When my sons, Jacob and Isaac, were just 3 and 1, my husband and I separated. As a child of a divorce, I'd always sworn that I'd never put my kids through that -- yet as it turned out, living paycheck to paycheck and trying to do our own growing up while raising a family proved to be too great a strain on our marriage: It bent, cracked, and finally broke.
I flew through the first couple of months after our separation in an adrenaline-powered blur. But things like finding a place to live and paying for it all by myself, taking care of almost all the day-to-day parenting of two small children, and trying to find a job when I'd been out of the workforce since college terrified me. I felt like a flake -- not a strong, capable mother who was going teach her children to succeed despite the obstacles ahead.Single Moms Need a Tribe
When I was married, we were just like all the other families: our own tiny self-sufficient universe. Even if my husband and I didn't get along, we were both still deeply invested in the minutiae of running our family. Then one day, my best friend and co-parent was gone from my life. Though I had always paid lip service to the "It takes a village" idea, it turned out that, while there might have been some "village" people out there, we had been too wrapped up in our own lives to get to know them.
It really hit me one Friday night. I was driving through a bad snowstorm with my little boys. What if our car skidded off the road into a ditch? Would anyone notice? Okay, that was an exaggeration -- but it's how it felt at the time, and it prompted me into action. I decided to check in every night with another single mom. Then I made a conscious effort to invite friends over for dinner, ask a neighbor to help me move my couch, and chat with the other moms at drop-off. Slowly, my sense that I had a contagious disease lifted, and I found myself expanding my definition of what makes a family. "It's crucial to explain to children that family is defined by people who love us and whom we feel really close to," says M. Gary Neuman, Parents advisor and author of Helping Your Child Cope with Divorce the Sandcastles Way.