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ASK LINDA, PSYCHOTHERAPIST, SINGLE MOM:

Dear Linda,

My husband was the love of my life. Or so I thought. We’re divorcing after 12 years together and I just can’t stop crying. I want to pull it together for the kids, but I often am just overcome with grief. I feel like my best friend – and my life plan – have both died. To make it worse, the kids are reacting to the tension and are acting out. Which just adds to the stress and sadness and makes it harder for me to hold it together. How I can cope?

Linda answers:  

I am so sorry that you are going through this major loss. Your grief, tears and feeling overwhelmed are normal for the trauma you have suffered. These emotions are part of the mourning process, which will eventually lead you forward in your life. The “airplane safety demonstration” provides a key life lesson on the importance of taking care of yourself during a crisis such as this. The flight attendant says, “Put your oxygen mask on before placing an oxygen mask on your child.” Why? If you do not take care of yourself, you will not be here to take care of your children. When you have a major life stressor, you might forget to take care of yourself.

Your kids feel your pain and stress and are having their lives turned upside down, too. Talk with them. Let them know it is OK to feel sad. It is OK to cry. It is OK to be angry. Explain that both your emotions and theirs are real and that it is OK to feel whatever they feel. Here is the tricky part: What you do with your emotions is where you have choices. To help overcome difficult emotions, MOVE: exercise, play physical games, go skating, biking, running, play kickball, or play hide and seek. Move and get those feel-good chemicals activated in your body. Also, make sure you are all eating well and getting enough sleep.

Often when emotions become overwhelming, you might get caught up with repetitive thoughts and get “stuck in your head.” One simple and great technique for moving through these emotions is to start naming all the colors that you see. You can do this by yourself or with the kids. Try this for about 5 minutes, when you or they start to feel overwhelmed. It’s a mindfulness trick, sort of a mini meditation break: When you are concentrating on the colors and their names, you cannot simultaneously stay trapped in your negative thoughts.

Divorce or breakup is a loss, and you will need to mourn. It takes time, but you are a survivor and you and the children will come through this. A qualified family therapist might help guide you through this process together. I recommend that you seek out this kind of support for yourself and your children, since it will help you to “normalize” and move through the mourning process.

HAVE A QUESTION FOR LINDA? Sent it to info [at] singlewith.com, and put ASK LINDA in the subject heading. She may use your question for an upcoming post!
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Photo by  Marcel Strauß on Unsplash

When Lineska Thompson-Perez first met her ex, she was newly arrived from Puerto Rico and he didn’t know how to cook. Over the years, she taught her then-husband her Latin cooking secrets and he took over in the kitchen. “He’s a drummer,” she explains. “He could chop a lot faster than I could.” When they broke up in 2012, she says, she “lost everything.” But she’s gotten a lot faster in the kitchen—and she gets to do more with their 8-year-old son, Sky.

Thompson-Perez, who lives in Nanuet, NY and works as a personal trainer, yoga instructor and stylist, credits meditation and Buddhism for her ability to weather divorce with equanimity. “When I was married, we divided everything,” she says. ” Now, when I have Sky, the whole thing is on top of my shoulders. But it gets lighter and lighter–you get used to it. And it makes for a closer relationship with my son.”

Spirituality runs in the family, Thompson-Perez says, citing her devout mother, grandmother and great-mother. “They’ve set a great example for me. It keeps me grounded,” she says. “People get very upset and angry during breakups and they start to use alcohol or other destructive ways to escape.” Thompson-Perez prefers to run several times a week, and keeps up her spiritual practices. “I was driven to pray, to meditate, to write in a gratitude journal every night,” she says.

Thompson-Perez tries to greet everything–including adversity–with a “thank-you,” since it creates a way for her to grow. “We have a very powerful tool which is our mind,” she says. “It’s like our software. So we can be creative and turn a problem into an opportunity.” She tries not to dwell on the negative, instead, she leans toward forgiveness. “Having anger inside you is just going to position you for more pain,” she says. “When you really forgive another person for his mistakes, you feel such a sense of peace.”

She and Sky are currently living in her ex- in-laws’ basement, which is great for Sky–“he loves his grandparents”–but has its challenges, and she’s planning a move back to Manhattan soon. Thompson-Perez doesn’t have family nearby so she loves keeping in touch with her relatives in Puerto Rico via Facebook. She loves teaching yoga to kids in an afterschool program and she has a growing client base at the Ann Taylor store where she works as a stylist. But most of all, she enjoys spending lots of time with Sky, practicing baseball, going to playdates, building with Legos and battling Beyblades. “I have a child,” she says. “There’s a lot to be thankful for.”

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Photo by  Dingzeyu Li on Unsplash

ASK LINDA, PSYCHOTHERAPIST, SINGLE MOM:

My ex-wife was awarded primary custody of our 6-year-old son, over my strong objections. I wanted 50/50. Now I’ll suddenly only see him on weekends. We have a very close relationship and I am furious about the situation, my ex’s behavior and the judge’s decision. My son’s going to wonder why I don’t want to see him much anymore. How can I talk to him about this without getting into all the bitterness and anger of the custody dispute, or making him mad at his mom? I don’t want him to think that I don’t want to be with him!

