A Guide to Navigating Divorce & Single Parenting
EPISODE: 56 | DATE: August 19, 2021
“I think at the foundation of all divorce there needs to be a very decisive push to put your children first. That our children come before us and our pain. And I think that’s very very difficult. We’re human and we have lots of emotion and we feel hurt and pain.”
How many years have you been a single mom and how old were your kids when you and your partner separated?
- I’ve been a single mom now for just about 18 years and my children are now 18 and 20. So since my son was 6 months old and my daughter was 2 ½ years old.
You have done a wonderful job.
- Thank you.
- When my kids were really small, I was really panicked about how difficult it was going to be to be a single parent and how much they would be missing out on.
- A mutual friend of ours told me, “It just takes one good parent. Two parents are great, but as long as you have one great parent or one good caretaker then that’s what it takes.”
- And I’ve always fallen back on that advice.
- And it has been true: just being steady.
- Having someone being a steady presence for your children and building that attachment relationship is crucial. And that’s what I’ve really focused on all of these years.
Do you feel comfortable sharing the circumstances that led to the end of your marriage?
- Sure. And actually I just had a conversation with my kids before getting on here to see how they felt about that.
- I was a little bit nervous about sharing our personal story and wanted to make sure they felt OK with it out of respect for them.
- They gave me the green light and am happy to share.
- So I think what happened for me – I really had what I thought was a fairytale fantasy love story.
- I met my partner when I was 22. I was just graduating from film school.
- I fell madly in love and we were engaged within a few months and married a year later.
- Then we emigrated to America from England when I was 24.
- And 2 weeks after arriving in LA I was pregnant with my first child. So at 25 I had my daughter and 2 years later – at 27 – I had my son.
- I was living in a foreign country and I really felt like I had it all.
- My ex-husband was in the film industry.
- I had always wanted to be a mother. That was just such an important part of life for me. Even to the extent that I had decided that I always wanted to have kids young and then have my career later in life.
- It was really kind of an “always” plan for me.
- When my son was 6 months old there was a family wedding in England and I flew back with both of the children to attend the wedding. My then husband was supposed to join us after a couple of weeks and we were going to spend another couple of weeks together.
- After a month I would return back to America. During the first couple of weeks of my trip in England, we had a visa issue with me returning back to America or him being able to come into England.
- I actually got stuck in England with the kids for 6 months. So my kids turned 1 and 3 on that trip.
- And during that 6 month period really sadly my husband decided he just didn’t want to be married anymore.
- It was like a bolt of lighting and something I really never expected. I didn’t see any precursor to it.
- So I very suddenly became a single parent and I always looked at it as if I was on some kind of luxury jet – like air force 1 – living this amazing life in Los Angeles living the dream and with everything I could want.
- And it was as if somebody flew this helicopter over the ocean, opened the door and pushed me out and said, “I hope you can swim.”
- It was just that shocking. It completely rocked my world.
- And so my journey back from England to America when the kids were 1 and 3 – I was – we’d really struggled and I couldn’t even work in America.
- So I was just kind of at the whim of my ex husband who was going through his own crisis at that time and trying to manage the family.
- We couldn’t afford to live separately. So we actually lived in the same house in two separate rooms for about 3 years. That was really difficult, as you can imagine.
How did you navigate those first few years? With you still living with him in the house – that must have been really confusing.
- It was. And I think for so many of us moms: we have our children and our identity is so wrapped into being a mom.
- Especially – at any age – but as a very young mom I didn’t have any other real experiences.
- And so I saw myself as this young wife and mother and suddenly I was trying to balance really being in love with somebody who didn’t feel the same way about me anymore.
- At that point I actually honestly really did feel he’d change his mind. Maybe this was just a moment in time, a midlife crisis.
- But you know by that time I was 28 with two children. And I learned what a lot of us learn, which was I had a lot more resiliency in me than I realized.
- And that it was time to power up.
