You know, I had originally offered to write a piece for my Aunt Rene thinking it would be no big thing, I mean, normally I can’t shut up, so this should be a piece of cake, right?
Yeah, right, until she gives me my first assignment – talking about my life as a single mom!
Now, I don’t pretend that what I do is so special; But if your wife or husband were to go on a business trip, would your entire world be put on pause or would you wake up, make breakfast, make sure the kids are dressed, get them off to school, go to work, etc? Yeah, me too, except I do it every day, without someone to help lighten the load. And yeah, it’s tough!
I do understand there is a certain something to having two people in the house for the kids to play off, talk to and in general, bug the crap out off! So in the absence of a tag team partner in this game we call parenthood, I offer the following tips to surviving life as a single parent, in no particular order:
1. BE YOURSELF. (No, REALLY!)
I would love to raise my kids to be perfect clones from good, old fashioned TV shows, but in order to do that, I would have to be one of those good old-fashioned TV show mothers. I’m not. I come from a long line of people who have studied sarcasm and elevated it to an art form.
Thus, when one kid comes to me complaining that the other hit him, my very first question, is, “Did you deserve it?”
Yes, I could coddle, I could gasp but I wasn’t built that way. So, I deal with the situation the best way I know how and if we’re honest, nine times out of ten, someone DID in fact deserve the hit.
I’m human. I have human emotions. My kids have seen me happy, sad, lonely, excited, hurt, and anxious. I’ve laughed until orange juice has come out of my nose, and I’ve cried until I’ve given myself a migraine. They’ve heard me curse, seen me pray, and have hope as much as I’ve given it up but because of it, they are aware that even lowly, annoying, know-it-all parents have feelings too and because of those feelings, my kids have a greater appreciation for other people around them, and for me.
2. TRUST IN YOURSELF. (Um, really. AGAIN!)
I’m not perfect which means my parents weren’t perfect either, but I did learn a lot from them. When I left the hospital almost sixteen years ago with my son, I held a birth certificate, discharge paperwork, a blanket I swiped from the port-a-crib, and a baby. It’s possible I was the only one, but I’m fairly certain none of the other moms that left that day with “how to” manuals on their kids either. So I do what I can with my imperfect parental history and lack of proper training material.
My kids have a basic understanding of the difference between right and wrong, they know that needing something and wanting something are two very different concepts, and they are aware that they are not the only two people on the planet. I know they know these things because I’ve seen them in action. There was an older gentleman once in the grocery store riding around in one of those hover craft type wheelchairs. Having taken a turn at the shampoo aisle at a very wrong angle, he hit an end cap, and sent bottles of shampoo and conditioner scattering across the floor. Both of my kids jumped into action, first asking if the man was okay, and then picking up the mess he so readily just rode away from (while grown adults walked away!)
3. ESCAPE WHENEVER, HOWEVER YOU CAN
I read, a LOT! Trashy dime store novels mainly, but other things as well. Reading is my escape; hunky Navy SEALs, misunderstood rogue CIA agents, emotionally wounded small town sheriffs, sigh, those are my guys. They are with me in the morning before the boys wake up, they are with me after dinner while I’m waiting my turn in a Wii battle to the death, and they’re waiting for me when I’m depressed after paying bills.
Some people, especially in recent weeks, have said that I need to get out more and have more dates, and for some, that’s perfectly okay. I’m just not that girl. I’m perfectly comfortable spending time alone with a good book – it makes me happy and there is nothing wrong with that. It is my escape, what I do on the few precious moments each day I am not a parent, not an employee or friend.
I tried knitting; it looked like a blind man did it with his feet. I love to bake, and am good at it, but I live in Arizona, it gets hot here so why in the heck would I turn on the oven? Find the thing that is for you and then do it, be it movies, TV, knitting, or underwater basket weaving! For a parent, any parent, alone time is a rarity. Spend it doing what makes you happy, and for the love of all things good and gravy, do NOT apologize for it!
4. BUILD YOUR FAMILY
I’m the oldest of seven kids. I have aunts, and uncles, a cousin that is more like a big brother to me and every other type of blood relation you can think of. Those were the ones I was pre-ordered with and I love them all but they don’t live near me. I also am lucky to have countless adopted family members, pseudo aunts, uncles, cousins, and just plain “adopted family”. These are the people who love me and mine because they chose to, not because they were born to. They are the ones that I can talk to about anything, anyone, and they’ll tell it to me straight, no sugar coating, and with my best interest at heart.
When I want to sell Dominic on eBay because he did three hours of homework but didn’t turn any of it in, when I get frustrated that Justin’s speech therapy seems to be stalled, when I just don’t understand or need a new perspective or even a temporary escape to talk about anything adult related (take that however you choose), these are the people who are here for me, the ones who send me on vacation, who force me to relax, who remind me, I’m only human.
If you have your own biological family that is and close-knit and near-by, APPRECIATE THEM! If you don’t or if you need to add to it, then do so! Pick people your kids can look up to, can admire and that you can call for any reason at any hour!
5. MAKE MEMORIES
In our house, if your birthday falls on a weekday, which means school, you should get something special. That means birthday cake for breakfast! You may have to go to school like everyone else but try and find a friend who got homemade chocolate cake with from-scratch frosting for breakfast!
Dominic decided a few years ago, he was too good to be told outright, “I love you”. Now, it’s a regular occurrence for someone to walk through and announce, “I kind of like you a little bit almost.” The three of us have circus names, and if we love you enough, you’ve been granted a Syler Circus name as well. We make lasagna with pepperoni slices in it, and we still all these years later write to soldiers overseas, we play disco music while we clean the house, and our reading homework is done by turning on the TV and turning the volume on mute so that they have to read the closed captioning.
Yes, my kids vacuum, do dishes, laundry, trash, bathrooms, and cook but are those the things they are going to remember when they’re thirty-something’s looking at their own kids and remembering their childhoods? I doubt it. What will stick with them is birthday cake for breakfast, their own circus name, and funky ways to express their love for their family and appreciation for those who fight for us.
What about me? Well, I’ll remember that though I didn’t have conventional methods or award winning ways, I raised a damn fine family the best way I knew how. I can’t promise my ways will work for you, but these are the ways I’ve managed to survive and stay sane as a single parent. And you know something? I’m proud of me!
Wendy Syler Woodward, 37, has been a single parent for 10 years, with two boys ages 11 and 16. Originally from southern California, Wendy moved her family seven years ago to Phoenix where she manages a law firm for work, writes for fun, and is preparing to go back to college before the end of the year.