your life.

I am the mama that Sarah is referring to, and would love to talk to any mama that has gone through divorce, or is going through a divorce. I have so many questions, and honestly, having someone who can understand why I need to just cry sometimes would be incredibly helpful.

C, thank you for your thoughtful response. I do find myself mourning the loss of the "family", even though I know this is the best thing for all of us.

If anyone who's been through this is willing to email me, and possibly meet for coffee/tea/wine, please email me at umanon [at] gmail dot com. I would greatly appreciate it.

I don't have experience with divorce, but just wanted to offer some support because I can't imagine how difficult it must be to go through this.
We definitely experienced a very rough patch after the birth of our little guy and it was a scary time for me. I found a lot of comfort in my relationship with my mom and sister. Part of me wanted to just hide and avoid their phone calls while we struggled and I realized that I had to take care of myself, accept their help and surround myself with "safe" love. It got me through.
I hope you create a great support system for yourself and stay positive, exercise! And give yourself a break, know that you're a great parent without having to be perfect.

I have not been through a divorce, but I do have first-hand experience of being a primary support of my sister who is going through this right now with three daughters, all under the age of 9. It's HARD. They too, were the family that to look at from the outside, 'had it all'. Having their marriage end has not only effected them and their children, but all of our family and friends. We are all sad for the hurt that they are all going through, and the tough times, like holidays, special events and the realization that this is how their life will be from here on out. It sucks.
My sister has been really good about trying to keep a good attiude, but even as strong as she is, she definitely has had those times where she is completely topped out emotionally. It's not what she ever thought she would be facing, but that's the crazy thing about life...there are no guarantees on anything. So, my advice to you is to surround yourself with people who love you, who you can trust, and trudge forward one day at a time. There will be some tough times ahead, but you will get through this.
The most difficult thing in her situation is the sharing of the kids, 50/50 at each house. But, they are adjusting.

I'm a dad going through the process. I do wonder what resources might be out there for both parents. Focusing on more immediate distractions, I am just coming to terms with the upcoming separation and have yet to start thinking about the pending realities.

I do think C's comments amount attitude and balance are key. I am trying to remain optimistic. I know children are resilient. But as a child of divorced parents, I know how the dissolved union always haunts your logic process. I can only imagine what the parental implications will be like and try and redirect that into empathy for my children.

I do believe that as C mentioned that "having two loving, supportive parents is so much better than pretending for their sake." Kids see through such artifice. When the toxicity leaks through the cracks to the point where divorce makes the only sense, I can't imagine that there won't be better world in the future, no matter how hard it is initially to build it and the bumps and pains in maintaining it.

The vision that propels me is that everyone will be happier in the end. Both parents working together to be involved in their children's lives, supporting their kids to be the best that they can be by being the best divorced parents that they can be.

I wish you luck umanon and to anyone else dealing with such a yucky, sucky process. It rekindles the powerful sadness I had when my dad remarried. Or when I'd stew on the plane coming back from seeing him. As I recall the emotions of being a little boy processing the overly complicated information, I look at my beautiful kids and want to cast a protective force-field around them until we all get to happier place. And since that's not possible, I can only hope that we get there in grace.

All of the best,


Hey umanon
I have been meaning to respond since I saw this post. I am glad to see this topic here because I would love to see more Single Mama topics on UM. I am surprised considering how prevalent (divorce/single parenting) it is and how little community or support there seems to be out there. And without appearing ungrateful I kind of balked at the mama infidelity reference on the post. I understand that it was a reference to the Discovery Channel but it kind of set the tone for me. OK not trying to rant.

UManon. Some good advice here. I would say recognize what a HUGE transition and loss you are going through. For me the sense of breaking my wedding vows by ending my marriage was huge. And as you say the loss of what your idea of what your family would be and is no longer.

But you have a family with your children.

Take care of yourself. Lower your expectations. Pizza on the couch with TV a couple times a week. Fine. Recognize you are human and stressed. I went through a time where I realized I was yelling a lot more at my son and just stressed out. It was hard but you are human so give yourself a break and make it easy on yourself. Maybe that means dinners that are easier to make, schedule less extra curricular things for the kids if making swim 2x a week just stresses you out, and take help from your friends or family. Ask for help from your family or friends.

