If I had known ahead of time how challenging it would be to work full time and raise two children I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have signed up so quickly. But I have enough experience in working with chaos I know I’ll get through this too. It’s certainly not something you can prepare for! Time has never been so valuable and at long last I’m becoming more patient. I am grateful for so many zen moments! Here’s a few things I’ve learned as a single parent:
1. Use Your Words. I got this from my boss. I have a tendency to not know where to start when I’m trying to explain something. Just like my kids. Now instead of saying “Get to the point” I gently say “Use your words.” It’s so important for my two boys to state clearly what’s on their mind and to feel comfortable doing so. I’ve had one treated for anxiety already which he carried as a stomach ache. I myself will keep things in for eternity and am just learning to speak up and say what I’m feeling. It’s my role to set this example and they are my best reminders.
2. It’s Not in the Budget. I must say this five times a day. It’s my first response to “Mom, I want… I need… Can I have…” But then I got smart and bumped it up a notch. Now when they want something they can ask me directly once, which includes via text, and then it goes on a list on the refrigerator. Every other week after payday we have a “family meeting” where I go over the household priorities and if there’s anything left and the request merits consideration, I’ll let them have it. If there’s nothing left they have to wait. And if they continue to ask me for whatever after that first time, it comes off the list.
3. Safety First. I have very few rules for many reasons, one being I’ll forget what I said and two that I’m not very good at enforcing them. But their safety is another matter. Aside from the really obvious rights of passage such as playing with matches, carving wood with my paring knives, and using the saw to build a desk out of scrap wood, I finally figured out how to enforce the helmet law. The rule is: If I catch either of them without a helmet, I’m taking the bikes/scooters/ripsticks/skateboards/longboards to work with me. This way they patrol each other. I haven’t had to do it yet.
4. There Will Be Consequences. I’m all about the natural ones. If my older son were to miss the school bus, which hasn’t happened, he’d have to take the elementary school bus with the little kids and be late. If they do anything wrong at school there’s a whole manual that they signed and they know what the punishment will be. Those things are taken care of. Here at the house, if they don’t flush the toilet the bathroom smells. If they don’t brush their teeth they have bad breath. If they bring food in their bedrooms, they’ll have bugs. If they don’t put their things away, it’s fair game and their brother can take it. If they hit each other, there’s usually a bigger underlying problem that needs to be addressed. I subscribe to the HALT acronym (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired.) First I put a stop to it and separate them and then dig a little deeper. No sense adding to the situation and exerting energy that I probably don’t have at the end of the day trying to diffuse it by yelling.
5. The Circle from Disney. This is a lifesaver. It’s a little box that connects to your router and allows you to set time limits on internet usage on all devices, via your phone, and you can turn it off at will as well. We don’t argue about internet usage. I bought this handy little gadget a few months back. At first I didn’t tell them about it and was thoroughly entertained when they couldn’t figure out what was going on with their internet connection but eventually they caught on. My oldest actually went to tech support at school asking where the message was coming from on his school issued laptop and they didn’t know. After the discovery I sat down with each of the them and went over what we both considered fair for usage. I can spy too but that’s not an issue now.
6. It’s All in the Spin. So much drama about divorce on TV shows and movies. That’s what sells. But it doesn’t have to be that way if you don’t make it. I don’t really like driving three hours on weekends to bring them to their coparent’s house, but on the plus side we have fun on the trip over. We’ve got a routine going and they seem to like it. They play their music, we get a treat for the trip, and I usually hear a story or two from their week. And on the way back I get some downtime.
7. A Coparent is a Good Thing. I think if more married couples had date night or went out once in a while without their spouse (assuming it wasn’t an affair) there’d be more married couples. When the boys are away I relish the time to regroup. Me, my time, my choices. And sometimes a date. How can I miss you if you don’t leave?! Always happy to see them again.
8. Even Moms Get Tired. When my youngest doesn’t want to go to bed and stalls past the bewitching hour, sometimes I just have to give it to him straight. I’m sorry buddy but I’m tired and I have to go to bed and that’s all there is to it. You’re on your own. Go back to your room and figure it out. I won’t play that game. He keeps trying but when I get my sleep, I win.
9. It’s All About Me. It’s always all about the children. But is it? If I don’t take care of myself first I can’t take care of them. Just like getting enough rest, I also have other fundamental needs. And it’s my responsibility to address them. By doing so I’m setting an example for them. Children are so needy. There’s no way out of it. I bond with my oldest at breakfast. He’s a morning guy. My youngest is a total crab when he wakes up and grunts his way through the morning routine. I’ve learned to leave him alone. We have our time at bedtime when we read or play a game. And when the boys come back from their coparent’s they are both, at the same time, chatty and wound up. I’m grateful that they’re excited to see me and also know that I have to stop whatever I’m doing and give them the time and attention they need upon arrival.
10. You Got This. There are days that just absolutely suck when you’re a parent, solo or even in the best of marriages. But as a single parent, you don’t have anyone immediately available to comfort you. And that’s probably the hardest part of it. When stress hits and the feeling of isolation, self doubt, loneliness, regret, and whatever else comes your way sets in and you’re stuck, remember that you’re not alone. Ask yourself what you’re feeling, know that you’ll get through it, take some time for yourself and then get back in there. One of the best lessons you can teach your children is to acknowledge that bad things happen but with the right coping skills life goes on. Bring it!