We wish we knew everything about how to be perfect single parents. How to do it all fresh-faced, with ease, and in high heels. But the truth is a little more unvarnished — and it wears flats. We know from our collective years of experience that single parenting is anything but easy. We know it’s as rewarding as it is challenging. And we’ve learned that it’s a constantly unravelling journey. We’re two divorced moms who met each other in different stages of that journey. And we find power in sharing our truth. In fact, that was the driving force behind creating the Feel Free Community, a safe space to heal for people seeking to live their best lives post divorce. As we all share our experiences, we grow, evolve, and learn. Here’s what we’ve come to know for sure:
Rhianna: Be your own best partner. Parenting is one of the hardest experiences I’ve ever had, and also the most rewarding. My ex and I didn’t always agree on much in the parenting department when we were together, and that only intensified when we split. The mama bear in me had a hard time sending the kids to their dad’s place because his style was so different, and I worried about how they would adjust. When all my fear, anxiety, and anger over this became too much, I came to realize the only person I can control is myself. I turned to meditation and spirituality and took accountability for my own emotions and behaviours. It’s still not always perfect, but I keep refining myself, as one would in a healthy relationship. Being my own best partner has had a reassuring effect on my kids.
Elissa: If I’d been as good a wife as I am an ex-wife and co-parent, I’d still be married. All the lessons I learned as a divorced co-parent could easily be applied to any relationship: pick your battles, go with the flow, and be kind. My ex lives a 12-hour drive away in the US, and I’ve always marvelled at how dedicated a dad he is, even across the miles. We parent differently, and our daughter had some adjustments at first, but we hit an even keel once I learned to give up things like rigid rules, control, and the need to always be right. So what if he only gave me 12 hours notice because he missed his daughter so much he couldn’t wait to come and visit? It’s good for her. After all our marital conflict, we came to learn in divorce that we both had the same #1 priority: our girl. He’s been just as kind and easygoing in response. We’re proud of the co-parents we are, but only because we let our battles stay where they belonged: in our marriage.
Rhianna: The joy is in the journey. I dated someone right after my marriage ended. He was great for my confidence, and for bringing back my mojo, but it didn’t last. Having been with my ex since I was 23 years old, and married for 16 years, dating was completely foreign, and I kept it completely separate from the kids. We all needed to work on our healing, and establish our new family unit before I’d let anybody in. Now I feel like it’s time to explore dating again, since both my kids have told me it would be okay if I got a boyfriend. Not that I need their permission, but it feels good to have it. I’ve been on some interesting dates, but I know I have things to accomplish personally first. Now that I feel like I’ve evolved into this new me, I may be ready to find someone to complement our lives.
Elissa: Time heals — and sometimes you need more time. I only ever introduced my daughter to one man, and that man ended up being her stepdad. This is a long, emotional story for me, and for my daughter, and it’s a lesson that still haunts me. I left that marriage two years ago, and made my daughter my focus. I’ve looked at dating apps and even had a couple of coffee dates, but every time I come back to the need to heal and bond with my 14-year-old daughter. I told her about a terrible coffee date a few weeks back. After initially looking shocked, she laughed with me and promised me she’d help me pick the next one. After feeling powerless for years, she’s earned the right to have a say in who I bring into our family.
Rhianna: Find your joy — and don’t apologize for it. I was a stay-at-home mother for a very long time. My work was limited to what I could do while moving from city to city with my hockey player ex. When I got divorced, I suddenly had to rebrand myself. I had to take all my experience gathered over 20 years and magically turn that into a meaningful career that I could approach with passion. Even as a stay-at-home mom, I felt guilty — Am I doing this right? Did I f- them up? — so imagine how I felt as a suddenly single working mom. But building the Feel Free Podcast and Community brings me such joy, I know it’s the path I’m supposed to be on. And the guilt has suddenly disappeared. Of course, I still feel occasional guilt over the smallest of things, but now I share these emotions with other moms and there’s comfort in knowing I’m not alone.
Elissa: Ditch guilt and stay in the now! When my baby came out, the guilt came flowing in. Is it like that for all mothers? Once I split from my ex, my guilt grew. I felt awful about everything: keeping my daughter from seeing her dad every day, keeping him from her, travelling for work, being on my phone too much. Then a wise person told me that guilt is like being in a rocking chair: you can go back and forth on it, but you never get anywhere. I decided my daughter needs me to be present, not guilty. As a working single mother who’s also building this Community and Podcast, I literally have no time for guilt. I now ration my energy like I do my time: with intention and love.
Rhianna: Make new traditions. The thought of not seeing the kids all day on every holiday is so painful. The last few Christmases we opened presents at my house, and their father came for an hour in the morning. As time goes on, we realize we may need to change that practice. Our parenting plan clearly lays out the holidays, but it’s not always set in stone. One thing I don’t regret putting in the plan is a period of time for travel. On the second week of every Christmas break, the kids and I go on a holiday with my mother, brother and his family, and friends. It’s a way to create a new tradition that may be less-than-traditional for some. Due to Covid it’s cancelled this year, of course, so, like everyone else, I’m anxiously anticipating the new schedule.
Elissa: Merry and Bright is too high a bar. Seriously, though, I now know why my mother always looked so exhausted in our Christmas pictures. It’s a lot. And she wasn’t even a single mom! As a single parent hosting the other parent during the holidays, I find it to be a mixed bag of pleasure and pain-in-the-a$$. The joy comes from everyone being together and the warmth I feel when I know my daughter got what she wanted for Christmas — both her parents in one place. The stress comes from me and my wasband (yep, I coined that) sharing close quarters and remembering why we split in the first place. But we’re family, and isn’t family supposed to drive each other a bit crazy during the holidays? My best advice: embrace the mess. You can toss it in the recycling bin once the holidays are over.
Rhianna Weaver and Elissa Lansdell are co-hosts of the Feel Free Podcast and co-founders of the Feel Free Community, a safe space to heal for people considering or experiencing divorce. Find them at www.feelfreecommunity.com, on Facebook @thrivingthroughdivorce, on Insta @feelfreeco, @rhiannaweaver and @elissalansdell.