- The thing I kept sitting with at that point – especially in us living together – was that I never wanted to look back and feel like this was a blur.
- Or that I hadn’t spent time really processing how I was feeling.
- So at that point I really kept saying to myself, “I never want to see myself as the victim in this.”
- I wanted to find some power in the experience and I wanted to see – I wanted to show my children – that we can get through hard things.
- And so even from that very very young age I was trying to show the children – you know the same way we do on the playground with children when they had a hard time with another kiddo – we teach them how to be empathic and kind to one another even when it doesn’t feel good.
- And I really tried that. And I wasn’t always amazing at it.
- There were times where there were ugly sides of myself that erupted out and I was very very hurt but more than anything I would still say to this day the word that really comes to mind is experience I had was just absolute disappointment.
- It was just such a disappointing experience to think you’ve got it all and life is going one way. But it’s really a lesson I’ve learnt over the years – it’s a lesson for us that that is life. We don’t know what’s going to happen.
No we really don’t. I’ve not been divorced but from observation I have seen it make people very bitter. Did that feeling make its way to you? Did you feel bitter? Or was it just – like you said – a profound disappointment?
- As a therapist I work with people that use that same word – the bitterness.
- For me, it didn’t.
- I think I’m extremely lucky and I don’t take it for granted that I have a very optimistic disposition.
- I found myself in an experience where I felt like, “Ok. This is not the path I chose and I’m going to find another way forward.”
- I think for me I was very filled up by my children. I really really loved the role of being a mother.
- And in some ways I think maybe my age was to my benefit. I feel like maybe had I been older I might have felt more bitter.
- I think at 27 I felt like I had the whole world ahead of me.
- It was definitely jarring and disappointing and hurtful and sad. But I didn’t feel bitter.
- And still now I don’t feel bitter about it. I just feel very sad for my children that they have had to go through this experience.
- They don’t know anything different, of course.
- But they’ve learnt some hard lessons and they are lessons that I wish I could have had them learn them in a different way. But that’s not what life had in store.
So how did you handle that with them while you were still living together? Did you have a conversation with them together as a team? And did you and your ex husband discuss privately how you’d approach it with the kids before you talked to them?
- We did. We spoke to each other.
- It was tricky because our kids were very little.
- I do remember having a conversation with my daughter – I think she was about 5 at the time. So my son would have been 3.
- At that point we were getting ready to move into 2 separate apartments.
- And I remember my daughter saying, “Why does daddy have one room and you have another room and I go to friends houses and their mommy and daddy sleep in the same room?”
- And we decided at that point to say that we are still a family, we’re just a different dimension than we were previously.
- And that we would always be their family. And therefore they come first and it was kind of a very consistent message of at that time friendship.
- So in front of the children we were very mindful of being kind to one another. Of not saying mean things – I think it’s very easy to say nasty things about the other parent.
- And we both really worked on not doing that.
- And so our children didn’t really know anything different.
- I think when I work with divorced families this is very different when you have a child who is a teenager or tween – it’s very different depending on the age of the child.
- With really young children in some ways I feel like my children benefited with the fact that they were so young.
- So on one hand they never got the model of seeing a family unit and that’s sad.
- And on the other hand I have some gratitude for the fact that I didn’t shift something in their world. That nothing was taken from them because they genuinely knew nothing else.
- They don’t have any memories of us together as a couple.
- And when I ask them, “Do you remember that house where we lived in separate bedrooms?” My daughter says that she has some memories of it but she has very fond memories of her childhood.
- So it didn’t feel like such a jarring experience.
- So I feel like for somebody with an older child I think this transition is much more difficult.
Do you think there are different tactics when the child is older or are they just more intense?
- I think yes.
- I think at the foundation of all divorce there needs to be a very decisive push to put your children first. That our children come before us and our pain.
- And I think that’s very very difficult. We’re human and we have lots of emotion and we feel hurt and pain.
