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.
How many of us can recall a time that someone reminded us of how ungrateful we are?
“At least you got a job!”
At least you got a roof over your head!”
At least you got food on the table!”
Because clearly we forgot how fortunate we are to have the bare necessities of life. It’s not to say that we shouldn’t be grateful for having our basic needs met but being too grateful for the minimum can lead to feeling ungrateful for wanting more. Those feelings of ingratitude can be intensified when you have people around you that are reminding you to stop wanting more and start being grateful.
What it does is place value on the things you have instead of how you feel about it. Your employment is what matters, not whether you like it. Your ability to pay rent is what matters, not the inequality in your career field. So if these things have a higher value than you, it opens the door for other things to have more value than you as well. What other things are more valuable than you? Are other people more valuable than you? Just how low in value are you really? Where do you fall in this hierarchy?
I hate to break it to you but that is a part of rape culture. It certainly feeds into some other toxic cultures we battle in society but rape culture is one of them. Once a person is convinced that their value is less than something else, it starts to diminish their self-worth. This makes them a target for predators. Predators are not cave men that walk up to someone, club them over the head, and drag them by their hair back to the cave. They strategically look for people that have a shattered perception of self, use the vulnerability to gain trust, and eventually turn that person into a victim.
I reluctantly watched the Surviving R. Kelly docuseries and was extremely disturbed. I was more disturbed than I thought I would be. I initially decided not to watch it worried that it might be too much for me to handle. Would it trigger some emotions from my own past that I haven’t worked through completely? Then I realized that I can’t hide from myself or the happenings of the world – so I watched it.
It did leave me feeling compelled to talk about rape culture. I saw way too many recurring themes in this docuseries. I want to touch on just three things in this post that feed into rape culture that we encounter almost every day that give predators a growing number of targets and society the scapegoats necessary to avoid addressing the issue.
I’m not talking about trolling social media and leaving mean comments on someone’s post. I’m talking about the things we say to people we care about that make them feel bad. The “at least” mentality is definitely one example of shaming. We are trying to convince someone that they should feel grateful for what they have. Instead, it can feed into the larger idea that they don’t deserve more than what they have. They are not worthy of more and how they feel about it doesn’t matter. We see this with teenagers and parents sometimes. A teen may go to a parent and share something that is really bothering them. If the parent trivializes the issues making the problems seem unimportant or insignificant, the teen can feel like the parent doesn’t care. Inside, their problem feels big but now they are ashamed of themselves for bothering someone with their feelings. What if no one is willing the hear this teen out? He or she can start to feel like no one cares and they don’t matter. If a predator gets wind of this, they can step in as the person “that cares”. They will swoop in under the guise that “No one else cares, but I do.” This is all the teen needs – someone to care. Even when the situation turns unhealthy and abusive, they will hold onto the idea that this is still the only person that’s ever cared. Although the parent meant no harm or malice whatsoever, it’s a practice that could become detrimental. We are not going to relate to everyone’s struggle at any age, but we don’t have to shame them for their feelings about it either.
Taking Away Another’s Rights
We understand on a larger scale how denying rights to anyone oppresses them. They don’t feel like a part of the majority and the denial of rights leaves them in a position of inferiority. It implies they are less valuable. Telling a group of people that they can’t vote is implying that their voice doesn’t matter. It has no value. So what rights do we take away every day that feed into rape culture? Sometimes it’s something as simple as the right for a woman to dress how she would like. Even the debate on whether it’s ok to touch a pregnant woman’s belly is feeding into rape culture. How? I’m glad you asked!
If a woman is pregnant, she will hopefully be surrounded by friends and family that are happy right along with her. As a sign of excitement and admiration they will want to connect with her by rubbing her belly. What a sentimental gesture! But what if the woman doesn’t want her belly rubbed? I watched a segment of a very popular talk show where a panel of women discussed when it’s appropriate to touch pregnant women. It was very disturbing! How about when the woman wants you to? When did it become acceptable to touch people whether they like it or not? It’s a very degrading experience to not have no say in who gets to invade your personal space. Rubbing a pregnant belly seems so innocent and harmless, but it leaves a person feeling that they don’t have a right to say so. They don’t get to decide who touches them. They don’t get to decide who violates them. This widely accepted practice of taking away rights feeds into the rape culture, whether the right seems like a small thing or not.
Discomfort is Offensive
Unfortunately, I think a great deal of women have experienced being greeted by a man and being scoffed at or scolded when they don’t greet them back.
“I was just trying to be nice!”
“You could at least speak back!”
