I am a divorced single mother, how can I help my children adjust?

  • For Love & Money is Insider’s bi-weekly column that answers your questions about relationships and money.
  • This week, a reader asks how to help her children adjust to her new status as a low-income single mother.
  • Our columnist says that children only need two things to succeed in life: love and household chores (science says so).
  • A question for our columnist? Write to For Love & Money using this Google form.

Dear for love and money,

I’m a single mom trying to get out of debt after a costly divorce and going from a two income household to one. I try to help my children understand a new “cheaper” lifestyle and difficulties!


Stressed and struggling

Dear stressed and struggling,

When I read your letter, I felt a lot of guilt. I understand. Although I’ve never been exactly in your position, I know quite a bit about the guilt that can be inextricably linked to motherhood. I want my children to have everything at the same time, but not grow up to be authorized pests. I want my children to feel my constant devotion and also see me modeling personal boundaries and self-care. I want my children to be protected from all possible danger, but also to learn to calculate their own risks so that they can eventually protect themselves.

The problem with wanting so many conflicting things for my kids is that I’m setting myself up to fail. Although each of these conflicting ideals is half possible, I never celebrate my victories, but rather spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing over my failures. It’s called mommy guilt – and you know it’s a thing when they add the “mommy” prefix.

I don’t know your situation, but I doubt that when you had children with your ex-partner, you imagined those children accepting a cheaper lifestyle because their parents were no longer together. My advice, which is harder to accept than to give, is to focus on what you have given your children, not what they have lost.

Reframe the way you view your divorce

Divorce is usually the result of the weight of discontent of one or both parties growing to such an extent that the marriage breaks down under the strain. Your children are now free of this weight, a weight they always seem to feel, no matter how hard we try to protect them from it. Your divorce has lightened the load on your children, and that’s a gift.

Another gift you give them is to show the importance of living within their means, something millions of adults with crippling credit card debt only wish they had learned growing up.

Maybe I’m wrong and you don’t feel guilty about how your new financial situation is affecting your family and you just need help figuring out how to communicate to your kids that they’re going to survive smaller birthday parties and store brand cereals. But my tips for helping your kids understand their new, cheaper lifestyle have even more to do with you than with them.

You just have to keep living within your means, say no, and walk them through this new world until they get used to it. The problem is that because of “mom guilt”, watching them cry over things they used to get but you can’t afford to give them anymore is excruciating.

All the kids need is love and chores

For her book, “How to Raise an Adult,” Julie Lythcott-Haims, author, lecturer and former freshman dean at Stanford University, reviewed the longest-running longitudinal human study conducted by Harvard University. over 75 years and discovered that there are only two elements to raising a successful child: love and household chores.

Seriously, that’s it. According to Lythcott-Haims, chores give children a sense of purpose and belonging, while unconditional love provides emotional security in which children can thrive.

What I’m trying to say is that while I know watching your kids adjust to a lower income can make you feel like you’ve failed to provide for them, if you offer unconditional love and a to-do chart, you’re giving them everything they need to succeed. But just because you no longer feel guilty doesn’t mean they won’t complain when their current material conditions no longer measure up to the past. When they do, encourage them to think about what they have, not what they don’t have.

The bad news is that they are children. They’ve experienced a dual income lifestyle and nothing you can do short of burdening them with your financial pressures is likely to reset their brains with smaller expectations. But there’s also good news: they’re getting older every day, and at some point, they’ll figure it out. Until then, stay strong and remember what you give them every day. Keep it up long enough and eventually they’ll follow suit.

Remember that parenthood is a long game. Your kids probably won’t understand this new, cheaper way of living right now, but they will one day. And in the meantime, they still have an amazing mom.

Rooting for you,

For love and money

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