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A Divorced Blogger: My First 1.5 Years as a Single Mother

I want to begin writing again, but I will confess that I am beginning with some trepidation. Figuring out how to begin this story has been very difficult. I mentally crumpled up draft after draft and threw them in the digital waste bin, unable to properly articulate what C and I have been through. Re-reading this, there’s so much I have had to leave out about my personal experience—my divorce has been shockingly dramatic at times, to say the least — but I really think it’s for the best.

This will likely be the only post where I discuss C’s experience in detail. There is a very fine line between too little and too much information. I hope I have managed it well.

***

In January of 2012, I left my husband of five years. Out of respect for both his privacy and my daughter, I will not go into great detail about the reasons I left, but the important piece is this: Everything C knew of life, from the womb up until the day we left, was tension and anxiety. Any time I think of what C's life must have been like, I think of our poor dog, who lived much of her life with her tail between her legs.

C held it together through the upheaval surrounding our separation, even though it included a lot of change. She and I traveled to Oregon to stay with my parents, took a ten-hour drive back to California, lived in a motel for nine days, and found a small new apartment where we shared a room. Everything fell apart four months later, though, when I got a job outside of the home.

Starting Daycare

I have been the only constant in C's life. To this day, she has never spent a night away from me, and I am the only one to ever comfort her at night. For a child who often struggles to go to sleep and doesn’t sleep well at night, this is a big deal. She is two-and-a-half and still wakes up at night, scared. The first time she spent more than three hours away from me was her first visitation day with her dad at 18 months. At the time I went to work, C was a little over 18 months, and she had never been away from me for any real length of time.

I found a job, specifically looking for something flexible. I was very lucky to find something that allowed me shorter-than-average days (thanks Joanna!), so that C wouldn’t have to be away from me for 10 hours a day. The job is also four days a week, which has proven absolutely necessary for C’s well being.

Once I found a job, I started looking for a daycare. I did a ton of research, trying to find the best possible place for her. When I found the daycare I settled on, I felt confident that she would be in a loving environment. There were 14 kids and 5 adults. The caregivers assured me that she would be well cared for emotionally and that they would help her through a difficult transition.

The transition to daycare was far worse than I ever could have imagined. I prepared her for it ahead of time, explaining what would happen, and taking her for visits. The first day I left her, she screamed “MOMMY! MOMMY!” and had a look of total terror on her face. I again assured her she would be fine, exited quickly per the Internet’s advice, and held it together until I got outside, where I literally collapsed on the sidewalk. I felt horribly guilty. Thank God for my mother, who reminded me that I truly had no other choice—I had to work to support us.

You never know how strong you are until you’re forced to be.

C’s experience at that first daycare was so traumatizing for both of us that it literally pains me to recall it. The daycare provider tried everything she could, but she couldn’t comfort C. During the first week, she cried most of the day and refused to eat or drink. By the second week, she was withdrawn and quietly depressed. When I came to pick her up after work, I would find her sitting in an outdoor swing with the primary caregiver, staring off into the distance. I started calling this behavior “going to her happy place.” Every once in awhile, she still goes to her happy place, but luckily I recognize what’s going on and can talk to her, which helps a lot (man, am I ever thankful she can communicate now!).

 

The daycare lasted for nearly a month before I realized it was never going to improve, and continuing to leave her there would just cause more trauma. The daycare had a caregiver entirely dedicated to C, but she still couldn’t cope. They gave her two more days until she was essentially kicked out, but none of us (me, C, or the caregivers) could take it anymore. My mom flew down from Oregon (again) to stay with C while we tried to find another option.

Thus began the search for a nanny we could afford. The nanny I found, Cyndi, was sent from heaven above, I swear. She is kind and patient, super experienced, and willing to work with C—but even she was blown away by the level of anxiety that C was displaying. She became completely hysterical by the sight of bark chips, sand, shadows on the ground...and a lot more. It was heartbreaking.

