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​Starting over in Seattle: A single parent’s perspective

Finding herself divorced and far from family, this New Yorker forges a new path



Yoga helps newly single mom Joely Johnson stay grounded.

PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON

Life is almost never what you plan. Instead, a life story is usually what happens when those plans fall apart. Like my marriage — I waited a long time to finally say yes to someone, and then we worked very hard to have a child together. When we moved from New York to Seattle in 2012, the relationship had already started going wrong and we just weren’t able to right it. To fast-forward quite a bit, we stopped living together in 2017 and the divorce was finalized in 2018, the same year our son turned 8.

Single parenting or, really, in my case, co-parenting (our custody arrangement is 50/50, and my son’s dad is a solidly engaged father), is tough no matter where you live. I’m finding some specific challenges, however, as I navigate my new path in the Pacific Northwest.

It’s dark a lot. I know this is a cliché, and I should suck it up already, having lived in Seattle for six years — and I also realize I’m not alone in this. The wintertime darkness makes everything harder for me. Maybe it’s a tendency toward introversion or the fact that half of the blood in my veins is Sicilian, but the succession of wet, grey days taps much of my energy. Being the only adult in the house is often exhausting, and without even a glimpse of sun, some days seem to roll out in super slow-motion.

So I burn a lot of candles (they really help; each one is like a tiny guest in the room) and recently bought a diffuser to make the house smell like bright essential oils. Practicing yoga keeps me connected to the inner light, as does getting enough sleep and eating plenty of green veggies (really!). Enjoying creative or funny activities with my son is a big dose of sunshine, so I try to clear the decks as much as possible when we’re together.

The side hustle is real. I had a long and strong career in editorial and communications before being married. Even though I quit my office job while trying to conceive, I never stopped working. My freelance writing and editing projects brought in “extra” money that often surged into five digits, but I certainly wasn’t the main breadwinner. When we moved here, our household was buoyed by the region’s strong tech economy (thank you, online retail). Now that my personal IT support has left the building, and an appropriate full-time job doesn’t seem to be manifesting despite my best efforts (thank you, online retail), my side hustles (I’m also a private yoga instructor) need to grow exponentially. Like, yesterday.

I’m stretching beyond my Libra comfort zone to network and market myself, and that’s a good thing. In fact, focusing on my work has been powerfully grounding. Even though Seattle is a tough town for small business, I’m pretty busy and fully aiming to get even busier. Meanwhile, I’m using the opportunity to model perseverance and patience for my son.

Family is far away. Every one of my family members lives in New York, and my oldest friends are out of state. Single parenting without my sister, brother, or mother nearby has been crushing. When my heart was breaking so much I could barely think, or when I caught the flu and thought I was dying, I was on my own. I do have a number of very supportive local friends who give me lots of reasons to smile and be thankful. Still, there are nights I would be so glad to have Gramma Tina over for dinner, just for adult company and conversation — and help with the dishes would be nice, too.

As it is, my son and I work on “meaningful discussions” over our dinners, sometimes followed by some pre-adolescent guff about pitching in for cleanup. But I make it a point for us to have regular, nutritious meals at the dining table, and he knows he’s expected to take the plates into the kitchen when we are done, guff or no guff. At this point, it’s all about baby steps. And broccoli.

 

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