Linda answers:

First of all, I’m sorry that you are in this situation. It must be very difficult for you to not be able to see your son first of all on a daily basis and secondly only on the weekend.
The ideal resolution for this situation would be for you and your ex to sit down and agree how to discuss this with your son. If you had trouble doing that on your own, I would suggest reaching out to a professional therapist in order to mediate the situation.
Again, ideally you would want to agree and discuss boundaries about visitation and how you would jointly communicate this to your son.
If your ex-wife will not agree to discuss this with you, you can only control your side of the equation. Calmly outline to your son that you love him and Mommy loves him. In the discussion with him, make it clear whatever the judge has declared. Also, make it clear to him that you cannot change the situation because the judge has made a legal decision. Although the boundaries may be clear to you, he may be very confused. Always remember that boundaries mean safety for children. Let him know about his space in your home. Involve him in making it his place. Begin new traditions together in your new home. Think about today and and not the past. You can make this an exciting new adventure for both of you!
Also think about setting up regular times to Skype or FaceTime with him during the week in order to keep consistent contact. You can watch movies together, play games, chat,do homework, or even just be in the same room through technology, so that you can maintain consistency in one another’s days.
HAVE A QUESTION FOR LINDA? Sent it to info [at] singlewith.com, and put ASK LINDA in the subject heading. She may use your question for an upcoming post!
DID YOU LIKE THIS POST? Please go to the Singlewith Home Page for much more, and sign up for our weekly newsletter in the box (above, right)! You’ll get great new essays, advice and ideas by and for single parents, coming to your email inbox. Also, register for our Singlewith Forums, to become part of our community and start connecting and getting support from fellow single moms and dads. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter (@singlewith) and Instagram (singlewithphotos). In short, JOIN US!
Photo by  Marcel Strauß on Unsplash

Forget the pity party! Instead, I hit the beach.

This past Christmas accentuated one of the many complications of divorce — sharing children. My ex and I both wanted our kids. The ex’s celebration offered a ski house in Park City filled with grandparents, uncles, aunts and close cousins. Mine, in cold but snow-free Richmond, Virginia, had none of the above. Utah won.

Socially, my first holiday solo looked bleak: My parents had passed away, and I had no date for parties. With kids 2,000 miles away and a brother visiting his fiancée’s parents in Boston, I faced celebrating Jesus’ birthday with only my dog and incontinent cat for company. A pity party loomed.

Divorced almost two years, I still struggled with the intensified demands that came with being a single mom — the full-time job, two kids with busy after-school schedules, needy pets, a historic house with old pipes, no time for myself, bills, bills, bills. And I’d never been on my own, with or without kids. My marriage began the week after I graduated from college. I traded three roommates for a husband. Now over 40, I was challenged by obstacles that many women face earlier: how to balance a checkbook (use checks with carbons), change air filters (this should happen every month — who knew?) and mow my lawn (hire someone). But beyond these basic life management skills, I still hadn’t figured out my identity as a single person.  And now I was looking at the specter of an incredibly depressing Christmas.

So instead of the pity party, I used the money that should’ve gone toward bathroom plumbing to hire a pet sitter and book a trip to Tulum. Water and sunshine always rejuvenate me, and this resort touted an all-inclusive fitness program and healthy meals. It was the opposite of a traditional Christmas with snowy pines, fireside carols and a five-course holiday dinner, but why not?

The white-sand beach at Tulum proved close to paradise with clear water such a perfect shade of blue that it blended into sky. I’m used to the dark, drab Atlantic where you’re glad you can’t see your feet for all the sea debris brushing past your bare legs.

As promised, I delighted in platters of fresh fruit, vegetables, grilled fish and granola-sprinkled yogurt. Pre-selected meals meant my only decision each day was how many exercise sessions to attend. Ongoing classes began with an early morning beach walk and ended after sundown with either yoga or meditation. I sampled everything and fell for kickboxing, salsa dancing and circuit boot camp.

I fondly remember my Latino salsa teacher who crooned that I had sexy moves (he said this to everyone, but I still drank it in) and my kickboxing instructor who complimented my POWER when I punched the pad in his hand. In between workouts, I swam in the warm, turquoise ocean and napped in hammocks hung between palms.

I created my own mini-version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, where after a divorce, the author travels to find herself through good food, exercise and soul-searching. My respite lasted only a week, not the almost-year Gilbert spent circumventing the globe. Yet a legitimate transformation occurred. My worries lifted. I felt empowered, grounded and more energized. I learned a lesson; I didn’t need anyone else to make my music.

I wanted to be with my kids and family in Utah (after 20 years of marriage, I will always think of my in-laws as family), but I proved that I could turn around a glum situation to appreciate life and my own vitality. I still don’t know who I am on my own — that journey lies ahead — but Tulum gave me a jump-start.

I returned to Richmond with a calmness I thought disappeared forever with adulthood. A simple Google search later, I found salsa dancing, kickboxing and boot camp classes all over our city. Committed to a burgeoning healthy relationship with myself, I signed up. These things were in my backyard all along. Sometimes you need to leave, if only briefly, to reconnect to self and home.

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Photo by  Angel Origgi on Unsplash