Some books I thought were good: Positive Discipline For Single Parents (Jane Nelson, Cheryl Erwin, Carol Delzer), The Courage to be a Single Mother (Sheila Ellison), and Mom’s House Dad’s House (Isolina Ricci).Not sure how old your kids are but I read Mama and Daddy Bear’s Divorce (Cornelia Maude Spelman) to my 3 year old.

It will get better. Good luck. I will email you offline as well but I felt it was important to have this post online as well – I would have appreciated it 3 years ago.

elizabeth, i apologize, it didn't occur to me that i was setting a judgmental tone with the introduction. now it's making me uncomfortable, too, so i'm going to edit. thanks for all your input, everyone, and we'll try to have more regular posts targeted at single parents.

Sarah- thanks so much!

This is a really interesting topic.

UManon I have an understanding of your situation. My sons dad broke up with me 9 days before our wedding. It was for thh better, but the loss of "the family" is extremely hard. We are close to our year anniversary of our new family arrangaement. Your new role is different but you will find a way to make it your own and it will all work out!

Elizabeth made some really good points, dinner on the couch in front of the TV is okay, as is cutting back. Lean on your friends and family. Tell then what you need, how they can help.

You are embarking on a new journey. Its not easy or glamorous but it is yours and it will be great in the end!

Take care of yourself. You deserve it and you need it. Some things I did this last year were reinvent me! I changed my hair, I slowly have changed my wardrobe, I reaaranged my furniture, sold some got new (to me) items. Most importantly I have been finding who I am again. Having a postive attitude has helped. Of course tehre are bad days, and you need to let yourself have those days, you need to let yourself cry when you need to but try and focus on the small happy things when you can!

You have an oppurtunity to learn more about yourself, who you want to be and a new chance to do things you may not have done before. Whether thats starting a new hobby, joinging a new social group, or whatever its a fresh start!

Lastly your kids. Considering you are dealing with your own emotional issues right now, look into finding a safe outlet for your kids, a counslor or mentor may be very benefical for them coping with all of these new changes.

The process is difficult, I can say first-hand being the father of little boy -- I think it's good to remember a couple of things.

1. Change is hard, especially this kind, and be it a mutual (or not) decision, give yourself recognition of the need for patience.

2. Kids are super-resilient, and in my case, my son is better off! The initial change was difficult for him, but in all reality, if parents aren't happy, then the kids will take on the negative energy and present all kinds of nasty angst later

3. It's an on-going process negotiating and dealing with the ex; don't expect everything to be 'neat and tidy' right away; dating & finding a new partner (if desired) will take time, and don't bother trying to do that for a year or more (until you've had a chance to get things settled); I started seeing someone too soon, and even now (having been separated almost 2.5 years, divorce finalized almost 1.5 years) issues relating to the ex can still cause problems with my solid (almost 1.5 year old relationship). Fortunately for me, my newer partner is very patient and understanding, having gone through her own divorce previously. Add extra patience when it comes to partnering with a new person with their own kids from a previous marriage.

#1 rule: remain positive, and keep the kids first; this will help the kids more than you can imagine, as they really take on the energy of the parent. My ex (the mom) was very unsettled for the longest time, and son's actions & security was shaky for a while; he's since returned to being the happiest boy out there (albeit a pain for momma, as she isn't as consistent with guiding & reprimanding bad behavior as I am--but I probably have it easier having him 2 days/week regardless--but this is another post for another time anyway. :-)

Good luck! Keep your head up, lean on your friends, do plenty of talking/crying/listening, and know that things will always continue to get better--regardless of how difficult today may feel!


Reading all of your comments and stories is very touching to me. I do have to say that it was upsetting to read the opening of the post about the Discovery Channel show saying once the baby has grown up and is easier to care for that one mate will move on and look for another one. It is just biology, I guess, but with a 3 month old and a marriage teetering on the edge it only creates a sense of dread inside of me.

My question is when did you know that there was no fixing the relationship and it was better to divorce than stay together? How long do you keep trying to make things work before giving up? We have been married for less than a year and the birth of our son has dramatically changed everything. My hubby refuses to get counseling with me so I just don't know how to make things better. I don't want to raise my son around someone with such a bad temper, little patience and anger problem...but I also still want him to have his daddy who is a huge part of his life.

This is such a difficult, intense topic!

