I so admire the effort and work of a single parent who even after their world falls apart does hard healing work and models a healthy approach to change and forgiveness for their children.
I met Jeanette at the West Coast Christian Writers Conference and knew I wanted her to share with my readers a resilient approach to single parenting. So grateful for truth of these 5 messages. I hope it inspires you to share them as you interact with others. ~ Michelle
I was in a hotel room after a day at Disneyland to celebrate my mom’s birthday when I read the email that changed the trajectory of my life. My husband was moving to a town four hours away from where we lived. He’d moved out two months earlier with the understanding that he would get counseling so we could, hopefully, restore our marriage. Instead, he was leaving town.
I was going to be a divorced single mom. Make that a visually-impaired divorced single mom in the church who couldn’t drive and had been dumped via email. I will never forget the life-will-never-be-the-same feeling of doom.
That was over eight years ago. I was right; life would never be the same. I’d been abandoned with two sons and in a financial mess, dependent on my church family. In addition to going through a divorce, I had to file bankruptcy and walk away from our home. I eventually moved back to my childhood hometown. Then I rebuilt my life from scratch.
I now have a life that I can honestly say is wonderful. In some ways, it’s better than before. Seeing God’s faithfulness inspired my book Suddenly Single Mom: 52 Messages of Hope, Grace, and Promise.
But that is not the first thing I would tell someone whose life has just unraveled. When someone is reeling, she doesn’t need to hear, “Trust me, in eight years, you’re going to love your life! You might even write a book.” I would start with “I’m so sorry,” give her a hug, invite her to get together for coffee and talk, and try to be there for her.
At some point, I would also want to tell her these five things:
1. Whatever you’re feeling, it’s normal. It took a long time for the magnitude of what happened to catch up with me. I spent the first two years in hyper-vigilant survival mode. On the surface, I seemed to be doing remarkably well. Then I moved, could finally relax, and everything made me cry or feel shaky. Other things surfaced later. Thankfully, God put people in my life who assured me I wasn’t crazy or sinning. They reminded me that I was grieving and had been through trauma, and when those things happen, our emotions are all over the place.
So if you aren’t crying, it just might not be time for that yet. If you’re mad, Jesus got angry too. Sometimes we need to know there isn’t something wrong with us.
2. It’s okay to limit who you share details with. In fact, it’s wise. Some people didn’t know what was going on in my family until the pastors announced my going-away luncheon. I didn’t want certain details to circle around to my sons and I wasn’t ready to have everyone know my business. Even now I am careful who I share everything with.
Not everyone can handle our story. It’s also nice to be known for more than that and talk about other things. If your situation is very personal and sensitive, open up to just enough close friends so you have support. If someone gossips, she clearly can’t be trusted. If a friend overwhelms you with unsolicited advice or horror stories or constantly digs for information, she might not be the safest person. You get to decide who knows what.
3. Taking care of yourself is not selfish. I remember feeling guilty when I started attending Divorce Care on Sunday mornings instead of sitting with my family in church. Later, I questioned if I should continue spending money on therapy (which I didn’t even start until three years ago) when the funds could go toward college. If I needed time alone in my room to journal or rest, I worried that I was ignoring everyone. What I understand now is that I had a lot more than divorce to recover from. Taking that time to heal and care for myself, and investing money in the process, has made it possible for me to be a better mom and a much more whole and confident person.
Whether it’s counseling, a support group, journaling, long walks, or all of the above, consider it medicine for your soul that will strengthen you to be there for those you love, get through your workday, and move forward.
4. Learn from bad experiences with people. I had a lot of support, but people still said hurtful things. Like the woman who responded to, “I’m divorced,” by asking probing questions until she knew for sure that I “had biblical grounds.” (I barely knew her. We were in line for lunch at a retreat.) Sometimes I felt like I was on advice overload and would spend the rest of my life explaining my situation. I made up my mind to focus on what the good people in my life were doing and use the bad experiences as examples of what to never do or say to someone.
Let’s face it, people get awkward in a crisis. We’ve all said things that we wanted to kick ourselves for later. If someone’s words or actions make your painful situation worse, it is completely okay to be upset. Find someone to confide in about it. Then add it to your, “I will NEVER” list. On the other hand, what have people done and said that helped? Try to pay even closer attention to those things.
5. You really are going to be okay. Your circumstances might be difficult for a while; you might feel like a mess even after things improve. It would be wrong for me to promise that eight years from now your life will be better than ever. But if you cling to God and your faith, get the help you need, and surround yourself with good people, you will come out on the other side stronger and closer to Him than before that life-altering thing happened.
Jeanette Hanscome is the author of five books including Suddenly Single Mom: 52 Messages of Hope, Grace, and Promise. She is also a speaker, writer’s workshop leader, blogger, freelance editor, regular contributor to Guideposts devotionals, and proud mom of two sons (one grown and one teenager). Jeanette enjoys spending her free time connecting with friends over coffee, making homemade gifts, and singing at her church and in the Blackhawk Chorus. You can read Jeanette’s weekly blog posts at Jeanettehanscome.com.