- But if we can teach our children how to manage that pain and come from a place of kindness, compassion, understanding and empathy then we’re teaching them life lessons for every interaction they have with other humans.
- And so we owe it to our children who are really the innocent party in a divorce situation to be able to say this is hard but I’m a grownup and I’m going to have my conversations of hurt and upset away from my children.
- And so I think it’s crucial, actually. I think it’s really the building block for children to understand who they are.
- Understanding their internal feelings and emotions. They learn that through the modeling that we give them.
- And so yeah I think for every age – I think it becomes more and more important as the children are older and have more comprehension of what’s going on.
- So when we started this conversation I said that this single parenting journey – you don’t really think about it when your children are very little.
- But that single parenting journey is forever.
- And so now my children are 18 and 20. Now they really comprehend it all and so it’s – there has been a change and a shift in how I communicate about our journey and our story.
- And things that I definitely kept from them when they were little I am more open about answering questions for them now at this age.
Right. Because they are emotionally mature enough to be able to handle it without it making some kind of an etch in their personality.
- Yeah or creating a judgment about their dad that is only fair for them to create based on their experiences with him and not on my experiences with him.
Yes and that’s so key because I feel like whether parents are divorced or not, whenever a parent pits another against the other, it’s hard on the child. And with divorce if you can’t keep your thoughts of anger and hurt and all of those things away from your children then you put in on them and they are faced with feeling like they have to choose sides and choose who to love.
- Exactly. And I would add another element to that, which is that we internalize those emotions and feelings.
- And so if I was to criticize my children’s dad while they were growing up, then it’s pretty quick they start realizing the traits – like when I say something or somebody else says to them, “Wow that’s just like your dad!” or oh your dad does something like that.
- Now they start having this kind of internal splitting where they can’t quite work out – well if there are parts of me that are like my dad and my mom has been saying these terrible things about my dad, does that mean I shouldn’t like myself or that other people won’t like me?
- So it’s very difficult for kids to separate out which of the things or traits that people are ok with in their mother or father figure and which of the things they are not ok with.
- And so one of the things I really actually did struggle with is the village around me.
- At one point they were all friends with both my ex husband and me.
- And when we separated, they became more my friends than his friends.
- And there were a lot of conversations about the negatives of my ex husband through the years.
- And I was very defensive of him and found it very challenging for people to say things about him because I felt like it would be a reflection of my children.
- And it really worried me from when they were very small.
- As they’ve got older and I’ve matured in myself, I’ve understood more of where were the important places to make it clear to my children that some of the behaviors that he had with them were not ok, and help them understand the line of this is an acceptable something and this is not an acceptable something so that they could then internalize good from bad. Which I think is really crucial. So that’s shifted over the years.
- So I think for parents going through this journey – it’s an ever changing landscape and it’s learning how to understand children through each developmental milestone to understand where do we meet children’s needs at each stage?
Yes and this really demonstrates that it’s such a great responsibility to raise another human and it comes with a set of unwritten rules that are really amplified if you go through a divorce or any kind of a separation.
- Yeah and I always say this in the role I do as a parenting center director: we only have our children as little children for a minute of their lives.
- We’re really raising adults. There is a great book called How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims.
- It’s a book that really focuses on the fact that we are raising grown ups and it’s just a minute that you get this young childhood piece.
- I know you’re in the thick of it with really young children and it feels like it’s a really long road ahead.
- But I can say that now that my kids are the age they are, it really feels like it did go in just a minute.
- And to really give deep exploration into their emotions and leave a space for them – kind of a holding environment for them to be able to feel caught by you as a parent and held and really seen.
- So no question is off limits. Every question can be asked and sometimes I might not know the answer as their mom. Sometimes I’m not comfortable giving the answer.
- And I can say, “That’s a great question. I don’t know how to answer it.” And just being vulnerable in that space.