Cyndi worked very, very hard with C, and I credit her with much of C’s improvements during that period. Part of their time was spent in a nanny share with Cyndi’s son, which was ideal because C was also afraid of other children. By the end of their time together (Cyndi and her family moved), C walked right up to a group of kids playing in a sandbox at the park. That absolutely never would have happened just a few months prior.

Since our time with Cyndi, we have slowly worked our way into a preschool setting. After Cyndi, C had another nanny, attended a Montessori school with only six kids, and is now in a very calm, structured preschool with 12 kids. Although making that many transitions is far from ideal, we had a lot of unexpected issues arise that made it impossible to find the right situation immediately. In the end, I think it has turned out perfectly, because her school is fantastic. She will be able to stay there until she starts kindergarten, and, for the first time, she is thriving in a school environment.

***

A child who grows up with a baseline of stress develops a fight-or-flight response to any negative emotion. I did my best to create as relaxing an environment as I could for my daughter and I, and in some ways this made life even more confusing to her at first. One time, about a month after we left, my mom realized she forgot her glasses at my house and made some sort of exclamation like, “oh crap!” From the backseat, C started crying: “Mimi sad, Mimi sad.” My mother felt awful, and of course C picked up on that, too. Her life had become very calm, and she reacted to even the slightest bit of arousal.

Trying to Find Help

Soon after I started work, I went to a Meetup of “freshly single mothers.” One of the women in the group had a horribleexperience with domestic violence. Her son was in therapy at a clinic specializing in early childhood trauma, and had made great strides. I called the clinic as soon as I got home.

It took awhile to start the treatment, but C’s therapist has been incredibly helpful. She’s taught me how to communicate with C in a way that she understands, and in a way that offers her comfort. She’s also provided me with a long list of books (which I’ve added to), which have helped.

As her ability to express herself has developed, C’s inner turmoil has become more and more apparent. While it is heartbreaking to hear what’s going on inside her little head, she’s now able to understand my explanations more, and I’m able to ease her fears—currently focused on bugs, goats, and polar bears—more than I could before. I am so thankful that I found professional help for her when I did.

We are now a year and a half past the separation, and I have been working outside the home for over a year. It’s been about nine months since C started with her therapist, and I’ve found that a calm, relaxed home environment is what we both need to be happy. In many ways, things have improved a lot, but we still have a long way to go. She still doesn’t sleep, has a hard time with certain situations, and needs a very structured routine in order to feel safe.

Through this process, I have learned a lot about toddlers (sensitive toddlers specifically), and would love to share the information with others. While C’s emotions and reactions have been amplified due to her sensitivity and early experiences, many of her difficulties are issues that all toddlers struggle with. Some of the most common are separation anxiety, difficulty with sleep, fears of the unknown, and transitions.

Little kids don’t have to go through trauma to have a hard time with transitions. Despite this, finding resources to help C was really difficult. Many of the books and advice aimed at helping kids are for ages 3+, when you’re able to reason with them more successfully. Toddlers under two, on the other hand, face specific challenges…most notably a lack of ability to communicate. They’re also a lot more aware of their surroundings and other people’s emotions than we give them credit for. They may not be able to speak, but from a very early age kids can understand everythinggoing on around them, and are constantly trying to make sense of it. At times it was hard not to talk about the divorce in front of C, but she could understand everything we said.

The Future

I am sure that we have many challenges to face in the future, but I definitely think things are (finally, hopefully) improving. One of my main goals for C is to help her learn to be a strong woman—to find her own voice and speak her mind, even if it doesn’t please others. This is something that I have found challenging in my own life, and I think my personal experience (and that of other strong women we know) might be helpful to her.

The past year and a half has been very bumpy, and I’ve had to be very vigilant about protecting my daughter, while teaching her that she doesn’t need to be afraid so much. This wasn’t an experience I felt comfortable sharing at the time, but it feels right now. I am looking forward to sharing with you all again.

