Life and Love As a Single Mom: Interview with Theo Nestor and Candace Walsh

I’m so excited to welcome today’s guests, Candace Walsh and Theo Nestor, both divorced moms of two, bloggers, and authors who’ve struggled through the early days of single motherhood and come out the other side happy, whole, and hopeful for the future.

Candace Walsh

Candace Walsh is the editor of Seal Press anthologies Ask Me About My Divorce: Women Open Up About Moving On and Dear John, I Love Jane: Women Write About Leaving Men for Women, and blogs about divorce for the Huffington Post. She and her husband separated when her children were five and two years old, and now she lives with her partner Laura.

Theo Nestor

Theo Nestor’s children were five and nine years old when her marriage suddenly ended, an experience she wrote about in her memoir How To Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed. Theo’s blog, Writing Is My Drink, is devoted to Theo’s “obsession with all things literary.” Theo’s now in a supportive relationship as well.

Read on as Candace, Theo and I discuss divorce, motherhood, moving on…and finding love again.

Meagan: During my stint as a single mom, one of the hardest things about it was feeling like I–and my kids, by extension–were so untethered. I remember one night driving in the country after dark, and thinking that if I went off the road into a ditch, nobody would even think to look for me until I didn’t show up to work on Monday. How, as a single mom, can you recreate that feeling of mattering to somebody–of having people who have your back, who are always looking out for you, who you can check in with?

Theo: “Untethered,” that is the perfect word.  It describes so well how I felt in the early days of my divorce.  I remember one day after my husband and I had just split up when I felt most acutely adrift.  I’d just finished my hour of volunteering at my daughter’s school and was about to head to the grocery store, and I so badly wanted to phone my husband who was no longer my husband and say, “Heading to the store now. What are you up to?”  Throughout our marriage, it had been our routine to check in with each other a number of times a day.  And now I couldn’t.  But, I needed to check in with someone. I craved it. The lack of a check in felt like an ominous void, like I was floating in outer space, the earth a cool blue orb in the distance.  Didn’t someone need to know I was heading to the store?

I got through those early days with the help of two good friends.  One came and stayed with me every night for the first week, the other hung out with me during the day and wiped off my stovetop while I made phone calls to attorneys and relatives. I continued to check in with those two friends on a daily basis during the first year, which gave me a chance to create that intimacy of trivial things that marriage allows.

Candace: Like Theo, I was very lucky that after I moved out, my friends and family came out of the woodwork to support me. One of the best things about becoming a single mama was plugging into and building my own community. I identified friends to go have a few beers with, friends to go dancing with, spiritual friends, foodie friends, friends to cry with and cook with and go to the movies with. I needed to be proactive. I also needed to tell people where I was going, and make sure my cell phone was charged. : )

But yes, the untethered feeling is so unnerving. The morning after my ex and I really decided to split up, I had to go on a business trip. On the plane, I wrapped my glasses in my scarf. But then I unrolled my scarf without thinking about it, and the glasses went flying under the seat. I have bad vision, and really couldn’t see very well. The lady next to me told me that she’d look after we landed, and I tried as best as I could to find them on my own, but came up dry. All I could think about was those fragile glasses getting crushed before I could recover them, and being practically blind in LA. I KNEW that my ex would have retrieved my glasses right away. But suddenly I was alone and on my own. So I turned around and begged the people behind me to look for them. A very nice man found them and handed them over to me. I had to step up and take care of myself. It was empowering and also, at the same time, not without its particular sadness.

Meagan: We often hear about the downsides of being a single mom, but there are definitely some uncelebrated pluses. I remember buying this pale pink, embellished, totally girly-looking bedspread, for example. It was kind of thrilling, having a space to claim completely for my own. I’d love to hear about some of the plus sides to single motherhood you’ve experienced.

Candace: Ah, yes, the pink frilly bedspread–I think I had one of those. Or something like it. When my husband and I first met, I was really into the mid-century modern design thing–and he latched on to that. But then by the time we split up, I was ready for some shabby chic action, and I went for it! It was weird. It was a phase–I was kind of drunk on the freedom of not having to confer with a partner about whether I should buy a certain lamp–if he’d like it–stuff like that. I also loved making really easy, kid-food dinners, and loading up my Netflix queue with rom-coms and obscure foreign movies.

Theo: Oh, yes, drunk with freedom.  I have to say some of my “drunken freedom” came from constraint.  Because my husband’s reckless spending had caused the end of our marriage, I reveled in control.  I loved that I could spend as little as I wanted, that I alone was responsible for keeping myself out of debt and that if I decided to spend money, I could.  I loved the feeling of control, of not being adversely affected by another’s addiction.

