Single Parenting: Going it Alone Uphill on a Bike Built for Two…
When my friends started adding members to their families, I remember one making a statement I found amusing at the time. She said you can’t have more kids than you have hands or else one is likely to get run down in the grocery store parking lot or find themselves minus a riding buddy at Disney World. My two are just stepping into the sometimes horror movie/sometimes delightful comedy of Teenagerdom, and I’ve never experienced the feeling of not having nearly enough hands in the way I am these days. It’s kinda like buying a tandem bike for a long ride only to realize the other pedal-pusher bailed out just before the uphill stretch.
Pardon me while I get real for a minute, but single parenting isn’t easy. Ross had Rachel, Salt had Peppa, Ma Ingalls had Pa, and parenting was hard for them! I’m not complaining about going this gig alone, but a team approach to fighting crime, providing effortless entertainment, and growing young people into caring, responsible pillars of society requires some serious dedication. And it is not easy for two-parent families. When you’ve got one man on the bench at all times, the game gets a bit trickier.
Ever hear the one about the guy who’s stuck on his house in a flood then dies and asks God why He didn’t save him? God replies, “I sent you a ladder, a boat, and a helicopter! What more did you want?” Taking help and (God forbid) asking for it comes with the pride-swallowing territory of busy teenagers who seem to be incapable of planning ahead. I find myself in that situation at least once a week–one needs to be picked up at 6 from school to eat before going to something else at 7:30 near home while the other has to be at a different event 30 minutes away AT 7 and picked up by 8:15. It’s not possible–trust me! Asking someone to help you out does not equate with personal failure.
Letting It Go
I try to have all laundry done and put away, meals for the entire week prepped to go in the oven, and lunches organized by Sunday each week. Most of the time it happens; sometimes it doesn’t. This doesn’t make me a failure. Hopefully it means I had a life and got around to something that built me up. There are times when something falls through the cracks. There are also times when some random mom who doesn’t know me at all makes a crack about how kids from divorced homes fall through the cracks because no one communicates and the poor kids lose out. (Yes, I have heard that once, and it didn’t really go over well…) But in the end, I have to remind myself that these challenges aren’t unique to single parents. It’s just par for the parenting course–sometimes you eagle and sometimes you double bogey. That’s just the nature of the game.
Whether or not an effective approach, mine tends to land consistently on just being honest. My kids and I have a standing Sunday evening family couch appointment (as “family meeting” sounds grueling and their eyes wouldn’t quit rolling since we aren’t June Cleaver and the Beev after all). I listen. I ask what I can do to help them with school or whatever else they come up with (usually this involves Christmas presents or can 12 kids come over Friday night). Then I run through the calendar for the week, and I tell them what I need in order to make all of these things happen. Usually it’s something like can you let me know which days you want to go to school early or have you thought about when you’re going to work on this project with So-and-so? I’m finding that this rather remarkably turned into unnecessary conflict and stress avoidance. If I know what’s coming, I can plan ahead or work out a solution. I also use the opportunity to model managing real life, how to listen, and how to cope when Plan A flies out the window and we are onto Plan B. (Not gonna lie–I’m not so great at this, but I’m working on it.)
Trustworthy Tennis Buddies
I do miss parenting with a partner, especially when I’m keenly aware that I’m in uncharted territory. Frankly these moments are the ones when I feel most alone and overwhelmed. It’s challenging to figure out the best way to approach a difficult conversation or determine whether this is a big deal or a medium deal or not a deal at all as kids get older and manage more and more of their own lives. That means I’ve done my job well, but teenagers still need us to step in at times, usually realizing this after the stepping would have been the least invasive. I absolutely hate standing on the sidelines alone, not knowing if it’s time to call a timeout or to stay put. I need someone to bounce these things back and forth with me, so I found a trustworthy mom or two with kids a few years older than mine who are happy to give me their constructive, honest feedback about what to do or not to do. We use consultants everywhere else in life. Why not in parenting?
I don’t have anything close to all the answers, but the key to sanity for me has been to shake hands with that reality, take it for what it is, and find solutions that fill in the places where I simply can’t. So far, so good. The worst thing I’m dealing with right now is hanging up wet towels and cleaning up pumpkin guts post-Halloween, so I’m not complaining!
Just remember: Rocky travels with a whole entourage and wouldn’t have beat any of those guys without Mickey.
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