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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.

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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.”

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  Dingzeyu Li on Unsplash