One thing you should know about me: I'm a planner. I plan out meals, what the kids and I are wearing each day, and, most importantly, the direction in which I'd like to see my life go. And being a single mom never figured into any part of any of my plans. You know what they say about the best laid plans, though, and so my ex and I split after four years of marriage. I should clarify that he didn't fall off the map altogether; he still gets the kids according to court schedule: once a week and every other weekend. And that is an agreeable amount of time to both him and me.
Actually, I've counted up the time. He has the kids approximately 20% of the time, and I'm responsible for the other 80%. A lot of stuff gets crammed into that 80%: getting them to the sitter, getting myself to work, feeding and clothing and bathing us all, doctor's appointments, story time, play dates, the list goes on. The last time I was privileged to go to the doctor for myself, she asked, "Are you unusually tired?" I just laughed and wondered what it would be like to not be running on fumes, but I kept my musings to myself and simply offered up my standard reply: "I have a three-year-old and a twenty-one month old," which always elicits a sympathetic response.
The truth is I don't need sympathy; I need help. That was not an easy conclusion for me to come to. I like to think I can do it all. Whether it's pride or a false sense of martyrdom driving that sentiment, I'm not sure. In any case, it's not helpful. What is helpful, however, is realizing that there are ways to alleviate some of the daily pressures single parents face. Below are five strategies I've found useful.
1. Take them up on their offer to help: I found when I separated from my ex at the age of 27 with a two-year-old and a newborn that people were sympathetic and eager to offer help and support. If you're like me, you might turn them down a few times at first. Eventually, though, the lack of sleep and caffeine will be unbearable one day, and you'll say, "Ok." And you know what you'll find? That small break to run errands or night at the movies (where you don't have to share your popcorn and candy) will leave you feeling refreshed and ready to tackle new adventures with your kids. I reiterate, take people up on their offer to help -- either they meant it, or they won't offer again.
2. Take advantage of your sitter or daycare provider: First, can I just say how unbelievably grateful I am for good people to watch my children? Whether my kids are with the sitter, one of my sisters, or their grandparents, I never have to worry about their wellbeing. Since I know that my kids are having the time of their lives playing with friends and doing crafts, I don't feel too guilty (see #5) about giving myself an extra hour or so in between finishing up work and picking them up. I often use this time to go to the gym, make a quick grocery run, or even take a nap.
3. Save some tasks for kid-free time: Most of the time, the thought of bundling up the kids (it's Ohio, and winter is never-ending), packing a diaper bag, strapping them both into their 5-point-harness car seats, unloading them, and fighting the stroller to go somewhere exhausts me before I ever get out the door. For that reason, if I want to browse the clearance at Target or refinish my son's dresser, I wisely wait until I'm kid-free.
4. Let someone else take care of dinner: If you are a single parent, you have a lot on your plate. Let someone else provide the food from time to time. Whether you call and order pizza or Chinese or just let a friend or family member bring you a casserole, take the night off every now and then! Instead of worrying about prepping, serving, and cleaning up dinner, spend that extra time talking and laughing with your kids.
5. Relinquish the guilt (as much as possible, anyway!) Some of my first thoughts when going through my divorce were about how it would affect my children. Would they remember any of it? Could I be enough for them? Would they ever be able to have functioning relationships? For awhile, I let these questions haunt me, and they clouded my normally upbeat disposition. While I can't say I've disposed of these fears altogether, I have made a conscious effort to limit their effect on me. Regardless of whether or not I planned to be a single parent, here I am, and I'm doing the best I possibly can (with a little help!).