Surviving Divorce and Thriving as a Single Mom

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Single mom life is tough - I’m raising two boys on one income - no child support or government assistance. I don’t make a huge salary, but we live a pretty good life, and I’m proud of my little family. We’ve learned a lot over the past two years, through struggles and celebrations, and I’m grateful for the lessons.

At the time of my divorce, my ex-husband and I lived over an hour away from any family, friends and my job. I had no support network in that little Oklahoma town. Many times my ex-husband demanded I quit my job and find something closer, but I loved what I did each day. I had a boss, a team and a culture which encouraged me to grow and be successful. I wasn’t willing to give it up.

Our marriage had always been troubled, but when I discovered he was having an affair it was apparent my marriage was over. My world was falling apart, but it was my team at work who got me through the days. My two little boys were depending on me to make sure we were okay through the chaos of divorce. I had some tough choices to make and lessons to learn during this time.

 After we filed for divorce, I moved to the same town where my job was located. Within days, we had a small apartment, my oldest son transferred to the new school and after school care set up for him. My youngest remained in his same daycare - 35 minutes away.

 This created a long commute and made for very long days. To get both kids to school and me to work on time, we had to leave by 6:00 AM daily, even earlier in poor weather conditions. We did it for nine months. The schools supplied breakfast, and I used my crockpot faithfully to keep us fed with home-cooked meals. Meal planning was a critical skill I had to master.

Money was always tight with my ex-husband, but I was used to two incomes when raising my kids. On my own now, I had to learn how to budget tightly and say no to non-essentials. It didn’t help when I was hit with a garnishment from an eviction my husband had received while we were separated a few years before.

 At first, I was angry, but with some soul searching, I realized that although this was not my debt, it was my fault for not having my name removed from the lease when I left and for not settling the debt legally during the divorce.

 Once I took ownership in my part of the situation, I realized that with budgeting I could afford to have 25% of my check deducted each week. The debt would be paid off by the end of summer proving I could afford a better place to live. So, I accepted the lesson I had to learn, and God saw us through - we survived.

 Not only did we survive, but the kids and I also thrived. I found several free activities for us to do in the summer, like hiking and visiting parks. We even took a small vacation to Silver Dollar City and stayed with a family member. I was able to hang on to most of my savings, so when the garnishment ended, we were able to move to a better home.

 We moved to the town where my parents live. God provided a home to rent just minutes from my sons’ schools in a friendly neighborhood. The boys love our big backyard where we play most evenings. My parents helped with getting kids to and from school, especially when I was still working 35 minutes away. Life is better - much better.

 Over the past year, I was promoted with my company, and I am blessed to work from home. I have a great team and no need for daycare. I still budget and avoid non-essentials. I use my crockpot, and I am a master meal planner - with a binder system to prove it! We eat at home mostly and pack picnics when we travel. Last year, we took a bigger vacation to visit a friend who lives in the Gulf of Mexico.

 I’ve learned over the past two years how to set goals and reach for my dreams. I’m already planning next year’s vacation - a camping trip to Yellowstone National Park. But, the most important thing I’ve learned in this time is to lean into the Lord.

 Two years ago, I was a long-time agnostic - a jaded, “recovering” Catholic. Raised in the Catholic church, I had a hard time reconciling my parents’ divorce with the older Catholic dogma. In my teenage years, I briefly attended a non-denominational church, but it didn’t stick. I spent most of my twenties and thirties struggling with faith and trying to put God in my own definition.

 Thank goodness the Lord doesn’t give up easily! Even in my years of sin, He still protected me from so much darkness. The demons that haunt my ex-husband never got their hooks into me, by the grace of God. When I finally realized how much I needed Christ in my life, I fell to my knees in my room and pleaded for salvation. I never knew such love existed until that day. It has changed my life and the lives of my children.

 At the beginning of my divorce, I questioned myself daily, asking “Am I doing the right thing?” It took a little time, but I began to realize that I was making good decisions, thanks to feedback and encouragement from friends. These friends were living good, successful and faith-filled lives - I could trust the source. After years of gaslighting, I’ve learned to trust my own instincts again, and I have a faith deeper than I could have imagined. I made a conscious decision to take responsibility for my sins, seek forgiveness and live a life of faith - and it has made all the difference.

 The last two years haven’t been all roses, though. I’ve lost friends and loved ones with making these changes. I’ve had to deal with ghosts of the past and negative people in our lives. However, I don’t get discouraged when people hold my past against me - I know where my value lies. I keep my head up and understand that each decision I make is leading me to a better life. I know His truth and do my best to live it in the face of those who oppose me.

 Here’s what worked for me:

 Faith

 Forgiveness

 Accountability

Gratitude

My church   

A support system is a MUST.

