1. Please don’t tell them that your husband traveling is the same as being a single mom and therefore you understand. I know I probably did this and said this before I understood. In fact, I’m sure I did and wish with everything I could take those words back. A traveling husband is nowhere near close being a single mom and when I hear those words I just want to say you have no clue. But normally, I simply smile (but cringe within). It’s not the same, truly. Here’s why: there’s a reprieve coming, you know it won’t last, the kids aren’t out of sorts and well, you know you’re ultimately not alone. So when you’re trying to think of a way to relate this is probably not it. Just be there. Love them.
2. They probably appear self centered – especially in the beginning. That’s because they’re trying to find a new normal. They’re not trying to ignore you or not be your friend – truly it’s about re-establishing a routine and trying to find normal and trying to make it through the days. It’s a great deal of work being a single mom – everything on one person’s shoulders and they really truly aren’t ignoring you. In fact, if they’re like me they probably go to bed most nights thinking that they’ve dropped the ball again.
3. They’re tired. Plain and simple – tired. If someone gets sick they’re up. They have to drive everywhere. Manage everything. Work and be full time parent and not get stressed out. So back to point two – if they seem self-centered more than likely they’re simply beyond the point of exhaustion.
4. They deal with crazy emotions – of shame, not being worth it, feeling sad and so on. Expect that. We’re designed to think that the Hallmark ideal of life is the way to go and any time that is fragmented there’s a bit of re-adjusment. Even if it was for the good. Just remember grace for them. Sometimes holidays are hard. Or parent-teacher conferences. Or all of that. So if there’s a tear shed for a seemingly normal thing that just might be why. There’s a great deal of emotions to deal with – worth, value, can you do it – and sometimes it just takes a bit to get that all sorted.
5. They need friends. Chances are many people dropped them as friends. It’s hard to relate to that person now, in a way. I don’t blame the people who left – I understand – as I’m a different person now than I was five years ago. I still need friends. Girlfriends to laugh with and share times with and tell me it’s okay and just to be there for me. So chances are your friend needs that as well. Be the friend. I know it takes extra patience and grace and a whole lot of giving (especially in the beginning) but remember this is a major life shift and anytime that happens it takes a bit to regain one’s footing.
6. They’re still them but also not them. Deep down at the core. Maybe they seem distracted or busy or having to work, but deep deep down they’re still the person that you loved. They still probably love the things they did. Nurture that – remind them of those things. I love to garden but it took me almost two years before I wanted to garden again. Just like everything sometimes it takes time to get back to you. But listen, divorce and separation changes someone and oftentimes in that process it’s a bit of shedding of old self and identities so that the new person can emerge and thrive. The greatest gift you can give your friend is to love her through this process and not remind her of who she was but rather love her for who she is becoming.
7. They have to work incredibly hard. In fact, harder than they thought possible. Oftentimes the burden of paying the bills falls onto the shoulders of one person and that is a huge weight to bear. And they have to work to just maintain life. And to discover that normal that we chatted about. So even if they’re working really hard they’re not trying to ignore you. Many times they’re just working to get ahead again.
8. Please don’t say I don’t know how you do it – you must be so strong! I know. I know – it’s meant to be good, but truthfully we simply don’t have a choice. In fact, I’ve kind of eliminated the phrase how do you do it from my list of things to say to someone. I think instead of encouraging it kind of makes the recipient think how in the world do I do it? And a single mom will tell you she has no choice. There’s no one to help with dinner or the kids or carpool or school or homework or any of it. Many times bedtime isn’t dictated by being tired but by trying to get as much done as possible before collapsing into bed.
9. Please don’t judge. I don’t think anyone wakes up and thinks that their ideal story in life is the one in which they parent alone. And I also don’t think that most people want to divulge all the behind the scenes details of their lives. Single moms don’t need to be judged or pitied – they just need to be your friend still. Even if their lives aren’t ideal – that, in fact, is the time when one needs more of a friend and less judging. It can be lonely in that world of judging. So just love them. They’ll love you for it.
10. Life can be great. That’s what I tell myself. And your single mom friend needs to believe that as well. Life can be good even if it’s not perfect. Be the friend that’s there for them. They’ll get used to their new routine, will find normal and will regain that balance. It just takes time. The biggest gift you can give them is that gift of time, not judging and simply being a friend. They value you greatly. I know I value my friends so much – the ones that have stuck with me and given me grace. Oh my goodness, I know that I haven’t been the best friend during this season, but I do try and love my friends for loving me.
Here’s the bottom line truth: friendships matter. Greatly.
So does having that friend you can call at midnight or the friend who tells you that you are worth a million dollars so does having someone who loves you no matter what.
Be that friend.
And if you are the single mom reading this – you are not alone.
Because for so long I struggled with feeling alone and shame. And I didn’t want the world to think I had a not so perfect life. But truth is that life can be so beautiful and wonderful and valuable even if it doesn’t match the ideal.
ps. And just like you they love their kids and want the best for them. Always.
pps. And their kids – they’re not a product of divorce – they’re just kids. Love them for who they are not for what their life circumstances may be.