When I had kids, just like everyone else, I had no idea the ride I was in for. The one thing I did have, though, was a supportive partner. My husband–now ex-husband–has always been a provider and a positive role model in our kids’ lives.
When our three children started blossoming into teenagers, he and I came to the realization that we were no longer in love. It was time to part ways. Now, going through a divorce while my kids are in the midst of their angsty teen years, has been a double whammy.
There are mornings when I feel really strong. I’m able to delve into this new phase of my life and nothing, not even my son's snotty attitude, or a call from school can knock me over. I’m able to bring home the bacon, cook it up for my kids, clean the house, get everyone to where they need to be and fall into bed utterly exhausted and think, Okay, you did it, you are capable, you are amazing.
There have also been many days when everything is going pretty smoothly and I stand in the middle of my living room looking out at the trees that need to be pruned and remember the car payment is due, and my phone is dinging with reminders of dentist appointments and scheduled work calls.
These are the days I feel lonely and need help. The hard part is, I don't know what to ask for. It's not that I need someone to swoop in and take care of the yard work or drive my kids around (as lovely as that would be) I've been doing it all for over two years now–I’m used to it. I’ve proven to myself time and time again that everything will all get done. And if it doesn't, it's not the end of the world.
The truth is, I want help and support but I don't want to bother anyone. I want to reach out, but I don't know what I need. I've gotten so good at handling everything, I don't know the first thing about asking for help any longer.
A few close friends and loved ones have told me it seems like I'm doing just fine and have everything under control, so why bother to offer, ask or insist?
The truth is, there isn't a divorced person with kids, especially teenagers, who doesn't need a hand. At the very least, a "how are you today,” or “how can I support you," every now and again doesn’t hurt. There are many days when divorced parents don't have time (or the head space) to ask for help.
Even if they never ask, even if they say they are great and everything is status quo, checking in on a divorced friend with teenagers, who seems to have it all figured out, will speak volumes to her. She needs it, she needs you. Even if she says “everything is going great, I don’t need you.”
"Challenging doesn't begin to describe that situation," says Forrest Talley, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist who has worked with many single mothers with teens.
Helping them out can simply mean being a friend by inviting them to outings and making an effort to get to know their children, says Talley. Once you do this, you will earn their trust and from there, she will be able to reach out and ask for help from time to time, and you will have more insight into what she may need, which many times is simply just being there as a friend.
"In nearly all instances, single mothers with teens do not want anyone to feel sorry for them, or to be seen as a charity case,' says Talley. "They want others to accept them as being strong, capable and resilient."
So, from the outside they may seem like there's not a thing you can do for them but really, it's incredibly hard to ask because they are in survival mode, knowing the amount of weight they need to carry to get through daily life.
We all have a lot going on and there isn't a parent of teens alive who wonders how they are going to get it all done, partner or not. But, if you know of a single mom with teens, reaching out every once in a while to offer some support doesn’t hurt.
She may not always take it, but just knowing someone is there and cares enough to check in on her, or invite her to do something with you (or your entire family) can do wonders for her.