Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Just Keep Swimming - Lessons from a Single Mom

Several days last week reminded me of my days as a single mother. Marc was out of town, as he is often in the summer with his work, and I had a million and one things to do. I had blogs to post, wedding invitations to get out, housecleaning and remodeling (since we've decided to host the rehearsal dinner at our home), not to mention laundry and keeping antsy children occupied!

Saturday, after a full morning of writing on a slow computer, massive technological fails, and countless interruptions from very sweet little boys desperate for something fun to do, I decided to abort all to-do lists and meet up with cousins and sis-in-law at the pool! Of course it wasn't the magically relaxing retreat an afternoon at the pool should be; instead it was filled with sunscreen slathering, life jacket putting-on-and-off-ing, following littles from kiddie pool to big pool to restroom to concession stand, and yelling over and over, "no running boys!" All while managing with one contact in my eyeball because the other was driving me so crazy I finally threw it on the ground! Needless to say, our next stop after the pool was to the eye doctor to get a loaner pair while I order more.

It's exhausting just recounting the day, but I managed. And the more I thought about it, I thought I needed to share with you some of my methods of keeping my sanity while balancing to-dos and to-littles. I shared in this post a little about my philosophy about just doing what you have to do and keeping going, but I wanted to share a few practical things that helped me keep going. Now this is only my journey and I do not pretend to have all the answers for single moms, or any mom for that matter. But I have been able to have a lot of fun in the last few years in spite of difficulties and I attribute it to attitude, optimism and a few tricks up my sleeve!

I may have to elaborate on each of these in subsequent posts, but for now I'll at least give you an overview.

Lesson #1 - Just keep swimming. Yes, you've heard it from Dory on Nemo, and it's one of the best lessons I've learned. There is a constancy of parenting on your own that you don't understand until you've had to do it. Nothing ever stops. The minute you wake up in the morning, you hit the ground running and needs don't stop until you pass out. That's when things go right. I won't even get into days when children get sent home for bad behavior or illness, or when you have to squeeze in a trip to the grocery store or your car breaks down. Even when you have the help from friends and family, the full weight of decisions lies on your shoulders. It never leaves your mind even when you do get a break. All I can say about managing that is that you just keep swimming. It's hard to know where to start sometimes so just start somewhere. Do one task at a time and move on to the next when you're finished. When you need a break, take one, and pick up where you left off later. One thing at a time. Do the most important things first (like paying bills, feeding faces, and wiping butts), then take your time doing the rest.

Lesson #2 - Put the oxygen mask on yourself first before tending to your children. Parenthood, whether you have a partner in crime or not, is like being on a crashing airplane. Remember what the flight attendant said? If you put the oxygen mask on your kids first, you might run out of air yourself before you can do anything helpful for anyone else. This means taking care of your own mind, body and soul. Eat well, exercise (both for endorphins and self esteem, ladies!), and pursue friendships with other adults. If you don't have family near or finances to help with babysitting so you can get time to yourself, talk to your friends about taking turns watching children. One week, watch your friend's kids, and on alternating weeks they watch yours so you can meet up for drinks with girlfriends, sit and read at a coffee shop by yourself, or maybe even go on a date! You are no help to your kids if you are not healthy. So, read the paper and read books to keep your mind healthy, do things you love, stay connected with your peers and take care of your body!

Lesson #3 - Trade in any hopes of being a fashionista. This is a stress, time and money reliever. When you're on your own you can't afford too many things to think about or pay for, let alone find time for. I opted for super short hair and clothes that didn't need to be ironed or dry cleaned. My hair could be done in less than five minutes, and most of my clothes could be washed dried and hung up wrinkle free. I couldn't afford dry cleaning and could never keep up with ironing much of anything. I also chose a lot of dresses to wear to work because it's one piece of clothing to think about, rather than coordinating pants or skirt with shirt. Also, invest in some Downy Wrinkle Releaser. It's a life saver!! And forget it with accessories. I pretty much had one or two pairs of stud earrings that stayed in all the time and a James Avery necklace I never took off!

Lesson #4 - Be smart with your money and explore your resources. Thankfully, when I got separated, I was able to live with my mother until I got on my feet. I used that time to pay off my car and credit cards and save up my money so that I could make it on my own. I have received very little child support since my divorce and I knew that if I was going to get by as a single mom I couldn't afford any extras. When I moved into my own apartment, I didn't have a car payment, debt, cable or Internet, and rarely ate out or splurged on shopping. I often purchased groceries through Angel Food Ministries (and my mother's pantry), and fortunately qualified for Daycare Assistance through DHS. Don't be afraid to find out if you qualify for food stamps or WIC and take advantage of programs through churches and other organizations in your community that offer help to single parents. In Tulsa, churches like Asbury UMC do things like inspect your car for necessary repairs and wash it for free if you are a single mother or widow, and offer a Christmas shop where siblings of single parents can come and select gifts for their brothers and sisters. Trust me, there are people who want to help you; don't be ashamed to accept it!

Lesson #5 - Think happy thoughts. Yes, seriously. Just like Peter Pan said. Stay positive and remember you're not the first person on the planet to have to go through this on your own, and you're not alone. You're alive, and so are your kids, and you can be thankful that you're no longer in the unhappy or unhealthy marriage you once were. This is where life gets better, but not necessarily easier. I do believe you must take your time to grieve and mourn what you've lost, and I encourage you to take full advantage of counselling opportunities and to decompress with your friends, but you must also make a conscious decision not to dwell on the negative parts of single parenthood. If you do, you won't be able to keep swimming, take care of your kids, pay the bills or anything else.

I'm thankful that I learned to survive on my own two feet. It's made me stronger and even more of an optimistic person than I was before. Honestly! Even now as a not-so-single mom, I still have plenty of times I have to manage on my own when Marc is out of town working. And I want to be able to do more than just survive those times. I want to thrive, and I know I can.

This week, I'm going to repost some of my favorite entries from my old blog. I started blogging to share my story and to share my perspective on life. I like to think it helps people *grin*. And for all of you that do wonder how I do it, maybe you'll see. If nothing else, it'll be fun for me to reminisce a little on truly some of my favorite memories of my life!

Just keep swimming!


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