This coming June will mark the second anniversary of my divorce. It’s odd, no longer celebrating a wedding anniversary with my husband, but, instead, mentally noting our “divorce-aversary” with my now ex husband. What the day signifies, however, is not so much a change in my status from married to single but, rather, the officiating of my status as a single parent — a much weightier title to hold.
Ironically, there’s rarely ever a “single parent” box to tick. Not on any medical form I’ve ever seen, nor on the form I recently filled out during my last visit to the DMV. Not on any job application I’ve completed, nor on my new membership paperwork to the gym. And especially not on any PTO signup sheet to which I’ve added my name, as I try to fulfill the endless obligations I’m expected to juggle alone (that my married counterparts juggle together), all the while doing so with a smile on my face.
With every parenting “failure,” with every opportunity to participate or spectate either passed up or missed because I simply can’t do it all, comes judgment. It goes without saying, there’s judgment from within, as well as from onlookers. Then there’s judgment from my children. And it’s this last source of judgment that stings the most because, no matter how many times I try to explain it, my kids continue to hold me to an unrealistic standard given the limitations of my individual circumstances.
Today, deep into my routine as a single mom of two teenage daughters and an elementary-school-age son, hearing those criticisms has yet to become any easier. I somehow suspect it never will. So I continue to remind my kids (and myself) I’m not infallible. I’m human. And because of that, I have my limitations. Here’s what I say.
1. I’m doing my best. It may not seem so, but I am. I’m only one person and there are three of you. Of course, it would be much easier to have Mommy and Daddy living under one roof. In many ways it would be for me as well. But those few moments of pleasantness would undoubtedly be overtaken by more moments of unpleasantness, as you probably remember from when Daddy and I were married during those last few years. My best comes at a price, for sure. But what you may not realize is that price is actually a good one.
2. My best will not always be good enough. I know I sometimes disappoint you. I know you want me at every one of your softball and baseball games. Hosting more play dates at our house. Shopping with you whenever and wherever you like. But as a single parent, I’m stretched thin. Time and monetary constraints don’t always allow me to do what I want for all of you, at least not for all of you at the same time. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to. I most certainly do.
3. You are my world. When I tell you “no,” you sometimes call me selfish, especially when I take time for myself and you believe doing so takes time away from you. I need you to understand if I don’t make time for me, I won’t be much good to you. I love you. But I love myself, too. Which brings me to this…
4. There is also room for someone else in my world. The funny thing about love is there is more than enough to go around. Love for a child is different from love for a spouse or a partner. Love makes us happy, whether we love someone else or know someone else loves us. It may seem counterintuitive, but the more love I give, the more love I have to give and, in turn, the more love I have to give to YOU. So stop worrying. I’m not going anywhere!
5. I know there are moments when you don’t like me. Like when I don’t give in to your demands. Or when I discipline you. It’s easy to forget I’m your mom because I wear so many different hats — one of the many side effects of raising you almost entirely on my own. When we are having fun together, nobody has more. But, first and foremost, my responsibility is to raise you to be well-adjusted, decent people who are compassionate and can empathize with others. Sure, it would be much easier to let bad behavior slide. To not call you out when we both know you can do better. I know I sound like a nag. Strike that. I know I am a nag! I also know in those moments you don’t like me very much. But in those moments I remain confident you will one day understand what you today perceive as irritating and annoying, you will one day appreciate as my love and genuine interest in your well-being.
6. You know there are moments when I don’t like you. Trust me, nobody needs to bathe as much as I do. But my bathroom is the one place I can safely assume you will respect my privacy. And you do (most of the time). Just like yourselves, I need my alone time — away from the three of you. During those moments when you girls are wrestling each other to the floor for the last maxi pad with wings (true story), or screaming at your younger brother because the sound of his basketball hitting the back of his bedroom door while you’re studying is more than you can tolerate, makes me wish I could be anywhere else. Calgon, take me away!
7. I know you love me, even when we fight. We all say things in anger, things we don’t necessarily mean. Or, even if we do mean them, things we should otherwise keep to ourselves because they are hurtful when spoken out loud. Easier said than done. Long before I became your mother, the 1983 film, Terms of Endearment, addressed this very issue. In one of the movie’s final scenes, Emma, played by Debra Winger, reminds her two young sons she knows they love her. Though her eldest son didn’t always convey this sentiment to her, and was combative in the way children often are, she understands how he really feels. I know you love me.
8. Know I love you, even when we fight. So, it goes without saying, I love you, too, even when I am exasperated and yell and you, in turn, tell me you don’t like me or wish you had a different mom. Just the other day your little 10 year-old self came up to me, half-joking, and said, “If I found out I was adopted I would go looking for my birth parents.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I won’t say your words didn’t affect me. They did. I know you sometimes say things to me out of frustration and in the heat of the moment. I’m guilty of the same. But I love you, no matter what you say or do. Fortunately for me, I’m good at reading between the lines, even if those lines are not on your adoption papers (wink, wink).
9. One day you may understand. One day you may be lucky enough to become a parent and will know firsthand what a privilege it is to raise children, but also how challenging it can be. Life may throw you a curve ball as it did me, and you may find yourself like I am, raising kids almost entirely by yourself. Should this happen, only then will you truly recognize some of the challenges — be it monetary, emotional, psychological, or what have you — I face each day.
10. I hope you never have to. But should you find yourself a single parent, know you WILL persevere. It won’t be easy, that much I can tell you. There will be bad days, those days when you think why me? As author and columnist Harvey Mackay reminds us, “Life isn’t fair. It’s true, and you still have to deal with it. Whining about it rarely levels the playing field, but learning to rise above it is the ultimate reward.” You, my three loves, are my reward. And, oh, am I one proud single momma.