I've just passed the two-year anniversary of separating from my husband. Two years ago I was in a very scary place. I knew I was making the right decision, but I didn't know what my future looked like or how long I'd feel so awful. What a relief to be on the other side! If my 2014 self could visit my 2012 self for a little pep talk and some advice, this is what I'd tell myself about surviving my first year as a single mom.
1. Give yourself permission and time to mourn. I gave myself a day. I needed more than that. It can take months, years even, to work through your feelings of grief and loss.
2. Know that you won't feel like this forever. That said, the intensity of those feelings will wear off over time. You'll stop hurting. You'll feel fine, and then one day you'll be caught off-guard with pain that seems to come out of nowhere. That's normal -- just notice it, accept it, and see what you can learn from it. You'll probably feel better again the next day.
3. Find a source of strength. This can be from family and friends. It can be from a community, from church, from books, from therapy, from meditation. You need something supporting you, making you feel whole and strong again.
4. Go work out, hard. This was great advice my doctor gave me. It helped me ward off anxiety and depression, and it made me feel strong.
5. Let go of all non-essential commitments. Normally volunteer work and the like is a great way to take your mind off your troubles and keep things in perspective. But not in this case. You need to simplify your life as much as possible. Figure out what your new base normal is, the absolute essentials for taking care of yourself and your family.
6. Ask for help, and let people do things for you. URGHH!! So hard. You need it, but there's a special kind of humility and vulnerability that comes with admitting you're not superwoman and can't do it all on your own.
7. Make a special effort to connect with your kids. You need to pay attention to how your split is affecting them so you can respond accordingly. They need to truly feel that you are still with them, all the way. And this will help you get outside of your head.
8. But don't guilt-buy your kids a bunch of crap. Oh geez, I totally made this mistake.
9. Online dating is not as awful as you fear. I mean, it's not all shits and giggles -- actually, it's mostly a lot of shit and giggles. But my point is, don't be afraid to try it. There are some nice guys out there. And don't just go reaching for any male within arm's length. You can do better. Oh, and wait at least a full year before even attempting any of that. You'll be glad you did.
10. Get your paperwork in order. You will most likely have to file a statement of net worth, which means you and your ex are going to tally up all of your debts and assets. So make a photocopy of the most recent statements for any mutual funds, 401(K)s, IRAs, savings, credit cards (just if you're carrying debt), mortgage, etc. Put everything in a folder. This will be a much bigger pain in the ass if you do it later.
11. Expect your life to take some surprising turns. I thought I'd spend the rest of my life single, just quietly gardening and cooking on my own. I was so, so wrong. But that's okay! I'm doing other things. And who knows, I could end my life single, quietly gardening and cooking after all.
12. Remember: Other women have divorced and thrived. Sometimes when we have a new, intense experience, we kind of act like we're the ones who invented it. Know what I mean? That's why it helps to talk with other women who have gone through the same thing. You learn that it's different for everyone, and most importantly, you learn that you'll be all right.
What kinds of tips would you give a newly separated friend? What do you wish you'd heard?
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