I feel like there needs to be classes on how to divorce amicably and how to handle it with your children! And psychology 101 so you know how your actions impact your children.
- I’ve obviously only ever been divorced as a mother but I actually think that the group that it’s really difficult for in a very different way is fathers.
- And I think that there really needs to be a lot of support groups for both sides. But it’s a very nuanced journey that changes all the time.
- It’s a confusing journey and honestly I don’t think we know until our feet are to the flame.
- It’s difficult to know how we would ever cope or react to this situation – or any situation.
- Part of my journey was also a very stressful financial time that I really could have done with some help and guidance on ok what do I do now?
- And then even one of the very hard things of single parenting is understanding that when somebody takes your children – even though it’s their other parent – when they take them for the first time.
- I’ll never forget standing outside of my house and my kids were 1 and 3.
- And I remember my ex putting my kids in the carseat and driving away and me just standing outside the front of my house crying my eyes out and thinking well who am I? What am I supposed to do now? Do I go to a coffee shop? What should I do with my time? I was so in the thick of it with a 1 and 3 year old.
- I just really felt like that was my identity had just driven away in a car with their dad.
- Somebody said something wonderful to me when the kids were really little and they were spending this time sporadically with their dad.
- I felt like he’s not going to be on the right schedule and he’s not going to get the right food or put them in the seat the right way.
- And this person said to me, “Listen, your kids are also going to have that experience with teachers and family members and friends and colleagues and bosses. This is their life journey. And your children are going to need to learn to be resilient and they are going to need to learn how to adapt from one parent to the next.”
- “And whether you’re in a marriage and your partner does it differently, or you’re in an ex partnership with their dad or their mom does it differently, these are really important life lessons and you can’t control it all.”
- And I needed to hear that.
- I think that’s something that’s always stuck with me and is a message I say to them now that they are out there working and going to college and they have difficult experiences with colleagues and bosses.
- It’s definitely something I bring back up to them is that these are the things that give you strength in life and you have to learn to adapt.
- So I could have done with someone sitting me down and having that conversation with me earlier. So a support group would have been really helpful!
I just started crying imagining you standing there watching your children drive away!
- Yeah and no control on what time they are coming back or if he’s going to hire a babysitter I’ve never vetted.
- He’s within his right to do all of those things and it doesn’t mean that because his parenting would be different than my parenting that his parenting is wrong and mine is right.
- And we so often kind of phrase it that dads are babysitters and moms are the parent. And they’re not.
- Both parents are parents.
- And so just because you might not like what’s being done – which was a very difficult thing for me to learn and I would say was difficult over all the years of our co-parenting.
- We wouldn’t always be lined up on how we would discipline or how we would schedule or a million other things in between, what we’d feed them or let them watch on TV, how we dealt with electronics. You name it.
- You’re two different people who come into parenting with two different experiences and if you’re not living in the same house there will be certain discrepancies on how you do things.
Can you give us any insight into how to have a healthy divorce when one party isn’t necessarily handling things in the healthiest way?
- I would say that if possible, going to a co-parenting therapist is a really helpful first step.
- I think getting in the room with someone that can help you work out a consistent schedule in a good idea.
- I think individual therapy is also important.
- For someone feeling really heightened emotionally it’s a really tough time and I think that you have to take a minute to work on yourself in order to be the best parent you can be.
- And so I think for the parent who is really struggling it’s a matter of doing the work and it sounds a little cookie cutter in some ways but I think getting out in nature, feeling grounded, doing exercise – doing all the things that take care of you so when your kids aren’t with you and are with the other person, that you’re really spending that time wisely.
- And it also could be just vegging out. Watching TV or reading a book.
- But I think finding something that fills you up during that time is really important.
- I was told by a therapist many years ago that in any divorce it was each person’s 50-50 responsibility for the demise of the marriage.
- And I was livid at the time. I was absolutely so upset and said, “How dare you! NO! I am not!”
