I have been a single mom for 11 years. That doesn’t mean my ex doesn’t see my children. In fact, he’s played a big role in their lives. So, I’m not claiming to be this struggling, single mom who’s all alone in the world. But that said, being a single mom has always been challenging for me. Not saying I’ve had a really hard life and that I never have any fun. Quite the opposite, actually. I love my life and I’ve carved out a lifestyle that despite involving a lot of work, works for me and my kids, and makes us all happy. Still, being a single mom is no cake walk.
When you’re a single mom, you are responsible for everything, which includes making money, maintaining your home, and raising your children. You don’t have someone to say, “Honey, can you clean out the garage?” Or “Please kill that spider.” or “Do you think our money is allocated the right way in our financial plan?” or “Do you think we should get So and So and IEP?” or “Can you help me plan So and So’s Bar Mitzvah?” You become a one-man shop, unless you have a really good relationship with your ex (which i think is rare at the beginning of a divorce–when the kids are still young.)
Then pile on volunteering at your kids’ schools, maintaining a social life, working out, traveling, and trying to date. All of that is time consuming and what I’ve found is that as a single mom, you have to become really efficient and use every possible minute of every day. It’s a sad way to live, but I’ve lived it for so long, I really don’t even know how to be any other way.
The reason I decided to write this post is that I read this Facebook message from a single mom:
The hardest part of this post divorce is the feeling that I am not the mother I wanted to be. Full time working. Always in a rush not involved the way I want to be.
This sort of depressed me, and I want to speak up about how I feel about it, and say something that might make this woman feel differently.
When I was married, my kids were toddlers and I was a wealthy stay-at-home mom. I had money to buy whatever I wanted, I had tons of free time, and I didn’t have a lot of pressure in my life.
But, what I had was a marriage that wasn’t working, bad self-esteem, and a brain that felt like mush because I wasn’t being challenged professionally. I’m not saying being a stay-at-home mom is like this for everyone. In fact, I have a ton of respect for stay-at-home moms, but for me, it didn’t work, and looking back, I never should have been one because I didn’t enjoy it.
I didn’t look forward my daily life, I didn’t appreciate my little kids half enough because I felt burned out often. I used to watch the clock and hope time passed. I wasn’t the mother who could sit and play with the kids for hours and hours, and because of that, I became angry, irritable, resentful, anxious, and I didn’t feel any self-worth.
Fast forward to today. I have a full time job (with a sales quota), I manage Divorced Girl Smiling, and I also write a weekly column for the Chicago Tribune. I don’t see my kids half as much as I used to because they are teenagers now and they have their own lives, friends and activities. Like this other single mom, I feel like we are always in a rush, and that I’m not involved half as much as I’d like to be. Despite that, to say I’m worlds happier is a major understatement.
Why? Because the times that we do spent together, I am cherishing every moment. Whether it’s hanging out watching TV together with the fireplace on and our dog lying in the middle of the rug, or we are out for dinner together or we are on a plane going to visit our family, my kids light me up inside. When I’m with them, I am constantly smiling and laughing and my heart actually hurts—that’s how much I adore being with them.
My point is, my old lifestyle and this lifestyle are completely different and they both had their advantages and disadvantages. But my current lifestyle is one that truly makes me happy and fulfilled. Not only because I appreciate the time I spend with my kids so much more, but because I feel so wonderful about the work I’m doing, both at my job and with Divorced Girl Smiling and the Trib. My life has meaning, both professionally and personally. Oh, and I forgot to mention I’m madly in love. I’ve got it all and I appreciate it all.
So, what I want to say to this single mom who says “I’m not the mother I wanted to be,” is that it’s time to change who you think you are expected to be and who you really really want to be. Changing a pattern is hard to do. I’m sure you never expected you were going to be a single mom, but now that you are, adjust and figure out a new way to be the mother you want to be.
Stop feeling guilty for not spending as much time as you used to with your kids. Quality is so much better than quantity. They might not have you there physically as much as they used to, but now they have a mom who is working towards being in a better place, who is happier being out of a bad marriage, who they respect as they watch you maintain a high pressure job, and a mom who is really present and happy to be with them when she can. Also, things will continue to get easier and you will find yourself with more time as you become more efficient. The beginning is always harder.
What I want to say to all single moms is, I respect you, I appreciate how hard you work, and I think you have courage and strength. Be kind to yourselves. You do have a harder life than a mom who is happily married. But don’t resent those moms–trust me, they have their problems, too. And don’t look back. Look ahead to making memories with your kids, and to constantly working towards living a life that you enjoy and that fulfills and inspires you. If you do that, I guarantee, you will be the mother you want to be.
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