To L. You should go and get counseling. Know one can make that tough decsion but you. Even if your husband won't go you could benefit from that support and talking through your own frustrations.

Coming from a two parent household becoming a single mom was devestating, its hard to be a single parent, but it is not healthy for anyone to be living in an unhappy situation. Many families work through tough times and other families figure out new situations where the parties are happy.

I wish you the best of luck, but know that there are people that will support and love you through whatever decision you need to make for you!

One of the biggest lessons I have learned this past year is that family means a variety of things, you decide what family means to you and you maek that work!

Quickly scanned responses and have read "kids are super-resilient" a few times. My ex and I divorced 9 years ago when our son was 2 y/os. And while support of friends and family is critical, it still just sucked. I cried when my son wasn't with me; I cried every holiday my son was at his dad's; I cried when I saw other "happy" families. Fortunately, my ex and I were (and still are) as amicable has divorcing/divorced adults can be. We vowed to never say anything negative about the other around our son, we vowed we would never move too far from each other so that our child would have the benefit of each parent, and I vowed to make sure my son's dad got equal amount of time with him. The marriage wasn't good; but he was/is a good father. It hasn't been easy, far from it. But so much was rewarded the other day when my son, now 11 y/o, said how lucky he is to have both of us in his life dispite not living together. B/C 2 of his friends have divorced parents and it's really hard on the kids b/c of the strained relationship between their parents.

Kids are resilient, but also very sensitive. Even in the best of circumstances, it's just really hard on the kids. My ex and I share custody 50/50; I don't know if that's the *right* way, I only know it is working for us (most of the time). My son still goes through times when he misses his dad (when he's with me) or he misses me (when he's with his dad) but it's usually an indicator that something else is going on.

umanon, I truly understand where you are and my heart aches for you. So many things to consider during a time when sometimes it may be difficult to simply get out of bed. I guess the only comfort I can provide, is this is only temporary. You will come out the other side a stronger, more powerful and loving woman and mom.

I haven't said anything on this thread because my thoughts aren't about how to go through the process, but some ideas about trying to avoid it. Now that L has asked, I can put a few of my thoughts out there. These are not intended to be judgements, but an honest answer to what she is presenting. I've been divorced before children and I know it happens and it sucks. But, now that I have children, I have to say that I think about that possibility very differently. Yes, in some cases it has to happen. However, if you aren't at that point yet, here are a couple thoughts.

First, when things get tough for me, I remember that my children need me and their father to live in the same home. If we didn't, I would be working full time and the children would be in care, which we have worked hard to avoid. I don't want them having to divide their life over two homes and I don't want to be a single parent. In order to be the kind of mother I want to be, I have to keep the relationship stable. Now, I have to mention that my partner is relatively stable to begin with and nothing harmful is happening to the kids, only that perhaps I'm not as happy as I would like to be. That doesn't mean that as they get older, things won't change, which is where the Discovery Channel evidence comes in, isn't it?

Counseling is great if a person wants to go. If your partner doesn't, then you should because you will change and he will have no other response than to respond differently to you. It may not be better, but at least it will be different and you may get new information about the relationship that way. Finally, if he does have anger issues and whatnot, it's all the more important for you to keep in the same home with him so that he isn't unsupervised with your children, unless you have a good attorney in place before it happens and you can ensure he isn't going to be alone with them being angry and possibly harmful.

I know folks will disagree with me, but this is my outlook on it. My divorce didn't solve all my problems at the time it happened, and I doubt that one would do it now. Instead, I've just taken it off the table and go from there. It may not be the right answer either, but it's the one I'm trying right now.

Thanks, Kim, for responding to my comment and questions. I finally just now checked to see if anyone responded to what I wrote, and I really appreciate your thoughts. I'm feeling the same way right now, that I would prefer to have both of us in the same household so we can share responsbilities and care of our son, but as he's getting more and more aware each day it worries me how my husband's uncontrollable bursts of anger will affect him. He has never physically hurt either of us, but has broken objects about the house and mainly inflicts verbal/emotional abuse. In a recent fight he told me I could have main of custody of our son so I'm not sure if that changes the situation. We were able to talk it out and are trying to have a "fresh start" now, although I haven't noticed any changes just yet. I know it is not a healthy relationship for me, but I'm not willing to give up on my vows just yet since I do remember the parts of him that I like.