- And what I felt really the message I came away with after that was I’m 50% responsible for the choices I’m making now and 100% for my own decisions but 50% responsible for where I was in our marriage. And how I want to walk away from it and how I want to see myself.
- He’s going to see me one way and I’m going to see myself another way.
- And I think that it all goes back to really making a decision that your children come first.
- And it doesn’t matter how hurt you are or how awful the other person is, your children have to be number one.
- And I have really been through the wringer in these last 18 years – I’ve had some really difficult moments.
- But I made a really strong decision that I would always encourage a relationship between my children and their dad.
- And that I always felt it was important that they had both parents. And that as hurt and disappointed as I was, it wasn’t to do with them. It was my own journey.
Yes and what I’m hearing is that taking care of yourself is also taking care of your kids.
- And we can’t be perfect parents every second of the day!
- We’re going to have moments when we feel really flooded and we feel all the emotions and I’ve always let my kids see that.
- When I’ve felt sad because I was struggling as a single parent, my kids saw that I was sad.
- I didn’t say to them, “Mommy is sad because daddy didn’t want to be married anymore!”
- I would say, “Mommy is having a hard moment right now.”
- And that was part of accepting that we can all have different levels of emotion and be ok afterwards and if I was angry and I did react in a way that I wasn’t proud of afterwards I would apologize to my children and say, “I’m having a really hard day. Sometimes this is really difficult for me.”
- And I always had that very open honest relationship with them since they were tiny. And said really what was going on without giving them the details of something that they didn’t need to know about.
Right. And it’s so key moedling an apology for your children and showing them they don’t have to be perfect all the time.
- I think perfect human beings have the entire range of emotions.
- We’re not robots. We do have an ebb and flow inside of us.
- That is what makes us perfect because it’s honest and vulnerable.
- And I think if we can model vulnerability to our children then they know how to do that for themselves.
It’s so interesting because life is so multifaceted and we’re having a conversation about divorce and single parenthood but all of these things can be applied to every aspect of our lives! It’s the same story line. Just a different scene.
- It really is and I think the piece that makes single parenting really unique is not having someone to have a gut check with.
- So I feel like everything that we’ve spoken about to this point really overlaps to so many different things.
- The piece that really separated it for me was in-the-minute decisions: what school they were going to go to, what sport they’d do, whether I was going to have an issue with something that happened with a teacher. Whether I should argue with a grade, whether they should go to this camp vs that camp.
- All of those pieces: they have a temperature, should I go to the doctor?
- There is no one to have the gut check with.
- And I had a village. I had an amazing group of people around me forever.
- I’ve been working at Sinai (my school) for 17 years and they’ve been an incredible community for me.
- But I was also living in a foreign country and I have no family members so I really found myself being a mom dad grandparent cousin friend.
- I’ve been all of it.
- And not having someone to kind of join in and emotionally be there to answer those questions is really what separates out that single parenthood.
- And I remember one time hearing a mom step into the elevator at school and she said to the other mom, “It’s so tough, my husband’s been out of town for a week and I’m single parenting.”
- And I remember feeling really offended. Like excuse me? That’s my badge! I’m taking ownership on that!
- Which was funny because that was an evolution for me. In the beginning I felt guilty saying I was a single parent.
- I was like am I really a single parent because they have another parent.
- So I’m not really a single parent. I kind of thought a single parent would be the other person was out of the picture or had passed away. I felt that’s what defines a single parent.
- In my situation with my ex husband, as the years when on, he became less involved with my children and I certainly with these big decisions felt like I was alone.
- And it wasn’t the same as if you’re husband is out of town. Because you still get to call him and say the kid has 103 fever should I go to the ER?
- There were times when I went back to school when my kids were little and I had no one to take care of my children and I would bring them to classes with me.
- And they sat in the back of the room when I was in college classes. I really felt entirely alone.
- There was a class I nearly missed once because my daughter was on an IV.