And like both of you, I did some redecorating with my money.  I painted, moved furniture around, bought some new pieces and made “our” bedroom into “my” bedroom.

Meagan: One mistake I’ve seen a lot of single moms make–and one I made myself–was jumping too quickly into dating, without an idea of what you’re really looking for. The loneliness can be really overwhelming. Have you dealt with that urge yourself? How do you think single moms can strike a healthy balance between looking to the future, possibly with another partner, while still living the life they have now?

Theo: I did my fair share of relationship jumping.  The trouble for me was—and I think this is what most divorced moms struggle with—all my years of marriage had trained my psyche to be twined to another, but I didn’t have the free time, energy, or confidence for the type of dating that allows one to examine one’s choices with the sort of detachment I believe is needed to make enduring decisions.  I was more like, “Okay, you look great. Let’s see if we can go ahead and cram you into the role my husband vacated. Yes, you have a life and children of your own but never mind that. Just fill the void!”

I don’t have any regrets though.  I did have a few relationships that didn’t last, but I cared about those people and they cared about me. I don’t believe we single moms can “strike a balance.”  We’re trying to do the impossible, and we’re going to drop the ball sometimes, and make mistakes and break hearts—sometimes our own.  They only thing we must do is remember not to settle for a partner who does not make our family an even more loving place. It may seem like a tall order, but it is possible. In my experience, it has been.

Candace: I did not wait to date. I don’t know if that was a mistake or not. For me,  I think it was healthy. But I also didn’t find anyone I really wanted to be with…so I guess I was clear on what I wanted. It really is important to not look before you leap. I was content to hang out in my solitude, and heal. When I was lonely, I called a friend, or posted online at my livejournal, or even went to a movie or to dinner by myself (with my journal or a book). I felt lucky in that I do not have any anxieties about going to dinner solo. That served me well. I got to be with people, but without the pressure to connect and communicate.

As a mother, I was super-choosy about people I might want to date. Hello, these are people who will be around your kids if the relationship gets serious. Are they worthy/safe/nurturing and do they have integrity? My mother married a guy on the rebound when my siblings and I were young, and it was a nightmare. He was physically, verbally and mentally abusive. That taught me to take my time.

Meagan: It seems like the holidays are a hard time to be single, especially romance-oriented ones like Valentine’s Day with all the talk of dates, gifts, endless love, etc. Any advice for helping single moms get through the occasions that can make single people feel especially alone?

Candace: I found that after my marriage ended, holidays were SO prone to be triggers. I began to plan ahead–I scheduled in time for my feelings. I needed it. So much came up–and I needed to be somewhere where I could let the sorrow move through me and basically leave me lighter. I recommend that strategy to any single mom experiencing her first round of post-separation holidays.

When I was single on Valentine’s Day, it really helped me to stay busy–I made homemade valentines with the kids, baked, and even commiserated with other single friends. I also made a list of the qualities I wanted in my next partner. I went to parties, connected with other humans…just showed up for life. I never felt like bashing Valentine’s Day was the right way to go, nor was mooning over stuffed animal teddy bears holding mylar heart-shaped balloons in the drug store. If you feel sore about your romantic life, February 14 will intensify that feeling. But as you feel that, move through it, instead of curling up in a ball.

Being in a relationship does not make Valentine’s Day magically awesome. I think I was happy not to have to pretend I was happy with my ex…there was a relief there.

Theo: I love that, Candace: you prepared for being sad and let yourself feel it.  I did quite a bit of moaning and deep grieving the first year after my divorce, and I think it helped pave the way for the lighter, happier feelings that came later.  When the kids were at their dads or in bed, I would lie in bed and listen to Norah Jones and weep hard. I didn’t care that I was “feeling sorry for myself.” I just let myself have a good wallow.

My advice to single moms feeling alone is to remember that whatever this period is it is a transition period.  It will not last forever.  Think of other sad times you’ve had in your life and how eventually they melted away and were replaced once again with happiness. Happiness is a boomerang; no matter how far out it goes, it will come back.  And one more thing: you’re more lovable than you know. Treat yourself sweetly until there is someone in your life to be nice to you.

THAT is such a great note to end on–I couldn’t possibly have said it better, so I’ll leave it there. Thank you, Theo and Candace, for this truly inspiring interview! Single or divorced readers, I want to know: what’s your best piece of advice for other single moms?

We’re in the middle of talking about relationships at The Happiest Mom this week. Make sure to check out the Q&A with author Alisa Bowman–and enter the giveaway for her book Project: Happily Ever After.  You might also want to read my post on expectations and forgiveness.

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