If there is anything at all you’re curious about, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments. If I don’t feel comfortable discussing it with the entire Internet, I will contact you directly. Thanks so much for sticking around.

Sara Olsher

Sara Olsher

Sara Olsher is the Founder + CEO of Mighty + Bright. She's a young cancer survivor, mom, and former single mom.

23 Responses

Marissa P.

Marissa P.

July 02, 2020

Your openness and honesty is truly treasured. Thank you for sharing, and my prayers continue to be with you and Sweet C. <3 You are a fabulous Mama, and are so inspiring.

D

D

July 02, 2020

Thank you for sharing your story. You seem like a great mama. Stay strong!

Melissa Dell

Melissa Dell

July 02, 2020

Oh man Sara, that is such a different perspective to put it in – from C. I can’t imagine how heartwrenching each day was, and trying to make things as best as possible for her, not knowing how quite to get there.

You’ve gone through a long journey with such a better outcome than I’m sure you thought would be at times. I do hope you’re able to help another mom or dad help their little one. And glad C is adjusting so well in her school! hugs!

Amanda Y

Amanda Y

July 02, 2020

Wow, thank you so much for sharing. I know you are not alone. You are amazing and C is SUCH a lucky little lady to have you.

Turtle

Turtle

July 02, 2020

What a strong woman you must be to have handled this experience. Everyday by teaching yourself and C the proper channels and methods of coping—those which require both the strength to act independently and the courage to rely on others—you are giving her gifts that she will treasure for her whole life. I’m glad that your little boat is moving into calmer waters.

Amy I.

Amy I.

July 02, 2020

Oh Sara. I’m so proud of you for sharing this. You’re one of the strongest people I know and I’m proud to call you my friend. C is so lucky to have you <3

Madam Von Sassypants

Madam Von Sassypants

July 02, 2020

You’re doing such a tremendous job, Sara! Wonderful insight into how little ones perceive and react to their environment—especially for someone with no kids (yet!). So glad you’re back to blogging here and there. 🙂

Sarah

Sarah

July 02, 2020

You are absolutely, positively, a sage of a mom. This is not to put pressure on you but I am so excited you are writing again and hope you will keep doing it as long as it remains a positive and therapeutic thing for you!!!

I know it’s not attractive to go all “here’s four hundred paragraphs about MY story” in the comments section—but I have to say I felt for C because this is exactly what I went through as a kid! Divorce, sent to kid therapy, my stay at home mom back to work, EFFING HATING DAYCARE and just sitting at the window waiting for my mom’s car to pull in for HOURS. For what it’s worth, as an adult I find all of this really funny and my mom and I now laugh about my time at Magic Fears (the daycare’s name was Magic Years).

Oh and that Camus quote is probably my favorite piece of words to ever be penned… I have actually been wanting a tattoo of it for some time now!

OK I am going to end my hijacking of your comments…. GO YOU and can’t wait to hear more!

 Karen Wolowicz

Karen Wolowicz

July 02, 2020

Sara, thank you for sharing!!! You are awe inspiring. Little C is so lucky to have such a strong Mama!!

c.

c.

July 02, 2020

Your daughter is very lucky to have you!

Dean G.

Dean G.

September 22, 2020

I was wondering why I hadn’t seen you in my FB feed in a while, and discovered you had this whole other life sharing your experiences with people. I’m so glad a wider audience is discovering how lovely, creative and brilliant you are, and that you’re helping others in the process.

Laurel Smith

Laurel Smith

September 22, 2020

You are incredible, strong and a wonderful mom. I’m glad you’ve been able to see what needs C had/has and do what needed to be done. C is one lucky little girl to have you as her mommy. I’m glad things are getting better for you!