- She had Mono and was in the ER and I called my college and said, “I can’t get there because my kid is in the ER!”
- And it was my last class for my Master’s degree and they said you have to come do another entire quarter if you miss this class.
- So I had to pull my kid off the IV and go into school.
- And it’s those kinds of choices that you really can’t fully understand unless you’re in a single parent situation.
- And that’s really that feet to the flame piece. It’s hard.
For anyone listening going through a separation or divorce or who is a single parent – was there anything that really helped you get through and transition into being a single parent?
- I navigated to being around families, interestingly.
- I never thought about it at the time.
- I certainly felt like I was in the trenches. I didn’t have any books. I kind of wish I had.
- Though at the time I’m not sure I would have had a minute to sit with it.
- I felt like I was so blindsided that everything was on the fly.
- But at the time when my kids were so little I actually had a parent and me group that I was attending.
- We hung out with the kids 3 or 4 mornings a week.
- And I really found myself kind of gravitating towards couples.
- I was young so I didn’t know a ton of people who had young children but I knew a number of young couples that were starting out.
- My kids would stay over at friends who didn’t have children yet and they would graciously take them for me and support me by giving me time.
- At the time I didn’t have any babysitters.
- I was new to the country and felt very insecure about how to find child care.
- And I had no money at all.
- People were just really kind.
- At first I was very I’d say embarrassed – I felt like I failed. I failed at being married. And so I didn’t tell anybody.
- So for a long time when I started my job – for a good 5 years I didn’t tell anyone.
- I was very private about it. Just people that were very close to me from work knew. But generally I felt like it was a dirty secret that no one should know.
- So I think my advice to other people would be to actually be vulnerable.
- The more you speak about it, the easier it becomes and that shift for me was when I really said I’m not going to be a victim in this.
- I’m ok. This has happened. And it’s not because of who I am. It’s just a circumstance.
- I felt like in my case it was more about my ex husband and his wants and needs rather than something I did wrong.
- And so I got to a place where I felt like I just needed to find my brave.
- There was a saying that – I guess I’ve used this with my kids their whole lives and really speaks to me too.
- It’s a poem by Christopher Logue called “Come to the edge.” I don’t know if you know it. It goes:
Come to the edge, he said
We can’t, we’re afraid, they responded
Come to the edge, he said
We can’t, we will fall, they responded
Come to the edge, he said
And so they came and he pushed them and they flew
- And I’ve just loved it. I’ve put it in their birthday cards most years.
- I’ve always felt like it’s really what we can all do. We can really find wings.
- And so between that and I used a lot of parenting books over the years that I’ve found really helpful especially when my kids were really young.
- The Emotional Life of a Toddler by Alicia Lieberman is a fantastic book that talks about gentle parenting.
- And then really in order to understand my kids’ development, I’ve always followed along with Dan Siegel and Tina Bryson.
- I love The Whole Brain Child and The Power of Showing up and a number of other ones.
- But I never found something specific for being a single parent and I’ve really never looked.
Let’s talk about finances and budgeting. You mentioned earlier that you didn’t have any money. And it depends how your divorce goes. What was your experience like with finances and budgeting and what did you come away from it with that you could share?
- Mine was a pretty unique situation in that I couldn’t work in America.
- So I was very financially dependent on my ex.
- And we were about to lose our house when we were breaking up. It was about to be repossessed.
- And we managed to sell it before it was taken from us.
- But in the interim period of being terrified of what would happen financially and not being able to leave the country because I didn’t have permission to move back to England with my children, I actually at that point for a minute in there was looking for a homeless shelter for me and my children to live in.
- And then by some kind of miracle this incredible lady offered for my children to attend the school they were at in exchange for me working there as a volunteer.
- So she set me on this journey to work in early childhood education.
- And my first job – I remember I earned 18K a year and thought I’d won the lottery!