Clear communication with everyone

 Setting boundaries

 Planning and backups

Budgeting

Fellowship

Seeing problems as opportunities for growth

Meal planning, a crockpot, and premade crusts

Making friends with people who have faith, integrity, and goals

Free, fun activities like hiking and parks

These were my failures:

Living without faith

Reacting emotionally to things outside my control

Not asking for child support.

Not making a clear parenting plan with a schedule.

Not separating the debt legally.

Not having a lawyer

Believing the threats

I’m still working on overcoming my weaknesses. I continue to read and learn how to be a good steward of my resources and how to grow my faith. I’m frugal, but I want my kids to have a great life, so I plan accordingly. I work every day to see the lesson that God is teaching me. I do my best to be a good leader for my household. I pray - A LOT! I’m not perfect, not even close, but I’m trying to be better than I was yesterday. Being a single mom isn’t easy, but with God on my side, it’s worth every moment!

~Tabitha Gripka

Still in Process

Where is the money is my constant thought whenever we get to this time of year, tax season. I realize I haven’t planned my finances well again as I am running short on my cash flow. How can I make it through this and salvage my not so great choices thus far? Yes, somehow the money lasts just long enough till the next set of bills appear.

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 How many times do I have to do this to myself? I keep saying I am going to plan for a better budget next year. I do prepare the budget, and I figure out ways to pay off debt. I tell l myself I am going to save the truth is I do save. The savings ended up going to the car that broke down, the next appliance on the fritz, and the kid who has to have something to wear to school because they have grown again. Where is the money supposed to come from? There has never been a thing called alimony in my life because I am pretty sure you have to get married for that. At this point, I’m not sure anyone can stand me except me (insert laugh here). I have also never received a dime of child support. However, in many ways, though I thought I am blessed because I didn’t have to deal with any of it. 

 Last night, however, I was seriously trying to decide was more critical gas in the car, food that night, or food tomorrow. I decided gas has to be the most important because I can’t just call into work and say I don’t have the money to get there.  I can do without food for a few days. I’m driving home in tears which I don’t recommend to any of you. I couldn’t believe in a year I had gone from having enough money to being in the place of lack. 

What happened?

I really started to think about my mindset and because I know the way I see things can make all the difference.  What had happened this last year or even in the previous week that I had not been dealing with. I kept shoving my emotions in a drawer and just leaving them there. 

I have lost some family this last year and a friend I wish to see healed instead they die. Friendships have ended, pets have been killed, and my most recent relationship with someone special dissipated though I don’t even know why. I have been slapped multiple times by my emotions, but I have had worse years. 

What is the difference?

I am more isolated where I live now in the middle of nowhere. There is no one ever knocking at my door. 

I don’t invite people over because I have been moving forever and can’t seem to empty all the boxes. 

There has been no more hanging out with girlfriends and just venting about my life regularly to just get it out.

My responsibilities and the pressure of them have increased 10 fold this year as well. 

I decided this year I wanted to be more positive and apparently it has been a struggle. I’m really into books this year, so I was like most google what’s the most popular positive thinking book… The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. I started to listen to it last night on the way to a meeting.  

I began to listen to a man that seemed a thousand lives away from me. It helped me to know that he was a believer because I have been struggling with trust and faith. 

In the section, I was listening to in the book was about confidence, and thought oh boy something I don’t want to hear about. I continue to listen anyway because it is dangerous to change a book while driving. Norman talked about this person he knew that was just so down in the dumps all the time. They always expected that something would go wrong and when he met with them a couple months later the person was completely changed. 

What did they do to change?

They read the Bible. (Not what you wanted to hear either, eh?) Yeah, I was like and your point? But he mentions they read the first books of the New Testament and underlined every passage that spoke of faith and courage. This is not something I had heard of before and then also committed them to memory. After that, I was like there is no way I have time to do that!

However, I have thought about this last year again and how much time I have wasted allowing these negative thoughts and pains to fill my head over and over. My views of myself, and finances right now are stressed. What would I lose by trying it?

There is not I am great, and everything is lovely right now, but I have some hope this is just a season of my life. I have some faith now that it will be okay and believe it. I am still praying, and still in process. 

Emse Alburn

www.esmealburn.com

Minimalist Motherhood

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." ~ Hebrews 13:5

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That passage from Scripture is a foundational part of my life with my two girls. I’ll admit, it wasn’t always this way. 

After my divorce, I moved from a moderate suburban home to an urban apartment and was forced to downsize. At first, I panicked. Who would I be without a two-car garage? How would my kids exist without a giant trampoline next to their pool in the backyard? What kind of mother doesn’t have a designated playroom for her kids? But, it took less than 24 hours for me to realize that this downsizing was the most healing endeavor in which I’d engaged since my husband high-tailed it out of state and out of our lives. 

