Planning and preparation are key to making a new start
The day-to-day challenges of being a Solo Mom are small compared to actually formulating a plan for how to escape an unhealthy relationship. As with most challenges, the best way to plan an escape is to break down the process into manageable pieces. The steps outlined below assume that you are in an unhealthy relationship, one in which leaving is in the best interests of you and your children.
1. Assess your relationship. Spend some time assessing the current status of your relationship, the length of time you’ve been in it, and the age of your children. Keep a notebook that details all these facts, including what is and isn’t working in your relationship. If you can, run it by a professional counselor. Speak to your friends and family about it as objectively as possible. If you’ve been hiding your failing relationship from those who care about you, now is the time to reveal its imperfections. You cannot solve this alone. This step is merely a litmus test to ensure everyone who loves you and cares about you understands why you’re making the decision to take your children and leave.
For me, an extensive Google search and discussions with professionals helped me realize my spouse had a narcissistic personality and was emotionally abusive. Since I’d never encountered someone like that before, my notes about our history and list of abuses were instrumental in helping me understand and explain to others why I was making the decision to leave him. Because you are leaving the father of your children, who will probably always be in their lives even after you leave, I can’t emphasize enough how critical this first step is before proceeding further.
2. Catalog your assets. This is going to sound coldhearted, but the reality of being a Solo Mom means that you likely will have to do more with less. In your notebook, write down all the assets you will be able to take with you when you move. These include everything from financial assets to furniture. Remember that whatever you can’t take with you, you will have to replace. My first home was stocked with furniture and dishes from garage sales and thrift stores. Next to that list, create a list of all the basics you will need to make a fresh start.
3. Determine where you will live. Once you understand which assets you can take with you, the next step is figuring out where you will live. Obviously, if you work out of the home, a job will be the determining factor; however, if you work from home or are able to not work, then you may consider things such as who will be nearby to offer support. If you are very lucky, you may have friends and family who are willing to assist you with child care and offer valuable emotional support. Other factors to consider are housing and the cost of living. I chose to live in a small town in Montana, for example, because the cost of housing was so low.
4. Create a financial spreadsheet. Don’t delude yourself about the life you will be facing. Although intimidating, there is nothing like cold, hard numbers to give you a realistic picture of the road ahead. List all your expenses—everything from the rent or house payment to food, insurance, gas, utilities, clothing, and diapers. Make sure you’ve included any furniture, etc., you will have to replace once you move. Then write down what you will be bringing in for income, hopefully child support, and any other financial resources. Start your financial planning by reading this article by Monica Leftwich in the Washington Post. My parents gave me $100 grocery gift cards each month for the first year and that really helped.
5. Carefully orchestrate your exit strategy. Once you have all the critical questions addressed and a plan in place, you must determine when and how you will escape. This can be much more challenging than it sounds if you have an abusive spouse. If you think you will be in danger, it is critical that you have family, friends, and even authorities on hand the day you plan to leave. Your safety and potentially that of your children may depend on it. This means you must consider how best to let your spouse know you’ve made the decision to leave, and that will depend on the nature of your relationship. The bottom line: plan this very carefully and with your safety in mind. Next, ensure your children are ready to leave and you’ve answered their questions as best you can. My children were one and two years old, so I simply told them we were going on the ferry and taking a trip together. Because of their ages, the rest had to come slowly over time, as things progressed.
6. Be prepared for last-minute changes of heart. Lastly, be prepared for your partner or spouse to suddenly claim he or she can change his or her ways, despite the fact that you’ve spent years with the same behavior and he or she has made no significant effort. More important, be ready for your own change of heart. This is scary, and it’s a lot to take on. Only you will know if doing this is really what is best for you and your children. Ask yourself, Will my children ever know the real me? and Is this the relationship model I want for my children? If you are being mentally and/or physically abused, then the answer to those questions is no. But when we are at our weakest and beaten down emotionally and physically, the courage to move forward and break away can be difficult to summon. To bolster you when you are feeling uncertain, read this blog post in Psychology Today, which discusses five ways to end a bad relationship.
I will tell you, in closing, to take heart. The best is yet to come. I was a single mom for 10 years, and I have an unbreakable bond with my two children. One of the untold strengths of single-parent families is the unique bond forged from the challenges of facing the world alone. My children know me—the real me—not the depressed, dejected, downtrodden woman who had been robbed of her strength and spirit while with their father. They know, instead, a strong, capable, bright woman who has dedicated her life to their upbringing. That is the gift of being a Solo Mom. Much love to you, Sisters. Go forth with love and courage in your heart—you’ve got this!
If you are planning to exit an abusive relationship, join a Tribe of Sisters that’s been in your shoes and truly understands.
A fourth-generation Montanan, Andre Zollars is a former U.S. army major who has also held management positions in marketing with MCI and the Sacramento Bee. She now resides in Lewistown, Montana, with her husband, four kids, three dogs, a cat, and a horse. Andre has published in print and online publications, including USA Today Travel, Yahoo! News, Livestrong.com, Big Sky Journal, and more. You can connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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