She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to. Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.
I need help. I am feeling so scared.
My husband of 11 years recently and suddenly left me and our two children, ages 2 and 6. They are not yet aware that he’s gone. They think he’s traveling for work. I know it’s only a matter of time before they figure it out.
I really have no choice but to move to where my mom lives, because I need the help. I also have lots of family and close friends there. That will put us about four hours away from their father.
I’m so worried about how they are going to handle this in general, with not really having their dad around. The plan, as of now, is that he will come to see them every other weekend. But I know that over time he will start coming less and less.
I am petrified. I don’t think I can do the single-parent thing. I feel like I won’t be able to handle it or do anything right. I am also afraid that he’s going to be the fun parent and I’m going to be the nag. I’m afraid that my kids will end up blaming me.
I guess I am just totally lost and don’t know what to do or how to do it. Should I try to stay closer to where he is, in the hope that he will help out more? Or is it better to move near my mom?
I feel like I’m going to have a nervous breakdown. I’m so terrified.
First, take a deep breath. Of course you are feeling scared and out of your depth.
This is a monumental life change and it is completely normal that you feel overwhelmed.
Please, go easy on yourself for feeling a wide range of fearful emotions and self-doubt.
What has happened is a shock to the system. But you won’t feel this way forever. I promise you that.
Right off the bat, I want you to know that you don’t have to figure everything out now. You don’t have to project forward to a year from now, or six months from now.
Today, start with the immediate tasks in front of you.
Yes, move to where you will be closest to the friends and family who can help you get through this. Lean on them; ask for help. You and your kids need that support system.
You cannot control what your ex-husband will do or how well he will continue to co-parent.
However, you can set boundaries that make things like sticking to a schedule a legal matter.
I would get a temporary custody agreement in place immediately, so that it’s a non-issue.
You can do this with a lawyer, a mediator, or by filing paperwork on your own. It seems daunting, but it will give you a peace of mind for now that sets a framework for co-parenting.
Yes, he may get the role of “fun parent” and that can feel really awful, when you’re the parent in the day to day grind, making sure that your children are loved, fed, and cared for.
But even if they have temporary moments of idolizing him, they will know, without having to think about it, who their caregiver is. Try to set up a united front on any decision-making with the kids, so that they still see you as being on the same side.
I have been there. I separated from the father of my child when he was two years old and was a single mom for the next eight years, until I remarried.
Were there moments that were challenging? Yes.
But, I got through it, and you will too.
Make a list of what you need to take care of immediately and in the next six months.
At the beginning of each day, make a list of the mundane tasks to be done. Let it be as simple as: Wake up 7 AM, make breakfast, shower, take kids to the park, pack three boxes, make calls for attorney referrals, etc.
By organizing your life into the smaller tasks, the less overwhelming ones, and chipping away at the larger tasks, you will feel a whole lot more in control.
Reach out. Ask your friends and family members for support.
There are countless single-parent support groups online. I did a quick search and found an endless number of sites for single parents. There are regional meet-up groups as well.
It’s important that you know that you don’t have to face this alone.
Also, open a line of communication with your children.
There are very helpful articles online about how to talk about divorce with your kids, like this one.
Additionally, you may want to seek out a good therapist and/or family counselor, to help you navigate the months ahead. If finances are an issue, there are resources out there that can offer low-cost or no-cost counseling. If you’d like regional resources, follow up with me via email and I can point you in the right direction.
Lastly, don’t underestimate the importance of self-care. Self-care is important at all times, but especially when we are in crisis. It’s OK — even necessary — that you make time for yourself, even in small ways (like a bubble bath, a good walk, or a yoga class), to make sure that you are taking care of your mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.
Self-care is like armor for getting through our most challenging days.
You are not alone. You will get through this.
The best part about divorce is being on the other side.
If you have a question for me about divorce, marriage, parenting, sex, Monopoly, lakes, friendships, mood rings, brioche, or anything at all, email me at email@example.com. As always, your anonymity is golden. xoxo