I’ve been a single parent my entire adult life, giving birth to my first son just a month after my 18th birthday and his dad not quite being ready for the challenge. I didn’t take the role of mom lightly, but I often downplayed my contribution to the role. People would commend me on how well-mannered my son was or how responsible he was, and I would literally tell people it has nothing to do with me. I gave God all the credit for giving me a great son without giving myself any credit for nurturing the seed at all.
When my son got older, I used to tell him how amazing he was in spite of me being his mother. I often felt that he would have been so much more or gotten so much farther in life if he didn’t have me holding him back. He disagreed but I didn’t need his validation for what I was sure was true.
Then, twenty years later I found myself on the single mom journey again. This time the journey included twin daughters and the death of their dad. I felt an even greater pressure to be what they needed than I did with my first son. That pressure could have come from emotions related to the grief, but regardless of the circumstances I was determined to be the best mother I could yet still afraid I’d never measure up.
One evening after bath time, the twins were in rare form. They squirmed and screeched while I tried to brush their hair. They kept fighting over the toys that were supposed to keep them occupied while and dressed the other baby. One eventually disrobed, took off her pamper, and insisted I chased her around the apartment to get her dressed again. As I’m wrestling to get this baby’s clothes back on, I thought to myself…
This is why my mother abused us.
I’m certainly not suggesting that my mother’s actions were justified. However, it was an acknowledgement that my mother was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder in addition to alcoholism, and more importantly, she wasn’t addressing any of it. In her mind, none of those things were a problem. I can imagine that a person plagued with those two conditions would have a hard time coping. I’m not battling bi-polar disorder nor alcoholism and I still wanted to lose my shit that night!
So what did I do?
Sometimes what we do in the moment is based on how we prepared for the moment. In my mother’s case her refusal to address her illnesses lead to uncontrollable fits of rage. She didn’t prepare for the moment when her kids would spill kool-aid on their school clothes or not do their chores. I decided early on in my journey as a mom that I wanted to be a little more proactive about my approach to parenting and my relationships with my children.
Especially in this current single mom journey a lot of my tasks feel like a race to beat the clock. I have a million things to get done and a millionth of a second to do them all. I rush to get the girls dressed. I rush to get them bathed. I rush to finish cooking. I rush to clean up. I rush to eat my own food. It wasn’t until my daughter was diagnosed with a speech delay that I had to take a step back. She needs something different from what her sister needs. Now, with recommendations from occupational and speech therapist that need to be fulfilled, I am forced to slow down and tend to her specific needs. There are things that will require quick action. For everything else, “where is the fire?”
If it’s not on fire you can slow down. If it’s not an emergency or time sensitive, you can release the pressure to get it done by a deadline. There is a bunch of unnecessary stress when things get done quickly that don’t have a time stamp. So what if tonight’s toddler bath took 45 minutes instead of 20? So what if I wanted to get to Target by 10am but didn’t leave the house until 11:45? It’s ok to just slow down and pace ourselves to release the pressure we often place on ourselves.
There are days when things just aren’t going right. You have a to-do list that just isn’t getting done. Even as far back as 20 years ago, when accomplishing tasks on my list became increasingly difficult, I just stopped. I called the day a wash and decided to try again another day. Of course, this only works with non-urgent matters but it preserved my sanity. I would save laundry or a store run for another day when I became frustrated. I noticed that when simple tasks were difficult to complete, it shifted my attitude, even towards my children. I decided it would be best to come back to the task another day when it was more enjoyable or at least easier.
Some days I planned to stop. Back when my son was a toddler, we had days called underwear day. We usually wore clothes but if there was task that couldn’t get done in our underwear, we didn’t do it. Those days give me one-on-one time with my children without a nagging feeling that I am neglecting some responsibility. They love the attention! And when I am busy, they are less likely to demand my attention with theatrics because they know the time carved out for them is coming.
Reminding Myself That It’s Not That Bad
I have repeatedly told my youngest daughter not to draw on the walls with her crayons, and yet I am currently ignoring the blue masterpiece she created on the wall along the staircase. It’s washable. It’ll probably leave a light stain even after I clean it, but I have to remind myself that it’s not that bad. My journey as a mom involves repeating myself daily and trying not to curse out loud. However, as my little ones navigate the world and learn so much about life, I have to remember that most of the stuff they do just isn’t that bad. Spilling juice is not ideal, but it’s not that bad. Pulling out the toys I just picked up is inconsiderate, but it’s not that bad. Yes, I take action to correct their behavior, or make sure they are aware of what they did, but the reaction to minor offenses can’t be the same as the major ones, like playing with the stove or running towards to street. There is a clear difference and I need them to know that too.
Also, the minor offenses happen with more frequency. Therefore reacting dramatically to them will become a stressor as well, and add to the frustration of day to day life. That crayon will get cleaned up someday – maybe – but in the meantime it just isn’t that bad.
Check My Emotions
I’ve found myself being angry at my children. Once it goes through the “Is It That Bad” screening I have to address how I feel. If I find myself angry over something that isn’t that bad, I address the anger before I address them. That has meant going into another room, shutting the door, and calming down. It has meant making bedtime early and clearing my head with some meditation. Even sadness or anxiety has to be checked. It will affect how I address them or how I handle a situation. Most parents feel very passionately about their children which means that the emotions are intensified. We are overjoyed when they are happy. We ache when they are in pain. And we get angry when they are being too stubborn for their own good! The emotions will exist whether we like it or not, but what we do with them can make a world of difference.
Love Hard With More Than Words
We’ve heard that all attention isn’t good attention. Well, try telling a kid that when all he or she knows is bad attention. They are only noticed when they make a mess or fail a test at school. I’ve even noticed that one of the twins has started misbehaving to get my attention. She’s starting to feel the tug-of-war with the extra attention her sister has been getting from me and even the therapist that come to the house to work with her. This is why I really have to put in that extra effort to make a bigger deal of the positive than I do the negative.
Showing her love through praise and recognition builds a bond. I get to share in those exciting moments with her and she gets to see a mommy that is proud and loving. When I slow down and take those moments with her it boosts my spirits as well as hers. It’s helps my morale and my mood. My attitude overall is better, and I don’t feel as if my entire day is spent addressing poor toddler choices.
As moms we love hard before we even see their angelic faces. However, love is action and even small children know that. It’s why some children misbehave for attention. It’s perceived as a form of love. There should be almost instantaneous fan fair for their accomplishments and interests just as there is immediate reprimand for poor behavior. It reinforces a positive reflection of love. This carries them through life and often dictates what future relationships will look like. They are less likely to seek unhealthy forms of love from others and they understand how to love others as well.
My goal is to break some cycles. I want my daughters to have a different life than I had. I even want to take some important lessons I learned from parenting my sons and implement them here as well. The goal is always to get better and that is what I’m working towards every day.
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After spending a year in grief counseling, I started to see that my life needed a major overhaul. Yes, my boyfriend died making me the single mom of our infant twins, but I was still grieving my loss of innocence from decades of abuse. I decided to turn my pain into a new purpose and to share this journey with others that may need some motivation.