Whether by divorce or design, more and more moms are raising their kids on their own. That’s not to say that the dads in break-up circumstances don’t lend a hand, but those short visitations do little to help you while you’re in the daily trenches of parenting. The hard truth is that you’re on your own and some days you’re guaranteed to feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, let alone swallow. This is how to take the challenges in your stride and keep your sanity.
Expect comparisons. Being a single mom can be tough, especially on your emotions and finances. It’s hard enough to hear “I’d rather live with my dad” but many times, while you struggle to keep your kid in diapers and clothes that fit, your ex (especially if he’s not helping you with child support) may lavish your child with gifts and outings during visitation. Simply remind yourself that, while your little one may want to live in what seems like the fun-zone, you’re the one being a parent and making sure your child is housed and fed day in and day out, and that’s expensive—and certainly more important than visiting Chuck-e-Cheese every weekend.
Carry your own burdens—don’t put them on your kids. Whether it’s the power bill or a crappy comment your ex made during the last drop-off, it’s your job to keep that stress off of your child’s shoulders. Call a friend and lock yourself in the bathroom to vent if you need to but don’t snap on or confide in your child about your grown-up problems. It will only stress them out and lead to feelings of helplessness. There’s nothing your child can do to solve those problems and you’ll only pass on more stress and burden than your little one should carry.
Be there in big ways. You may not be able to guarantee that your ex will show up for their game, choir concert, band performance, kindergarten graduation, or school award ceremony, but you can make sure that you’re there, cheering your child on. Of course, don’t expect that your presence will make up for dad not showing up; it won’t. But while it will never make up for seeing your child’s heart broken, eventually they’ll put two and two together and realize who’s always been there.
Be there in small ways. It doesn’t matter if it’s getting down on the floor to play for a half-hour, a couple hands of Uno before bed, or a 1,000-piece puzzle—doing small things with your child that he or she enjoys is a constant reinforcement to them that you make spending time together a priority. It’s a great way to show your child that you value them every single day, and it may only take a few minutes!
Give yourself a break. A real one, not just a night out at the club. As a single mom, you probably don’t get much time to do what you want because you’re always busy doing what has to be done. You’ve given up on taking that hot yoga class or relaxing at a coffee shop with a good book. Make sure that when you do get a chance for some you-time, you use it to participate in activities that you now constantly feel like you’re missing out on. As an added benefit, you’ll salvage some of your autonomy and feel less like ‘just’ a mom.
Expect bad days. Superhero single-moms know that just because something’s gone wrong, it doesn’t make them a failure as a parent. Stuff’s gonna happen. The school is gonna call and tell you that your otherwise-angelic child misbehaved. Your toddler is going to trash the house the second you doze off during yet another thrilling episode of Pup Patrol. Teens are going to lash out and spew hurtful insults to get under your skin. It’s all part of the job and for a moment there, you’re going to feel like you’ve been failing the whole time and just didn’t know it. Keep parenting; you’re doing fine.
Know when to parent solo. When I was newly single, I had a bad habit of relying on my ex to solve disputes between me and my children. It was partly because he’d always stepped in in the past and partly because I was terrified of all the parenting that seemed to fall on my shoulders. From my ex, I’d always hear, “That would never happen if I were there.” But guess what? Calling him rarely resulted in a solution that did me any good. More often than not (and keep in mind, my ex was narcissistic), he used it as an opportunity to counter-parent me. Plus, by relying on him, I was inadvertently telling my kids that I couldn’t hack it by myself.
Listen. It’s so simplistic that I almost hate to include it, but if you want to be a superhero single mom, listen to your children. It doesn’t have to be while you’re on the phone or soaking in the tub past bedtime, but make time, set it aside so your kids feel like what they think and feel matters to you. That way they know, for certain, that their thoughts, opinions, and their life-in-general actually interests you because if you don’t, those kids will always feel like nothing more than a bother.
Make one-on-one time. Whether you have one child or four (like me), to be a superhero single-mom you’ll have to make time to indulge their individuality and this means making one-on-one time for each of them. It can be as cheap and generalized as an ice cream cone and a conversation or as involved as attending your local Comic-Con with the one child who’s into cosplay. The point is to give each child dedicated time where they don’t have to vie for your attention while also letting each child share with you the things that interest them. (You already do this? Your cape is showing.)
Buy an air horn. You think I’m kidding, but if your house is as loud and boisterous as mine , there are going to be times when you’re willing to sacrifice your vocal chords to get everyone’s attention. Save yourself a sore throat and get an airhorn. You probably won’t need it for long. If you’re newly single, this will get you through the transitional phase where your kids undoubtedly test the limits of your power—and sanity. Eventually, you’ll master what I call my “dad voice” and my kids know now that once they hear it, I’m done playing. But an air horn or even a whistle will stop them in their tracks in the meantime.
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