Heartbreak as a Solo Mom
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Be kind to yourself when parenting through a breakup
I did not start dating for quite some time after my divorce. It took me years, in fact. I wanted to be sure I spent time on my own—a good, long time looking internally, cataloging my strengths and the things I could probably do better. I needed time to mend my broken heart and the shattered dreams caused by my divorce. I wanted to be on my own for a while, take care of my kids, and get the metaphorical ship sailing again before bringing someone else into the fray.
When I finally began to date, I anticipated a sea of duds, terrible dinners, and awkward conversations. So imagine my surprise when I found someone absolutely wonderful—so wonderful that I thought, How can this even be real? After all I’ve been through, how did I finally find this incredible person? For months I waited for the bottom to drop out. And when it didn’t, I slowly understood the relationship (and the honest, kind, amazing person I was in it with) might be for real.
I love him. My son and daughter love him. And yet . . . we can’t figure out how to make it work. We keep struggling. The disagreements are respectful, but they’re disagreements nonetheless, and often about really important issues. I’m standing at the edge of this pothole that might become my first-ever breakup as a Solo Mom while trying to balance my own feelings—being scared and sad and feeling damaged. But then there are my kids. How will I tell them? What do I even say? Here are some thoughts on breaking up as a Solo Mom.
Give yourself a break when parenting through your grief. It’s tough to parent through hard times, and a breakup is a particularly acute type of hard time. During times of heartache, every song on the radio seems to reflect our sadness or grief. Every story we read is about unrequited love. Smells or sensations trigger memories of our ex, which create confusion in our brains and bodies. We might feel repelled by and then pulled back to our ex, as though he or she were a drug. One minute we might feel complete clarity about the relationship ending—and then the next minute, utter confusion.
Neuroscience can help us understand why breakups often impact us so intensely. Studies have shown that being rejected “activates many of the same regions in the brain as when experiencing physical pain.” When people who had recently been broken up with looked at pictures of their ex, they “exhibited increased brain activity in several regions associated with reward, motivation, addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which helps to explain why you might struggle to let go after a romantic relationship ends.”
Postbreakup, our brains are firing in all kinds of strange ways, and it’s critical to treat ourselves gently. Pretend you’re recovering from an illness—or jet lag from a long journey to the end of the earth and back—and give yourself a break. Take a nap when you feel tired. Take a mental-health day from work if you can. Put your kids in front of the TV for a few hours so you can have some alone time to decompress. Self-care is the name of the game.
Embrace the lessons a breakup teaches you. I’ve yet to go through a breakup without learning important lessons. In fact, heartbreak is a profound teacher—as long as we’re willing to listen. Maybe you’ve learned a lesson about something you didn’t realize you needed in a relationship—more time spent with your partner or more time spent doing things alone. Maybe you realized that you need a partner with a sex drive that mirrors your own. Maybe you realized you need to be in a partnership that stimulates you intellectually or that financial stability is more important to you than you realized.
Whatever the lesson, do the work to receive it. If we do not learn from our heartbreak, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes in our subsequent relationships.
Talk to your kids about it, but do it appropriately and thoughtfully. It’s OK to talk about our feelings of heartbreak with our kids, though it’s wise to consider their developmental stage before doing so. Kids are intuitive and inquisitive, and they will notice if an emotional shift has taken place. I would even venture to say that many Solo Moms and their children might be especially intuitively connected to one another and that we won’t be able to fool our children when going through something as big and earthshaking as a breakup.
That said, here are some practical thoughts on talking to kids about adult breakups:
- Read up on your children’s developmental stages, and plan an appropriate conversation about the breakup.
- Make sure to express to them that they had nothing to do with the breakup.
- Remember that your children likely have plenty of feelings about the breakup, especially if the relationship had been a serious, long-term one. Allow room for all their feelings, including sadness, anger, and so on.
- Answer their questions as honestly as possible, without placing blame or talking negatively about the other person.
- Invite any future questions from your children or conversations they want to have about the breakup.
- Don’t ask them to choose sides.
- Remind your kids that your love for them is unwavering and that you will always be there for them—that even when you are feeling sad, they can count on you.
Trust in the future, and remain open to possibility. When we’re in the throes of heartbreak, it’s hard to see beyond it. But more likely than not, there will be new partners, future relationships, and many more lessons learned. Even while grieving the end of a relationship, we can trust in the future unfolding in beautiful ways.
Although I’m currently standing on the edge of the unknown, heart pounding in my chest, I’m doing my best to embrace the possibilities I cannot see yet. I don’t know where my life will take me or who will be by my side. And that’s OK for now.
For some comic relief, you may want to check out “The Broken-Heart Diet” by ESME’s P. Charlotte Lindsay.
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