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Like lots of single moms, Sandra Bullock started out married and not intending to raise a child on her own. But in March, when the tabloids revealed that her husband, Jesse James, was a serial cheater, the Oscar winner found herself in the middle of an adoption and a messy divorce. Unlike Angelina Jolie, who went through the same double whammy in 2002 when she adopted son Maddox just after breaking up with husband Billy Bob Thornton, Bullock managed to keep her 3 ½-month-old son, Louis Bardo Bullock, a secret from legions of reporters for months.
But when People debuted the new mom and baby on their cover this week, Sandy's secret was out. And while most single mothers aren't stalked by the media and don't have a celebrity-size budget for nannies and housekeepers, Sandy will still need some serious girlfriend advice from women who know what it's like to raise kids on their own. (Unless, of course, she follows the Jolie model and ends up with a superdad like Brad Pitt.) Until then, here are top five tips for solo parenting from a mom who's been there before:
1. Open up. Shamelessly pursue friendships with other moms in the same situation. You need at least one friend who truly gets what life is like as a single mom. If you see someone on your child's school or daycare phone list who has different addresses for each parent, schedule a play date and chat. And check iVillage's online message boards devoted to single parenthood.
2. Lower your standards. Not for men, but for yourself. Lots of single moms feel like they have to be twice as good of a parent because they're alone. They put too much pressure on themselves to do everything right to make up for a missing parent. The problem is that there's no system or checklist that will enable you to be two people at once. You can be one great parent with kids who know they are loved, even if Mom didn't have time to make something for the school potluck. Accept that, and you'll have a bit more peace.
3. Find a fairy godmother. If you don't have family nearby, remember there are people in your life who would love a child to spoil or mentor. Nurture your child's relationships with these trusted friends who can offer a different outlook on the world. Don't push, but if someone offers to "babysit," say, sure -- but make it more like a play date. Suggest a movie and pay for it. If things go well, they'll ask again. You'll get a break, and your kid gets to bond with someone you respect and like. (Just remember to have your child say thank you in some form.)
4. Date discreetly. For single moms who want to date, life can be a logistical and moral minefield. When do you introduce a guy to the kids? Is it after three dates? Three months? What about grown-up sleepovers? Yikes. There's no rule for this except one: If you can, wait until you're in a truly committed relationship. There's no need to remind a single mom that any kid of divorce will be sensitive to breakups, so the fewer of them they witness, the better.
5. Start watching The Brady Bunch reruns. The reality is, if you're single with kids, many of the guys you're dating are likely to also be single with kids. This means that you could easily go from being a single mom of two kids to being part of a couple with five kids, at least some of the time depending on the custody arrangements. The good news is you won't be alone scraping Play-Doh off the couch -- the bad news is, there will likely be more of it.