“Everybody ain’t trying to get you!”
And I’m sure some of us have heard much worse in our day. The idea is that the woman offended the man. He took the time to greet her and she wouldn’t even acknowledge him. How dare she! She was greeted with a “Hello” or a “Hey Beautiful” or a “Good Morning Gorgeous” and her ungrateful ass can’t even speak back!
As a woman that speaks to every person, man or woman, that speaks to me, replying to men has been one of the biggest time wasters in my life. Most of the men that do speak to me want more time than just those few seconds. Most of those men don’t want to hear that I’m not interested, or I have a boyfriend. Most of those men don’t plan to take no for an answer, and a simple hello turns into a 5-minute rejection/rebuttal exchange.
But what if I’m just uncomfortable? What if I’m just uncomfortable engaging with a man I don’t know? Does that not count? Most people don’t stop to think about the comfort level of the other person, and we’ve become conditioned to suppress our discomfort because it offends others.
Think about the situation with small children encountering an adult they are unfamiliar with. They may not want to hug or kiss them. They may not want to sit on their laps. They are uncomfortable. However, they are told by an adult that they must hug and kiss Uncle Jimmy or Aunt Betty. These could be two of the nicest people alive, but the lesson instilled in the child is that their discomfort is offensive and irrelevant. They are taught to suppress it and let this person in a position of authority do what they are requesting. This is a lesson that is taught so early that it’s second nature. You let people who want to touch you do it and you engage with people even when you don’t want to.
We are not malicious by nature. Even some of these practices are not malicious in nature. However, they allow the broken people that prey on these misguided individuals to step in and take advantage of them.
And of course, this short list is not all encompassing so please include your additions to this list as well as takeaways from this list in the comments section. Let's keep this discussion going.
The Monday before Thanksgiving in 2011 I had a Chrisette Michele style Epiphany. I was just about over being his girlfriend, so I left. I felt like a weight had been lifted off me and decided to make some changes to my life. The first thing on the list was to lose some weight and get healthy again.
I started a modest weight loss journey that I hoped would result in a 15 to 20-pound loss. When I saw it going better than I thought, I was elated and decided to keep going.
My mindset had totally shifted! I was excited about working out daily and meal prepping. I was excited about getting enough sleep at night and not eating or drinking too much at happy hour with friends. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything and my efforts paid off. I more than doubled that original goal! It eventually led to me running in local races for charity and obtaining a license to teach fitness classes. I had gotten my mind right! I met, exceeded, and maintained my goal.
I did find that I ran into one problem though. My old life was clashing with my new mindset.
I was going out with friends like I normally would but as my lifestyle became healthier a lot of these outings became less appealing to me. Once I started running, my long-run days were on the weekends. That meant I didn’t want to stay out as late nor did I want to eat or drink anything that would impede my progress. I started missing good portions of the events and eventually stopped going all together.
Eventually my old life stopped clashing with the new mindset, but it was because I had to choose between the two. The truth was nothing in my old life was even interested in being a part of the new mindset. My friends and family were very happy for me but made sure to cheer me on from a distance.
I did my workouts alone. I ran in those races alone. I went to health expos and fitness events alone. I met, exceeded, and maintained my goals…alone. I would have loved to incorporate my old life with my new mindset, but it was not up to me and it proved to be impossible.
I remember leaving one of my races with tears in my eyes. I felt so pathetic. I watched thousands of people finish that race just as I had. However, they staggered in exhaustion over to their group of loved ones congratulating them and taking pictures with them. Me? I staggered to the nearest taxi cab and took a nap when I got home.
Sometimes I think about what would’ve happened if I let the loneliness get to me. What if I would have decided that this new mindset wasn’t worth my old life and given up on getting healthier? Yeah, I lost weight, but the mindset it took to see that goal through shifted my whole life! I became a different, and even a better person. I learned so much about myself, my life, my family, my friends, and my environment. I was absolutely lonely on that journey, but it was worth every second.
I’ll be 40 years old in less than one month. There is a good chance I have more years behind me than I do in front of me. That also means that I built a life in those first 40 years. The same goes for you too, of course. You’ve built a career, relationships, a family – are you supposed to just change your mindset and jeopardize it all? Or any of it? That really depends on how strongly you feel about getting to the next level. How much does the next level mean to you?
