Stage Three – We Can Do This

If you have not read my posts about Stage One and Stage Two of my journey, you should read those posts first before you read further here. This part of the story starts up about six months ago.

There is a curious feeling that overcomes you when you have a sea change. It is a perfect combination of possibility and fear.

One of the primary reasons I had a hard time reaching the decision to divorce my ex-husband was fear. Sure, I was afraid for him and then later, of him. But I was also afraid of parenting alone. I was so afraid of managing my house by myself. I was legitimately afraid that I would fail. I recall at one point well into the divorce process asking my therapist if it would just be easier to stay. She looked at me and said plainly, “No, it won’t.” Of course, she told me that it was my life and my decision. She told me that she was worried about my mental health if I stayed. She encouraged me to look at my life and really assess the hard parts. To look at who I wanted to be and with whom I wanted to share my life. When I stripped all the fear away, and was honest with myself, I saw that my life was not easy. It was really, really hard at that time. It may have been logistically and monetarily easier to stay, but the rest would have broken me. I did not want more of the same life, I wanted something very different.

The day my ex-husband moved out, I planned a day trip with some friends to a children’s museum. This was to protect my daughter, but also to protect myself. At this point, although months after I had filed for divorce, my ex-husband was firmly in a state of denial. And he was so angry. I did not want to be around if his anger manifested itself. And I did not want my daughter to see it. My neighbor graciously supervised the move and texted me when they had finished.

When my daughter and I arrived home, the house was in a state of chaos and disarray. There were piles of dust left where my ex-husband had taken a rug and a couch from our living room. This I expected. What I had not expected was that he had disassembled my daughter’s favorite farm play-set and left it in a huge pile in front of our fireplace. My daughter went in the room, saw this, and just kept repeating the words: “Oh no, oh no, oh no.” I walked in behind her, paused for a minute to blink back tears, and said, “Baby, don’t worry, we’ll fix it.” So we did.

The next morning, I woke up early, cleaned the house, and rearranged the furniture to fill the gaps that were left. When my daughter woke up, I put fun music on the stereo and started to make pancakes. Halfway through, I realized that my ex-husband had taken our only metal spatula. I had to improvise with a clunky plastic spatula. They were not my best pancakes. But they were very good. It was at this moment that I developed what I believe is the essential single parenting skill: confidence. I could do this. And I was going to kick ass at it.

I’m not going to lie, my next several months as a largely-solo parent were really challenging. Due to my ex-husband’s recovery, he only had visitation with my daughter for about 9 hours each week and did not have her for overnights. This meant that I had to do every bath, every bedtime, every nighttime wake-up, every breakfast, every preschool drop off. But I did it. I had to pay every bill. To argue with every utility company that still had my husband’s name on the bill. To make the financial stuff work. To mow the lawn, take out the garbage, and weed the garden by myself.

But my therapist had been right. It was so much easier once my ex-husband moved out. I felt so much lighter. So much happier. My daughter felt it too. She started sleeping better. Way fewer meltdowns. We began to form a partnership. To call ourselves a team.

We certainly have had some missteps, in particular once my daughter started school in the fall. But we recover and hug it out. I made it a practice to stand my ground as a parent, but to do so as gently as possible. And to readily admit my mistakes when I made them.

I remember a heartbreaking moment a few weeks in. I was giving my daughter a bath. She looked up at me and said, “I’m glad Daddy isn’t bothering you anymore.” It was so startling. I had to keep my cool. I just smiled and said, “Baby, I’m so glad that Daddy and I are getting along better now.”

The other key to this single parenting gig has been to be kind to myself. If I decide the lawn does not need to be mowed one weekend because I want to go for a hike, I own the decision. I started letting my daughter have things like packaged granola bars and apple sauce. I used to make everything from scratch. I made a firm commitment to self-care. And in large part, it is really working. I am happier than I have ever been. We are doing this.

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