Nothing could have prepared me for that moment. The moment when reality sank in hard, and I let it wash over me. I would have this baby alone. I would fill out the hospital paperwork alone and check the box “divorced.” Is the baby’s father present? No, just me. Would it happen in the middle of the night? Would I roll over, instinctively, to nudge my husband, to tell him the pains were too intense, too close together? Because they were. I was confused by my pain. I couldn’t decide if I felt more lonely before, when he lay next to me, or now that my bed grew cold. I spent more than a few nights curled up on the floor next to my two-year-old’s crib.
The two of us, soon to be three, would brave this unknown road together. My role as protector suddenly made me fierce. I had two little people depending on me now. My children were the source of my strength and my anxiety. Everything rested on me and only me. Could I be enough?
Just as parenting doesn’t offer you a handbook, single-parenting basically drops you in the middle of the lake with no life-preserver, and then (in my case) hands you two babies. The brutal paradox of single-parenting is that your job becomes exponentially more difficult and complicated, and yet your man-power is reduced by half (depending on how helpful your partner was).
My problem in the beginning was that I didn’t realize there was a canoe right there in front of me. In Glennon Melton’s words, “I became my own soldier. Bandaging up my own wounds. Not running to God for every bump or bruise. But acting tough for too long makes the soft tissue of your heart start to toughen as well.”
When faith finally overcame my pride and fear, I placed my babies in the canoe and heaved myself over to join them. Of course, that didn’t mean my work was over. I began rowing hard, but the wind was no longer in my face but rather at my back, nudging me forward. God was with me every step of the way because I begged him there. I didn’t pray casually anymore, I prayed earnestly because it wasn’t just my life that depended on it.
People will tell you that pain is transformative. You will never be the same. For me, the metamorphosis was crucial. I can tell you with all sincerity that what could have been an awful period of my life, turned out to be one of my best chapters and I would never re-write it. One of the most powerful lessons learned was to be still and recognize God’s presence around me. He was in my sister, who showed up every morning to get me out of bed. He was in my mom, who was impossibly happy all the time for my kid’s sake, when I didn’t have the strength. He was in my dad, who willingly and lovingly became father to two boys who desperately needed a role model. He was in my baby sister who slept with me in the hospital. He was in my quiet thoughts, whispering words of comfort and hope. For the first time in my life, I learned how He talked to me. And I learned how to listen.
As I slowly put myself back together, embracing this strange new journey, I realized that I needed new rules. So, for what it’s worth. Here are the rules I lived by that helped to see me through:
- Rely on God. He wants to help you more than you believe. Be still…and listen.
- Listen to the people that love and know you best. Filter out the other voices who may not have your best interest at heart.
- If you are taking time away from your kids to date, make sure every minute is worth it. I prayed before every single date to know if I should continue the relationship or not. This might sound strange, but it was crucial for me.
- I got some advice early on which suggested I find contentment in accepting a life with just my kids and me (It can be tempting to repair your pain with another relationship). Take time to first restore yourself personally.
- Avoid ever speaking negatively about your children’s father in front of them. If you can forgive and let go of bad feelings, it will be the best thing you can do for them and for yourself.
- Let your children know they are the most important part of your life and do whatever necessary to allow them to focus on being a kid.
- Take time every day to meditate and breathe.
- Keep your spiritual commitments. They will keep your perspective pure and grounded. For me, that meant regular worship, constant prayer, meditation and serving my children (anything I had left to give couldn’t afford to go elsewhere).
The embodiment of this list became my life preserver. I was wearing it when I heaped myself into that canoe and began rowing those babies to safety. And the harder I rowed, the more diligent I became in perfecting these efforts. We still drifted, we were still alone in the middle of unknown waters, but as long as that life preserver remained cinched and secured, somehow the momentum of my determination never ceased.
Now, years after my divorce, many things are so much better than they were initially–but many things will forever remain the same. I will always have to hoist myself back in that canoe every season when making arrangements for the holidays. I will always have to navigate the unknown waters of the emotional challenges my boys confront– and I continuously have to remind myself to cinch up my life preserver and keep rowing (when I sometimes just feel like sinking). But with all of that, I have and continue to find that the winds of inspiration continue to push at my back and chart the course for my mother’s instinct, intuition and love to guide us through. It doesn’t always guide us on the easiest route–but, together, we always make it through.