Sometimes it’s by choice. Sometimes it’s not. Either way, handling life milestones on your own can be challenging.
A single parent by choice, for example, may still find they would have liked sharing their baby’s big moments like a first step with a partner. A single parent without choice may not only have to experience big moments without a partner, but they may also be reminders of a divorce, a lost partner, or a difficult circumstance.
Either way, by choice or not, life’s milestones are unavoidable and handling them on your own will take perspective and strategies.
Analyze the milestone. Is it one that is inevitable, like a significant birthday, or is it an event that marks an accomplishment, like graduation, promotion or a successful fertility journey? If it’s an inevitable and/or upsetting milestone where you have no choice or control, don’t waste precious energy fighting or dwelling on its meaning. Try passive acceptance and remind yourself that you can face anything, even without a partner. If it’s a rite of passage that you earned, like a promotion or an award, try active acceptance. Remind yourself that you made this happen, congratulate and celebrate yourself.
See the advantage of going it alone. Milestones can often lead to life changes because it pushes you to pull the trigger. For example, a big birthday, a parent getting ill or a job change, can all make you reassess your life pattern and want to move forward in a new or different direction. If you are going through the milestone with a partner or team, change can be more complicated or even resisted. If you’re on your own, you usually have the freedom to act on new decisions and opportunities like moving to a new city or becoming a parent and having full control over your child’s schools, religion, and activities.
Practice looking inside out —not outside in! To go through life’s milestones with a clear focus, look at your milestones through your own eyes, not through everyone else’s eyes. Did you just finish your first visit to a fertility doctor? Did you pass your qualifying test for EMS? Did your baby take the first step? People aren’t monitoring you. Instead, they're busy with their own milestones. So, every time you catch yourself feeling sorry for yourself, remember that you’re probably looking at your life from the outside in. Stop and practice the inside out perspective. It takes time but it will help you move forward in the journey.
Take care and treat yourself the same way you do with loved ones. It’s important to make time for yourself—whether it’s a workout class or a nice dinner. Also, make sure to give yourself enough breaks in between. You might be used to running at high speed but give yourself permission to slow down from time to time. It takes practice and may be easy to forget but I’m here to remind you to take care of yourself!
Abide by the three rules of homework. Number one: "Eat the frog," says Ted Theodorou, a middle-school social studies teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia. That's shorthand for "Do the hardest thing first." Rule number two: Put away the phone. Homework time can't be totally tech-free (computers, alas, are often a necessary evil), but it can at least be free of text messages. Rule number three: As soon as assignments are finished, load up the backpack for tomorrow and place it by the door. This is a clear three-step process that kids can internalize, so there's less nagging from you. (Yes!)
When a milestone approaches or sneaks up on you, start talking to yourself. Give yourself a pep-talk (it doesn’t have to be out loud). Therapists have found that it’s not what we say that helps patients, but what patients choose to repeat to themselves that helps them. If you’re going through fertility treatment, for example, and there’s no partner to remind you that ‘there’s always a way’ to build a family, remind yourself that there’s always a way. Your mood will usually lift because hearing positivity can change your perspective. Just remember to listen.
Check for depression. Sometimes mild depression may make you feel tired and sad and more severe depression may mean frequent crying, loss of appetite and despair—all of which can be blamed on handling a milestone alone. Alone or not, depression can be triggered by hormonal therapy, recurrent pregnancy loss, treatment failure, financial or relationship stress. Speak to your physician about a referral for therapy, support, and/or medication.
Seventh (and Last) Step:
Find or create your own support group. It’s helpful to find a group that’s been through a similar experience because they can truly understand what you’re going through. Start researching online, ask your doctor or look for national organizations. However, if you’d prefer to experience life’s milestones alone, make sure to be your own positive support and remind yourself that even the most independent of us sometimes need some help from others.
In the end, you have more control than you think. It might not feel like it when you’re experiencing something by yourself—like becoming a single parent—but you can choose how you react to life’s milestones and continue to push forward.
Talk about what it means to be a good person. Start early: When you read bedtime stories, for example, ask your toddler whether characters are being mean or nice and explore why.