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Parenting Through Heartbreak

Dating & Relationships / April 10, 2014

Well, single mom, it’s happened again!  After carefully guarding your heart for so long, you slipped and fell in love.  You fell hard this time too, allowing yourself to actually imagine a future with this man.  But sadly, it didn’t last.  And now you’re nursing another broken heart.

Parenting Through Heartbreak

Right now, all you want to do is wallow in your pain.  You want to listen to Sade and sad Mary J. Blige songs, singing along until your voice cracks.  If you could, you’d lie in bed, cry non-stop and stuff yourself with ice cream and chocolate.

And you’re mad as Hell, too.  What you wouldn’t give some good, Old Testament-style revenge!  You fantasize about keying his car or smashing his windows.  For a moment, you even consider letting Pookie and ‘em from your old neighborhood “take care of” him for you.  And the only thing keeping you from showing up at his job and straight clowning is the fact that if you end up in jail, your child would suffer.  Besides, orange really isn’t your color.

I know these are clichés, but when you’ve been really hurt, you lose your mind a little.  We all do.  But usually we choose not to act upon our crazier impulses, no matter how badly we want to.

Never mind how you got here.  Obsessing about what went wrong is counter-productive, at this point.  It doesn’t change the fact that even though you thought this relationship would last, it didn’t.

And you did everything right this time, too!  You followed Steve Harvey’s advice to the letter, waiting to give up the “goodies” until you were both climbing the walls.  You acted like a lady and thought like a man; and you really took the time to get to know this guy.

He seemed so wonderful, at first.  Your parents approved of him and your friends liked him.  He had a decent job and good credit.  And after a lengthy and careful vetting process, when he finally met your child, they got along great.

The relationship wasn’t perfect because nothing in life is.  But it was as close to perfection as you’d ever experienced.  You allowed yourself to believe that the two of you would go the distance.  You thought for sure he was The One.

But it didn’t happen.  He shattered your dreams and ended the relationship leaving no hope for reconciliation.  He’s not coming back.  And not only is your child hurt, you are gutted.

Parenting Through Heartbreak

In spite of your broken heart, you still have to get up every day and be a Mother, with a capital “M”.  Even though you’d gotten used to having a partner with whom to share the load, you’re back to doing it all on your own again.  So, you’d better take a deep breath, roll up your sleeves and get back to the job of raising your child.

Just remember that how you handle yourself during this breakup will determine how your little one deals with it.  Your baby is also heartbroken and needs you more than ever.  So act with dignity and maintain your pride, knowing that your every move is being watched.

Parenting Through Heartbreak

So how do you do it?  How do you balance your own grief with your child’s need for comfort and normalcy?  How do you convince your kid that everything is going to be fine when you don’t even believe that yourself?

As a single mother, you don’t have the luxury of wallowing in your sorrow.  You can’t curl up in bed with a half-gallon of ice cream and a playlist full of sad songs.  You have to put your child first just like you always have.  And that means you have to go about your life as usual and get both of you passed this as soon as possible.

I believe there are a few things you can do to make this transition a little easier for you and your child.  Let me be perfectly clear, though.  I’m not a trained therapist, nor have I studied Psychology or Child Development.  But from instinct, experience and observation I’ve come up with the following steps to help you parent through the heartbreak.  (For simplicity, I’ve written this for a mom with just one child.  Obviously, it works just as well if you have two or more.)

1)    Acknowledge the pain.  It’s important to admit to your child that you’re sad.  I don’t mean that you should confide in her like she’s your best friend.  But, acknowledging your sorrow will make it okay for her to do the same.  And it’s important for her to share her feelings with you.  The last thing you want is for her to keep everything locked inside.  So talk to her and encourage her to talk to you.

2)    Leave out the gory details.  Your child will want to know why the relationship ended.  Be brief.  He doesn’t need to hear about infidelity or anything like that.  The details of your breakup aren’t anyone else’s business. But you do need to reassure your child that it wasn’t his fault, so you need to provide some answers.  Just keep it short and sweet.

3)    Cry it out.  When you’re alone or with a trusted friend, allow yourself a good cry or two.  Don’t do this in front of your child, of course.  But a good cry can be cathartic and healing.  Tears are cleansing and as long as you aren’t drowning in them, they’re good for your soul.