Kelly M

Kelly M

September 22, 2020

You’ve been on my mind. I am so happy to hear that things are improving. C is so lucky to have such a wonderful, caring, and caring mama. I have dealt with anxiety for a majority of my life. I know my own parents were doing the best they could, but I can’t help but think how the out come could have been different had they thought to help me when I was young. You’re doing that for C. Your consciousness of the situation is so so so great. <3 hugs to both of you!

Laura Bowden

Laura Bowden

September 22, 2020

Reading this post made me want to read some of your old posts. And wow do those ring a bell. When I first read them I wasn’t a mom and now I am to a little girl who is also spirited and a pretty terrible sleeper. I can’t tell you how much it helps when I hear other women who I can relate to when it comes to spirited little non-sleepers. There are days where you wonder what you did in a past life to deserve so much sleep deprivation. You are obviously a very strong woman who loves her daughter incredibly much. I think a lot of people tell you that you have to be harder and tougher when you have a child that can be “difficult” at times. It is refreshing to me that you also believe that that is when a child needs more sensitivity and understanding. I’m glad your blogging again and wish you and C only the best!

friend from afar

friend from afar

September 22, 2020

FWIW, I think you did a fabulous job of walking that line in sharing your story. Also I didn’t know about the school and I am SO GLAD to hear she is flourishing there!!!!

Erin

Erin

September 22, 2020

I remember you from way back on the TK days and I’ve gone through my own struggles since then as well. You are incredibly strong for sharing that and what a lucky lucky lucky little girl C is to have you as her mother. Thank for opening up and I hope you continue to share your journey a bit. I’m wishing you the best and the happiness you truly deserve.

Mooners

Mooners

September 22, 2020

You & C are stronger than you know, as I’m sure you are beginning to find out. Never apologize for being protective of your child, it’s our job as parents. I so glad to hear from you again. You are spending lots of time helping to improve C, I hope you are getting a few mins a day to do the same for yourself. Take care.
xoxo
mooners

Katherine

Katherine

September 22, 2020

I just want to say- thank you for sharing.
And it helps because one woman’s strength as an individual & as a mom can inspire anothrr woman to be pro active despite the fears, anxiety of the unknown of a nee unexpected path.
Also i miss your writing. Your blogging does not need to be defined by being a single divorce mom. Your writing can still be everything you want it to be without the past. The past doesn’t define you. Your journey and day to day does. I would think?

Alright having said that i would love to know what books were helpful for you! I am always looking for books to read about child rearing: discipline, bkundaries. My child has major anxiety issues, and she will be starting part time half day pre school soon. I hope it will be good for her to branch out from our daily grind of play groups, park dates, random activities—- i want to give my kiddo more structure and a consistent peer group in a nuturing environment. I love my middo but the minor quirks to help her navigate through life can be so daunting and i never know if what I am doing is enough or adequate. :-[

reichel

reichel

September 22, 2020

What a GREAT post! How did I miss this until today?! Anyways, you did an AMAZING job walking the tight rope. It was just right. You’re awesome lady. Miss you!

Chanel Jibal

Chanel Jibal

September 22, 2020

I literally wanted to jump over and hug you & C threw the screen. We are all rooting for you here. Thank you so much for sharing you never know who else you touch and help through your words of experience and honest. xoxo

Cara

Cara

September 22, 2020

You are such a fabulous, lovely human being and mom.

Sara Olsher

Sara Olsher

September 22, 2020

Aw, thanks so much Dana. I saw your recent post about what you’ve been through in the past year. I’m glad you’re coming out the other side of it!

 Dana LaRue / Broke-Ass Bride

Dana LaRue / Broke-Ass Bride

September 22, 2020

I am so ridiculously proud of you, Sara. Thank you for sharing your story so candidly. I feel so deeply for what you and C have gone through – but I’m so happy that you have had the strength and courage to face it rather than having stayed in a situation that apparently wasn’t good for you or Charlie at all. Sending the biggest hugs your way. And so glad you’re writing again!

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