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

All-Consuming

Last week, I returned from a week-long work trip. “Look what I got, Mommy!” screeched my 9-year-old. She held up a My Little Pony Book. “Where did you get that?” I asked. “From the book fair,” she replied. “The book fair I told you we were not buying from?” I inquired. “Yes,” she said as the realization that she was in trouble settled over her face, “but my friend bought it for me.” Then, my 10-year-old chimed in, “She bought me something too!”

Grumble.

I realize that the scenario above appears benign, or even lovely, given that another little girl was articulating her friendship through this act of purchasing. But, I was furious. I had told my girls that we weren’t buying anything this time because…well…we did not need to. An entire wall of their room is overflowing with books. Not to mention, they are consistently inundated with messages pushing them towards consumerism (schools are constantly selling sugary snacks, billboards bombard them in the car, television convinces them they need every new toy). When I pushed a bit further, I discovered this to be the case with the book fair. My girls said that a couple of their peers were making fun of them for not buying anything. My girls wanted to feel better, so they bought something. They aren’t the first to fall for the illusory promise of contentment through consumerism.

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According to UCTV’s “Cluttered Life: Middle-Class Abundance,” 3.1% of the world’s children live in America, but they own 40% of the toys consumed globally. In 2012, Psychology Today reported that Americans spend more on shoes, jewelry, and watches than on higher education. The Self Storage Association reports that there is a 7.3 square feet of self-storage space for every person in the nation. So, it is physically possible that every American could stand under the total canopy of self-storage roofing. We have a lot of stuff. Yet, according to the 2017 Harris Poll Survey of American Happiness, only 33% of Americans are happy. It does not take a course in advanced logic to recognize that all of our stuff is not making us happy.

At a fundamental level, we all know that stuff won’t make us happy. If it did, we’d all be high-fiving in the streets instead of spewing venom at one another on social media and wrestling in the aisles of WalMart. Researchers Luther and Latendress suggest that rich kids, the ones with all the toys and gadgets, are actually more depressed and anxious than their middle- or low-income peers. The truth is, the real needs of children are very limited. When left to their own devices, children play in and with their natural environment, they activate their imaginations, they problem-solve and have conversations with themselves and their friends.

That life, the one where kids are perpetually pushed towards self-discovery, is what I want for my kids. But, it is a battlefield out there. Everywhere you look, kids are being convinced that they “need” more than they really need. As parents, we are being convinced that our affection can be communicated through buying more stuff, throwing bigger parties, or keeping our kids on trend. I speak from experience. I’ve been there. When I was married, I had a life full of stuff. My kids had their own playroom dedicated to their stuff. None of that stuff meant we were happy and none of it made us feel any better when our lives fell apart. At some point, I realized that all the video games, fidget spinners, latest dolls, trendy shoes, sacks of plastic uselessness from parties, and what-nots were sucking my kids into an endless cycle of superficial gratification at the expense of their real happiness.

As Christians, we are quick to quote Philippians 4:13 (“I can do anything through Christ, who strengthens me”), because we want to affirm (or advertise) our power in Christ. Often, we use this verse as motivation to accumulate. Surely, the sight of Christians extolling the possibility of their dreams (cars, mansions, Yeezys) achieved through their belief is not isolated to my news feed or my life. Yet, we conveniently forget that the preceding verses, 11-12, admonish us to find contentment in our circumstances rather than through more things: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

As parents, our driving force is our kids’ long-term happiness. Given the overwhelming, observable, and Biblical evidence that consumerism does not facilitate (and can even thwart) their happiness, why are we so committed to it? Parents, can we fight this together? Can we remind our children that their worth is not tied to any extraneous purchase? Can we consistently have conversations about what kids really need? Can we talk to them about the difference between “need” and “want,” and how to practice discernment? Can we, please, commit to helping one another out of the cycle of consumerism so that we can set an example of true happiness for our children? I know that I am guilty of giving in to the impulse to purchase-away my anxieties. I could use some friends to remind me that buying cannot supplant believing and consumerism will never fill a spirit. I will do my best to help you too, so that we can all feel confident saying, “No, you don’t need to buy that,” even at a book fair, knowing that our kids will be better for it.

By A. Smith