It didn’t take long after the doctor walked into the room for me to realize that this was going to be “one of those days.” The baby had whooping cough and my two-year-old had a broken arm. We went to get x-rays–sick baby in tow–missed a nap, then dropped the sick baby off at a friend’s house so he wouldn’t have to go to the following doctor’s appointment.
Just as I opened the car door to give him to my friend, he threw up. I handed the sick baby, covered in his own mess, to my friend and was off to the next appointment. Finally, the cast was on, baby had his meds, and both were in bed. Of course, the sick baby woke up coughing.
I walked into his dark room and felt a sharp poke. Not a toy, but a hornet! While holding the baby, I hobbled to the bathroom, stuck my foot up in the sink and ran cold water on it, trying to numb the pain.
It’s moments like these when a parenting team would be most helpful. Although I have a willing and devoted husband, he has a job that requires him to be away much of the time. It’s far different from the ideal life I imagined for myself, but as I started looking around, I realized I’m not alone. While parenting situations are different, there is one thing in common: the main responsibility of child-rearing is often left to the mother.
As I have considered this, my eyes have been opened and I recognize that at some point almost all moms endure times when they need to parent alone. And so I’ve come to learn how to carry on while he is away. These tips can help you survive and to thrive in your role as a mother–no matter how often you are parenting on your own.
1. Remember you are not alone. Other great women have done this and you can too! Look around you and find the women who you really admire who are single parenting, too. Parenting alone is a lot like resistance training, only instead of developing beautiful, toned arms you are developing a beautiful, resilient character. So next time you find yourself on your own, remember: you are on your way to becoming amazing.
2. Keep things simple. Take one day at a time and if that is too much, then focus on getting through one hour at a time. It is okay if each day your goal is to just have the children fed and dressed. Start small with expectations of yourself and count every victory. If you’re keeping score, know that every good thing you do gets to count twice since you did it while parenting alone!
Be honest with others and yourself about what “extras” you can do. The other day I chose not to commit to a play-date at my house the week my husband would be out of town. I knew from past experience that by Thursday afternoon I could be very frazzled and may not be wanting to add one more five-year-old boy to the mix. My friend understood and was not offended at all. The great thing was, when Thursday rolled around, I realized I was feeling great and it wouldn’t be a problem to have the friend over. The day turned out to be a bonus for my friend and a confidence booster for myself, rather than a stressful disappointment.
3. Keep a good attitude. Don’t compare your life to others who seem to “have it easy.” We each are given our own set of challenges and blessings and can grow in different ways because of them. A good attitude can make challenging times unite a family.
Recognize the good each child does and acknowledge that they may be having a hard time with the family situation as well. Count your blessings with your children. Help them recognize how lucky they are to live where they do, have the opportunities they have. And if you’re single parenting because Dad is off working hard, help them even see the blessings that come from Dad’s hard work and service.
4. Make time for yourself. This is easier said than done. Go to bed without doing the dishes so you can get that extra sleep, or stay up late to clean the counters so you have a fresh start in the morning. Wake up before your children do. This is so hard, especially with little ones, but a few minutes of quiet with only your own thoughts will do a lot to strengthen you that day. So paint your toenails, listen to good music, or put flowers on the table, whatever makes you smile.
5. Practice disciplined flexibility. This was especially important before my children started school. Create a schedule to help yourself and your children know what to plan on and prepare for. You will feel more in control and your children will feel safe when they know what comes next.
Once you know the routine, it is okay to mix it up: if you’re usually at home, plan an outing. If you generally go, go, go, then plan a stay-home day. A change of pace can help break up the long days.
6. Serve others with a willing heart. Serving allows you to connect to other people, uplifts your heart, and helps you realize that your life is good. Others have challenges too; you are not alone. It doesn’t have to be big or time intensive. Find something that works with your day.
7. Slow down! The other night, while my husband was still at the office after a fourteen-hour work day, and the day before he went out of town, I had a hard time getting the kids to bed. I felt empty. I thought through this list and wondered what else could I have done that day to save some energy for bedtime. I had done everything I knew to do; I was just extended beyond my capacity.
“Why is it still so hard?” I wondered. (I know why–-because it is hard!) As I thought, I cried and prayed for help. That was when I realized this action of prayer was the one more thing that could have helped me have energy to tuck my babies into bed and to take advantage of those last few sweet minutes with them. The next day I tried to pray more, to slow down my mind, and amazingly, bedtime went better and I had fifteen more minutes of energy to type this!
8. Remember to stay hopeful. Finally, if you are struggling with those extra long days, please know there is hope. It gets easier. You get stronger, kids get older and more independent and helpful. Even if your situation doesn’t change, you are changing, and your ability to handle life is increasing.
Each time you put those kids to bed by yourself, you’re lifting a few more weights. It hurts and you get tired, but soon you can do more and you can even be happy while doing it. Without this time “alone” I never would have known that I am brave, strong, confident, resourceful and independent. I’ve been pushed in ways I wouldn’t have chosen for myself, but I would never choose to stay the woman I was before these challenges.
QUESTION: What challenges do you face when you are in the parenting arena by yourself?
CHALLENGE: Whether you are one of those full-time single parents, or just once-in-awhile, we all struggle with the challenges that come when you parent alone. Choose one of these suggestions and when you find yourself flying solo, try it!
Baby Image provided by Marinda Bush.
Feature Image from Bing Free Photos