So, I purged again. And again. And again. I am now an enthusiastic purger of things.

I purge about three times a year. I have emptied closets. I have thrown out everything from nick-knacks to my entire bedroom set. Yes, you read that right. I sleep on a mattress on the floor. Why? Because it is more comfortable. Because I chose my own comfort over my concern for the expectations of others. After seeing me do it, my girls decided to ditch their bunk beds. I swapped my “grown up art” for a Wolverine decal that overlooks our dining room table. Oh my, goodness! Our lives are better for it!  Together, we have eliminated all of our extra furniture and have found our sparsely decorated space to ooze the peace we once thought we could purchase. 

Less stuff means fewer things to worry about when we could be investing energy into each other. Less space means less cleaning and more time to engage the world around us. Less focus on empty vessels means more energy to put into refilling the most important vessels – our souls. 

We don’t have much stuff, but we have a great life. For the most part. 

You see, it is impossible for inoculate our little den of peace from the rest of the world. And when you live a bit differently than society tells you that you should live, there is a need to be vigilant about not giving into the tension between true, lasting happiness and the momentary rush of social acceptance. 

I have experienced this tension first hand since moving my kids to a better school (read: school in a wealthier neighborhood). Please don’t get me wrong, I would not move my kids back to a floundering school to avoid this tension. My kids are flourishing socially and academically, and I am thankful every day that they are where they are, loving to learn. But, the tension is there.

I first noticed it in the after school programs. There are myriad “enrichment” programs (from robotics to tumbling), for a fee. So, there is the constant pressure to drop money into programs to help your children gain that extra edge. 

I’ll admit, I fell for it the first time. My older daughter really wanted to cheer. I wanted so badly to tell her no. You want me to pay for 8 weeks of chant-learning and smile practicing? You clearly don’t know your mother at all, I thought. But, I caved. I asked for a payment plan and committed myself to paying for the 8 week program. Then came the kicker…the kids were given the “option” to buy a uniform for another couple hundred dollars. I could probably stretch my budget to make it happen, but I didn’t want to. This wasn’t a competitive cheer team; this was an after school program. Why would I spend my money that way?  And I was honest with my daughter about it. No biggie, I thought, clearly some other parents, no matter their economic status, would make the calculation that these uniforms were not worth the investment. 

I was wrong. My daughter was the ONLY one without a uniform. Gulp.

Still no biggie, I thought. My girl is smart enough to recognize that standing out is not a bad thing and that joy does not come from conformity or an outfit; as well as reason through the economics of it. So, I talked to my daughter and I was right, everything was fine. Whew!

Unfortunately, I was not the only person in her ear. Later the same day, she came home and told me that she would be borrowing a uniform since everyone else had one. “What?” I questioned, “We were fine being different. We were going to put you in something fun and unique, and not worry about the expected ‘costume.’” “I know, Mom,” she said, “But everyone else has one.” Ugh.

With that one sentence, I saw three years of re-framing and intrapersonal focus drip out of her little head and slip through my fingers. Suddenly, it was more important to be like everyone else, to have what they have, than to make decisions that made sense for our lives. I was sad and angry. I wanted to call the coach and yell at her, but I didn’t. I knew that this woman was just trying to make my kid feel better and that, for so many of us, we fall prey to the lie that fitting into a crowd feels better (and is easier) than taking the time to find what makes us truly unique, and truly happy. So, I lost that battle. 

I tried not to overreact or map too many of my own feelings onto her situation, but it was a struggle. It was a small struggle in a war that I imagine I will be waging for years to come. It is a struggle for happiness, the kind you cannot buy, the kind that only comes from being at peace with yourself, with your situation on Earth, and with your relationship with God. For me, it has been easy, because I have already lived a life filled with unnecessary things, and in that thing-filled life, I was miserable. I know that happiness is not material and that freedom does not come from burying ourselves in things.

But I worry about this struggle with my girls. Frankly, I have seen too many young people suffer from the emptiness that comes from living a life full of things. I work at an institution populated by some of the wealthiest young people I’ve ever encountered. That same institution also boasts alarmingly high rates of “feelings of loneliness.” I have spent a lot of time with young adults who are searching for meaning, addicted to trying to buy it, and trapped in a cycle of superficial gratification that makes them miserable. I don’t want this for my kids. I want my kids to be fulfilled by their Creator, by their ability to recognize their uniqueness, and by their relationships. 

I am vigilant in prayer about this issue. I honestly pray that there is never an Earthly thing to which my girls tie emotion. I pray, constantly, that their emotions are only tied to the people they love and who love them, their appreciation for experiences; and gratitude for life, grace, and salvation. Because, as Jesus warned the greedy man: "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." ~ Luke 12:15

-A. Smith