Sometimes people may appear lazy, unmotivated, or selfish but everyone has something they’ll work their ass off for. People will work diligently to cheat on their spouse and not get caught but refuse to put in the work to improve their marriage. People will work hard at bumming off friends and family but refuse to put themselves in a better position to be more independent. Being a cheater or a bum takes a mindset, and that mindset takes work. Until the cheater or the bum decide to shift their mindset to something different, their hard work and effort will always go to what they are not yet ready to abandon. If the cheater never wants a healthy marriage, there is no need to work for it. If the bum never wants to be responsible for his or herself, there is no reason to entertain self-sufficiency.
New mindset doesn’t automatically equal new life. If a person decides to give their life to Christ after years of sinning, believe that there are some things they’ll be giving up. Their new Christian mindset is not going to align with everything they were doing. They will have some life decisions to make. There will be some people they can’t hang out with. There will be some places they can’t go anymore. There will be some things they can’t do or even say. The new mindset can create a new life, but it doesn’t automatically guarantee a new life.
Is the new life worth the old one?
That is the million-dollar question. As you are setting, changing, and rearranging your life to meet these new standards you’ve set, you must ask yourself if the new life you are creating is worth the old one.
Because it most cases, you can’t have both.
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“My Grandmother doesn’t love me! You think I give a fuck about how you feel?”
I literally said that to someone, and I meant it! I was convinced that my grandmother didn’t love me. I eventually realized that before I came to that conclusion, I didn’t really have much love for myself. I self-esteem was at an all time low and my levels of depression was soaring to unimaginable heights. I spent YEARS feeling this way, and it manifested into some horrible situations.
It became my mantra. It was a painful mantra too. What kind of person is hated by their grandmother? What breed of monster did I have to be for that to happen? In turn, when I encountered other people who didn’t love me, respect me, honor me, so on and so forth, it just felt normal. Of course, they don’t care about me. Why would they? No one else does.
Then one day, I said it to someone jokingly. We even shared a laughed behind it, and in that moment I felt empowered. Even without my grandmother’s love, or the love of my entire paternal family for that matter, I was blessed. I wasn’t perfect, just blessed. Could it be that I needed to lose everything I deemed so sacred to build a relationship with the faith that would carry me through it all? I needed to be ripped away from them to get closer to Him.
I feel my past experiences have made me more comfortable with the purge. My emotional healing has even been questioned by someone I purged from my life. The real question is why would I work so hard to heal just to return to what is still broken?
When we decide a situation is dangerous or unsafe, we avoid it. When we find a person is untrustworthy or disloyal, we remove them from our lives. If we don’t like the way the food taste at a restaurant, we stop going! We purge it. So why would we realize something is toxic to our lives, and not purge it? Or even better, remove it, heal from it, and go back to it?
Sometimes purging is literally getting rid of something. In other cases, it’s setting boundaries. It means saying no – without guilt. It’s refusing to enable someone’s negative behaviors. It’s refusing to let someone treat you differently than they would allow you to treat them (psst…that’s disrespect). It’s eliminating broken patterns, behaviors, and cycles.
It can be a hard thing to do. You are stepping out of your comfort zone and doing something unfamiliar. You could even question if it’s the right thing to do. You feel like your leaving everything you know behind. You are abandoning ideologies that define who you are and have carried you this far in life. Is that a smart thing to do? If you don’t like where you are, then yes, it is a smart thing to do. If you want something different you have to do something different.
If you’re doing the work and you’re healing yourself, you’ve already purged some things. It’s a part of the process. Don’t feel guilty or ashamed. It’s needed for your growth. You are becoming a better person, and this will only benefit you and everyone around you.
It would be absurd to believe that you are the only broken person in your circle, just as it would be absurd to think that you surrounded yourself with broken people, but you are not broken as well. Broken doesn’t mean bad. It just indicates that some areas need repair to function the way you desire. Either way, you need to focus on your healing and that requires leaving behind what is still broken.
Broken people usually don’t have much empathy, so they certainly won’t have any empathy for you right now. As you are purging and healing, take inventory. Broken people are usually more concerned with how they are affected. How has your distance affected them? How has your new life affected them? How does all this make them feel? They don’t take any time or energy to understand your needs. They probably don’t care.
The solution would sound simple. If they are not pleased with the new and healed you, couldn’t they just move on as well? Of course they could! They won’t though. They are broken. Remember how the broken you felt? You felt like you didn’t deserve much. You tolerated so much from people. You felt stuck. That’s where they are. They have no faith that they too can heal so it would just be easier to keep you broken. They will not let you go easily and you must get comfortable with fighting for yourself.
Purging what no longer serves you is not easy, it’s just necessary. It frees space, time and energy. You will need the vitality and passion to create your amazing new life.
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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.