- And it’s all relative. So I think I wasn’t one of the people that ended up with a house or money or spousal support.
- I got the bare minimum of child support.
- And the finances have been an issue to this day.
- In fact, sadly I can tell you even now my children just got accepted to two incredible universities and their dad has just decided that he won’t give them any money toward their university education.
- So I’m still on that journey and it’s still a big challenge.
- This is where I feel grateful that I’m glad I chose not to say anything about their dad and encourage their relationship.
- And now this is their journey and to try and remove myself from it and say this is for you guys to now navigate with him has been important.
- I think really budgeting is really key. I have managed to live very frugally for a very long time.
- And I think as much as possible I tried not to include my children in the financial piece for as long as possible.
- So if they asked for something I would never say, “Well it’s because your dad doesn’t pay it.”
- In fact there were many times I actually bought gifts for my children and said they were from their dad when they were little because I wanted to nurture a relationship between them.
- But I feel like a really important piece is to not bring in the finances between the two parents to the children.
- So if dad isn’t going to pay for summer camp to not say to your kids dad isn’t going to pay for summer camp.
- But instead to say, “We’re trying to work it out. We’ll let you know if we can do it,” and talk about it as a team.
- And if it doesn’t work out again, that’s a parent piece that you have to swallow and it’s very painful and until now is very difficult for me.
- But it’s really not something to bring the kids in on.
- Out of all of this, the children and I have an incredibly trusting, loving relationship with each other where the one rule that cannot be broken is there are no lies allowed.
- And they are very honest and open and have incredible friendships with each other. They are each other’s best friend.
I feel like your children really understand the value of a dollar as a result of how you navigated your way through.
- As I said before there are some lessons in this that are incredible life lessons.
- If I had a choice I would have had them learned in a different way.
- This was definitely a more painful and difficult path to learn them on.
- But with that said, they have a wonderful childhood.
- We managed to have them in private schools.
- I had to get through that whole pride thing and apply for financial aid when I needed it and speak up and say what our needs were.
- And I’ve been blessed to have a generous community around me that has really helped us.
- And the kids now say, when they earn money they will give back to the schools and the camps and they believe those are really important places to give back to.
- Even for each other – a really beautiful story, when I was finishing my masters degree and I was just getting onto starting my doctoral program, I got a card on my desk one morning and it was on the day of graduation and the card was from my son and there was a stack of cash in there and he wrote:
- “This is for you, mom. You always taught me to give back. And the first person I want to give back to is YOU! I want you to buy yourself a desktop computer with this money that I saved. So that you can start helping more people.”
- And to me that was just such a lesson in which your kids see and hear everything.
- And he internalized that message and my children do that for each other whether it’s buying each other a car, which they’ve both done.
- They are about to start traveling in Europe. They really know how to be careful and they save. They know how to do it. They’ve learned.
This is such a testament to beautiful things coming out of dark situations.
- Yeah and they’ve been able to have a harder relationship with their dad but I still encourage it.
- Even though it’s hard for me to accept that he’s not prepared to help in a financial way, I still respect that he’s their dad and he’s entitled to a relationship with them.
- It’s for him to carve out the relationship with them.
- I’m not involved in that piece but up until they turned 18, I was definitely involved in saying hey guys – reach out to your dad! Call him! Make a plan with him!
- And encouraging some kind of relationship because let’s face it, dads are really important in raising children.
Before we go, can you tell everyone about you going back to school?
- When my kids were 15 and 17 I decided to go back to school to get my masters.
- My original degree was in film and I’d worked in early childhood for a number of years but was also interested in psychology.
- So I went to get my masters degree in clinical psychology and specializing in childhood studies and become a marriage and family therapist.
- And 6 months before I finished that program, I had an opportunity to start a doctorate program in child psychology.
- So I’m now just about to finish. I’m in the last 3 weeks of course work for my doctoral program and then I’ll be hopefully getting my dissertation finished next year and then working towards my licensure.
