Observations on Life with Kids After Divorce
Single moms are often clumped into one statistical group. While many similarities exist among single moms, they also tend to have vast differences that are often overlooked. Three single mom households participated in our study: Christy, Tammy, and Alfie; this article will explore both the similarities and differences found among these families.
Attitude Toward Life After Divorce
A key finding in this study was the differences in the moms' attitude towards life after divorce; Christy has an attitude of hope for the future, while Tammy is stuck in the pain of her past. One distinguishing factor seems to be whether the divorce was mutual.
Christy (48) has two children: Jessica (12), and Ricky (12). Her children were adopted from Slovenia at infancy and are not biological siblings. Christy and her ex-husband were married for 16 years and divorced 3 years ago. The biggest factor in their divorce was their differences in their faith; although both Christians, Christy wanted to raise their kids on biblical principles, and her ex-husband did not see this as important. Over time, Christy realized this was a very big problem as it began to affect their relationship and their parenting techniques. Their divorce was mutual, and although there is still evidence of past resentments, Christy explains the relationship with her ex-husband as "friendly." She has moved on and is now focused on her future. Although Christy is cautious in her relationships, she is ready and open to marriage again. Christy is currently in a dating relationship with a man she met while volunteering at Habitat for Humanity. Christy believes that God has a plan for her future and she looks forward to living out God's purpose for her life.
Tammy (41) also has two children: Jeremy (8), and Seth (6). Tammy was married for 15 years before she and her husband divorced. Her husband had an affair with and married the woman whom Tammy now refers to as his "mistress." Tammy has a great deal of bitterness towards her ex-husband, to the point where she seems stuck in her past and unable to look towards a future outside of her original goals and desires. Tammy shares in great detail how the choices of her ex-husband have hurt her and her children. She expresses her pain and hurt at the situation, anger at her ex-husband, and desire to shield her boys as much as possible from hurt. Tammy recognizes the need to move on and into God's plan for her future (and believes at the same time she is there), but she focuses much of her life on the past and the hurt she and her kids have endured because of the divorce. Tammy wishes her life were how it used to be and that her family was still together.
These two single moms differ greatly in their outlook on their futures. One is clearly stuck in the hurt of her divorce and reminisces over the loss of her ideal family life, whereas the other still experiences negative consequences of her divorce but has moved into a forward-looking mindset.
Although these two single moms have different attitudes towards their ex-husbands, both experience the same struggles in parenting when their ex-husbands employ different rules and boundaries. These differences (and the lack of support for their own standards) cause both Tammy and Christy a great deal of stress and angst, especially because each of them essentially split custody with their ex-husbands—so while they are the primary parental influence, their children spend as much (or nearly as much) time at their dads'. Tammy and Christy each have tried to set consistent parenting techniques with their spouse, without success.
Christy tends to be the stricter parent of the two when it comes to enforcing rules and boundaries. Christy wishes her and her ex-husband's parenting techniques were more aligned, but recognizes she cannot control his parenting. Christy describes their co-parenting plan as "when they're at your house, it's your rules." Tammy takes a slightly different approach and simply doesn't ask what goes on while the kids are at their dad's house. She becomes too emotionally charged and therefore chooses to avoid the stress their different parenting choices would bring. The third single mom in this study, Alfie, was never married and the fathers of her children are not present in her life. Although this circumstance presents its own difficulties, the absence of co-parenting creates less stress for her as a parent and provides her the benefit of rearing her kids with one parental philosophy.
Co-parenting, specifically when the parents adhere to different parenting rules and boundaries, seems to be one of the biggest stressors for single moms. They work hard to instill values in their kids, only for them to receive a different message from the other parent. Most single moms with joint custody will deal with this issue at some point in raising her kids.
Openness to Resources
The three single moms in our study show similarities in their openness to parenting resources, but difference in their openness to marriage resources. All three of the single moms in this study seek similar parenting resources. They find abundant resources regarding parenting philosophies, but would like to have more resources that address practical parenting advice, such as dealing with behavioral issues in everyday situations. Additionally, they do not have a lot of time to seek out resources, so they need quick Internet articles or things they can listen to while multi-tasking.
However, these moms differ in their openness to marriage resources. Christy would welcome resources and advice for dating as a single mom, as she has difficulty knowing how to navigate these issues with her children. Tammy on the other hand does not seem open to resources addressing her divorce—which seems to be a reminder that she is now single and can date; this would be seen as a weakness to her. To reach her effectively, we must reach her felt need first (practical parenting advice) and then reach her actual need of support through her grief of her divorce. Finally, Alfie seems to know the ropes of dating, so she just wants help finding a spouse!
The issues addressed here confirm the similarities for many single moms, and also highlight the differences present. Understanding and recognizing all types of single moms will be an important factor in reaching them and supporting their needs.
Originally published November 2010