I will get some counseling and hope it helps me come to a healthy conclusion that I can be happy about.

L., I would sure encourage you not to minimize the damage to you and your child of the verbal/emotional abuse. Abuse is abuse, no matter what form it takes.

It's so very easy to minimize, excuse, and explain away the abusive behavior of people in our lives. Abuse often happens in a cycle, where things get better for while, then there is an episode, then things calm down, etc, so it feels like you are keeping it together. But, in reality, things aren't changing and you're on an abusive emotional roller coaster.

I'm not saying this is happening in your case; just hoping that you can be aware of the signs, and be building some support networks for yourself to deal with the situation in the way that works best for you and your family.

First of all, I want to say thanks to the dads and moms posting on this subject. I wasn't married, but my partner of four years just moved out and left me a couple weeks ago. He just picked up the rest of his stuff yesterday. We have a two and a half year old son who is wonderful and amazing. I am finding myself completely at a loss when I see him and try to be practical about who has our son and money issues, etc because I am so angry at him. He has been a very difficult person to live with and be a parent with and I have forgiven him and put up with his problems for years and yet I still want to work it out and he doesn't. I am feeling deep grief for myself and my son because of how I felt growing up in a divorced family. I am feeling so much anger and sadness about the fact that he can just walk away from our commitment and refuses counseling. I finally was able to talk him into going to divorce counseling so we can work gracefully (hopefully) into our new relationship as co=parents. I have to remind myself how important it is to be mature, adult and strong for my son, but I am so angry with his dad I feel like I'm losing my mind. I'm scared at the loss of what I thought was my future and our future as a family. It is grieving the death of what I thought my family would look like. The craziest part is, is that he is a horrible partner and I did everything around the house, worked while he goes to school, woke up every morning, took care of things when he was too hungover to get up...and yet I am rejected and hurt. I definitely know I need to move on quickly and be there for my son and let go of my anger, but man, this really, really sucks.

Many of these posts recommend counseling - we've been to couples counseling in the past (didn't work), and now we don't have insurance to pay for "break-up" counseling. Does anyone know anywhere to get good free/low-cost counseling on how to be co-parents/not-a-partner anymore? We're trying to work things out, but hitting a few bumps (esp still living in the same house for awhile) and an outside perspective might be helpful.

Wow, I'm glad this post was revived because I'm going through similar issues. My situation is similar to Becs but has been longer and we have 2 kids; also no one has left yet but I'm at the point where I really need my husband out and taking care of himself, because I've done too much over the years. For me, a year in Codependents Anonymous has been extremely enlightening as to why we want to cling to a relationship that is so difficult and unhealthy. There are meetings and information at the Alano Club in NW Portland.

For Nif, I have a friend who divorced last year in a very messy one, and they all had to do parenting classes through Multnomah County. I would start there for services.

I'm just hoping I get the nerve to take the next step because it is unhealthy for all of us even though we try to keep it practical. It's just painful and I feel angry and overwhelmed.

C, I'm glad you mentioned the Alano Club. They have a wide range of support resources. You know, as a counselor myself, I'm not sure if counseling in and of it self ever really fixes anything. Hopefully what it should provide is a safe, confidential environment to step back, disentangle ourselves from the fast-lane wear & tear of everyday life, and all the stressors that come with it.

In stepping back we provide ourselves with an opportunity to engage in the process of exploration. We learn how we can more effective in our own lives by tapping into our unique gifts and possibilities. The only real "fix" that counseling should provide is the support it lends to our ability to realize our own incredible potential.

Way to go UM! For the forum of support you lend to all these posts of courage and self-determination to move forward in at best, a very difficult situation.

Sometimes marriage relations become poorer and parents think to be separated by giving divorce each other. The separation of parents creates poor impact on the mind of children. They feel alone, socially isolated, depressed and grief. It makes them troubled. For the struggling kids there are several counseling centers which provide parenting tips and advices to upgrade their lives. Parenting programs are effective to make the unmotivated youth capable to tackle the challenges of life. For getting more information please refer this site.


There's no turning back once the process of divorce has been settled. That's why you should only go through with it if your decision is beyond the shadow of doubt. You may feel like you're experiencing it alone, but that's probably just your emotions talking. Remember to surround yourself with people who care about you.

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