We take whatever life dishes out, right? And make something of it?
Sometimes, that means a pleasant surprise. And last month I had the pleasure of being included in the Circle of Moms Top 25 listing on Single Parenting. A heartfelt thanks to them, as well as to those who graciously gave me a thumbs up in the voting process.
As follow-up, single moms were asked to offer one piece of advice for others in the same boat. But how do you distill parenting advice into one key point?
I knew immediately how I would respond – with advice that applies to relationships as well as parenting, regardless of the circumstances.
Two words. Never assume.
“Never Assume” has been with me since my corporate days, serving as a reminder in all aspects of life – including life after divorce. And when I forget it, invariably, I regret it!
But setting aside healthy skepticism or preconceived ideas isn’t easy when you want to believe in the person you’re falling for, you want to believe it’s reciprocal, you want to believe you can have it all and do it all, and you want to believe you can make things work if they start to go south.
I hope I’m finally improving when it comes to recognizing good relationships – good for me, and good for the other person.
I’ve come to recognize my own deal breakers, to understand when I need to set aside my preoccupations or to cordon off time alone to pursue them, and to accept that I should never assume that a man perceives me the way I perceive myself, that he feels about me the way I think he does, and nor do I assume that I know what might sit behind moods, motivations, or impressions.
Instead I observe, I question, and I do my best to pay attention.
When it comes to parenting – for those who go solo by choice, those who live through divorce, those who lose a beloved spouse, adoptive parents, multicultural parents, gay parents, those with special needs themselves and children with special needs – there is no single “right way” to raise kids any more than there is within the (once) traditional model of the two parent family.
Parenting in all its incarnations provides plenty of opportunities to put Never Assume into practice. Besides, we all know that as soon as we grow accustomed to one stage, something changes!
I have my own story and experience from the years I was married, and likewise, the decade that has followed. I share some of the particular problems that plague single mothers, along with issues that aren’t unusual for older mothers. Consequently, I’ve constantly needed to set aside my assumptions.
Situations change. Kids change.
I’ve changed – and continue to do so.
And I don’t assume that what works for me (or works for one child, for that matter) will work for you.
Advice to Divorcing Single Mothers
That said, I’m offering up a few details from my personal Never Assume files. I do so hoping I don’t reduce enormously complex (and painful) subject matter to dismissive tidbits, but sometimes even a tidbit may spark an idea, a realization, a call to action, or simply feeling less alone.
- If you’re still in the process of divorcing, never assume that follow-up legalities won’t be required. Never assume that your attorney is the sole provider of necessary information; you must take ownership for researching options yourself. And remember the old adage – if it’s too good to be true…
- Never assume that family court is easy to navigate and remember that divorce laws and related processes are state-specific.
- When it comes to your kids, never assume that your child is telling you all that he or she is feeling – about divorce, about an absent parent, about you, about your new romantic interest or post-divorce life in general. Clearly, age is a factor, but so is a child’s temperament, ability to articulate what he is feeling, and willingness to compromise the security of the parental relationship by possibly rocking the boat.
- Never assume that your kids will heal at the same time in the same way. They’re individuals, right? They’ll grieve, act out, and adjust differently – just as they would with any major life event affecting their parents and their home life, and therefore, their universe.
- Never assume that life after divorce is entirely within your control. Your ex may be a great co-parent for a time, but circumstances may alter the situation in the case of unemployment, if he or she remarries or has another child, or if one of you relocates. Medical issues can throw a monkey wrench into an otherwise smooth situation and clog up the works; while this is an example where no one is at fault, it can change the picture dramatically.
- Never assume that the under-performing co-parent won’t mature into a better one – more cooperative in terms of active parenting, or more cooperative financially. But never assume that he will.
- Never assume that transitions will be easy or simple, that you won’t find yourself stalled professionally, in financial disarray, and digging deep for guts you never knew you had. Never assume that you can’t handle it. You will find reserves of strength you never knew you had!
- Never assume that change will come easily for your kids, but never assume that they won’t amaze you with their resiliency. And that will help with yours, as you find yourself taking risks that open up your world again to glorious possibilities.
The point of these examples?
Vigilance to your own evolving states and circumstances, and naturally – to those of your sons and daughters, your friends, your co-workers, your new partners. Raising children in split households or alone can be exceedingly complex, a financial strain you didn’t anticipate, a kind of loneliness with its own peculiar echoes, an emotional drain that you can manage, but best addressed with whatever help you can find, and a healthy dose of Never Assume.
Vulnerability, Common Sense
Love leaves us unguarded. The memory of love leaves us vulnerable. And the family court system is no panacea; depending upon the state where you live, uninformed is unarmed, and however well intentioned on paper, the courts cannot ensure the best interest of the child any more than they can a fair result for the adults involved.
Only two responsible parents can do that.
And if you’re going it alone, by choice or otherwise, build communities that know what you’re going through and will support you along the way.
Never, never assume that you can’t do a terrific job of loving your child. not perfect. . And remember that whatever advice anyone offers you – you know what you feel, what you see, what your gut is telling you. Including how best to parent your children.
So perhaps in addition to my first two words of single parent advice – Never Assume – I ought to add these: common sense.