4)    Avoid the negative.  Don’t bash your ex no matter how bad he messed up, at least not in front of your child.  When you’re alone with your girls, you can call him all kinds of names and burn his effigy if you want.  But, keep your venting confined to your closest confidants and leave your kid out of it.  Let him hold on to whatever positive images he has of your ex.  It will help with the healing.  (The only exception to this is if your ex did something illegal or harmful to you or your child like rape or abuse.  In that case, make sure your child understands that what your ex did was wrong so that they don’t internalize the bad behavior.  And for God’s sake, get both of you some counselling.)

5)    Spend a little extra “fun time” together.  Plan some fun weekend activities for just the two of you.  It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate or expensive.  It can be as simple as spending the day at a museum or a park.  Do something fun and entertaining.  Read lots of books together.  This reassures her that no matter who comes and goes from your lives she can always count on you to make things right again.  Her world doesn’t end because your relationship ended, and she needs to be reminded of that.  Plus, it’ll help cheer you up, too.

Parenting Through Heartbreak

6)    Check in frequently.  Children are intuitive and can read your mood better than you realize.  Yours is also instinctively protective of your feelings and may not always come to you when he’s feeling sad because he doesn’t want to upset you.  You’ll have to initiate those conversations by checking in with him frequently about his feelings.  Keep encouraging him to open up to you.  Keep him talking.  It won’t always be easy, especially because you’re trying to deal with your own feelings.  But the more he talks, the better.

7)    Take a break.  At some point, in order to really heal, you’re going to have to take a “break” from your everyday life.  You don’t have to spend money to do this, although if you can afford it, a weekend at a spa or resort would work wonders for your mood.  But it could be as simple as letting friends or family keep your child for a day or two while you stay home and allow yourself to relax and just “be”.  You need to get used to being single again and enjoying your own company.  So spend some quality time alone with yourself.  Clean your closets and blast your favorite music.  Pamper yourself with long baths and eat off your “good” dishes.  Indulge yourself.

8)    Seek professional help.  If you’re having a really hard time getting past this break-up, you may need professional help.  Personally, I think that good therapy is one of the best gifts a woman can give to herself, especially during painful times.  We spend so much of our lives focused on the needs of others.  Therapy forces us to turn inward and spend time focusing on our own needs.  Besides, the sooner you heal, the sooner your child will heal.

Before I became a mother, I firmly believed that the key to getting over a failed relationship was to immediately find another one.  Thanks to age, wisdom and experience, I know this isn’t true.  Every relationship needs to be mourned in its own right and that takes time.

So, don’t go running right into another relationship after your breakup.  Give yourself and your child enough time to really heal.  Use this time to turn inward and focus on you and your kid.  It will help you both in the long run.

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Janice Fuller-Roberts
Janice Fuller-Roberts is a freelance writer, novelist and blogger living in the metropolitan Detroit area. She has a popular advice column called “Ask Janice” at SuzyKnew a site dedicated to the sexual health and pleasure for women of color, with an emphasis on women from the African diaspora. Janice’s thought-provoking essays on subjects such as domestic violence, depression, mental health awareness, and race have also been featured in The Sexy Single Mommy, For Harriet, emPower Magazine, DAME Magazine, Salon, and Corset. She also writes under a pseudonym with a growing legion of fans.

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on April 10, 2014

This is exactly what I was looking for. I have a couple of very close friends who are single mothers and dating. We have been friends forever and always turn to each other for advice. I don’t have kids, so when they turn to me for advice about dating as a single parent I don’t have ANY idea what to say. I want to be helpful and not just shrug my shoulders, or worse, offer what I think might be best. I’m definitely going to keep this blog on file.

    on April 10, 2014

    Please share this with your friends! As parents, we all want to do our best for our kids. But if we’re heartbroken ourselves, we’re not at our best. And if we’re not at our best, we may not do our best. Your friends are lucky to have you, someone who at least wants to steer them in the right direction. I hope this helps.

on April 10, 2014

Very good advice and it was well spoken.

    on April 10, 2014

    Thank you!

on April 11, 2014

I absolutely agreed with and enjoyed this. We’ve all been there and felt helpless and/or struggled to parent as we normally would (for the hardest break-ups).

I appreciate you for writing this.

    on April 11, 2014

    Thank you.

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