- So now I’m a therapist in private practice seeing patients when I’m not a preschool director.
- I’m close to the end and I see the finish line and it’s exciting.
- And it’s been such a great lesson for my kids. There have been so many years now that we’ve been sitting writing essays together and brainstorming on some of the questions I have.
- It’s given them the opportunity to see that you can add onto your career and that learning doesn’t end just because you finished your first degree or high school.
- It has definitely bonded us in a different way.
- And then for me just my personal growth. It’s been incredible.
- Just to kind of get out there and see working as a therapist has broadened my understanding of people and myself and my role as a parent.
- So it all kind of overlaps and feeds into each other. It’s been fantastic and I’m ready to stop going to school now!
How on earth have you made it work? You’re so busy!
- Give a busy person a task and it will get done.
- I think it’s the more you have going on the less time you have to be thinking about the things you want to be doing.
- And I’ve got to live like that for my entire parenting journey because it’s always been a juggling act. How do you fit it in? You do it because you want to.
- So basically I found a program I could do on the weekends and the evenings and I feel like I hustle everyday.
- And there are sacrifices, one being that I don’t get to see my friends as much as I want to, I don’t get to socialize as much as I would like.
- But I know it’s just a passage of time and this too will pass and the next stage will be a time of more of the things I want to be doing.
- I think I’m very goal driven. I set myself a 5 year plan to go back to school and get these qualifications.
- I felt a lot of pressure as a single parent to work out financially how I’d support my kids through college thinking I’d be paying half so it’s a new challenge.
- But I knew that in order to earn more money I needed to have a higher level of education so I prioritized that over everything else. And that’s really why I ended up going back to school.
You are amazing. Do you have any parting words?
- I would say that I’ve always thought of my divorce journey as being at the ocean.
- You’re going to get big waves. A lull where it feels lovely and calm. There will be piptides where you get pulled from side to side and you can’t quite work out how to get through it.
- And I think I can’t repeat enough: children come first.
- They are the victims in this. We aren’t.
- And as hard as it is – and there are days where it’s brutal.
- I think it’s really important to have those moments and be emotionally vulnerable for yourself.
- I think it’s fine to get into the fetal position and cuddle your pillow and cry your eyes out. I think it’s important to do those things.
- I think it’s important to say to your children, “I need to step away. Mommy needs a time out.”
- I think it’s important to share with friends, people you trust, family, find a support system and really build your village around you where you have the people who are going to lift you up in those moments where your kids drive away for the first time.
- Tell somebody – hey can you meet me at a coffee shop? Can you go on a walk with me? I don’t know what to do with myself.
- I think those things are really important and just like the ocean where it has these big scary waves and these other moments of calm you can always go and sit on the beach and watch it from the outside. And you can do that in this too.
- So when you’re having these moments where it feels so flooding and overwhelming to ground yourself to remind yourself. I’m sitting. My bottom is on a chair. My feet are on the floor. I can see the walls around me.
- Really sit with yourself for a minute. Get yourself to feel like you’re kind of half normal and know that this too will pass. You will be ok. But this is a long road. You have to get through those difficult moments.
Sarah Klinger is the Director of the Early Childhood and Parenting Center at Sinai Akiba Academy. Sarah also works in private practice as a psychological associate.
Sarah is currently a doctoral candidate in Child Psychology at the Reiss Davis Graduate School, she holds a master’s degree in clinical psychology with a child studies specialization from Antioch University, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of the Creative Arts in England. Sarah also holds certifications as a birth and post-partum doula. Sarah is a mother to a daughter going into her junior year at UCLA, and a son who will be starting his freshman year at the University of the arts, London this fall.
Resources mentioned in this episode
Book: How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims
Book: The Emotional Life of a Toddler by Alicia F. Lieberman
Books: The Whole Brain Child and The Power of Showing up by Dan Siegel, M.D and Tina Bryson, PhD
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