You Are Not a Single Parent If…

As a single parent, I hear parents all of the time saying that they understand what it means to be a single parent.  They feel they understand because aspects of their lives, parenting, or relationships make them feel like they are in fact single parents.

I feel that the label “single parent” is a silent badge of honor.  I feel that to don this moniker is to take on the tremendous responsibilities that are wrapped in it.  This means that you are the only parent who can wake up in the middle of the night to tend to your sick child.  There is no one you can call; no one who can be a soothing voice on the other end of the line.  There is no one to complain to that understands that is just the way your son is.  There is no extra paycheck going into the account to pay for braces and soccer practice.  There is no one else to borrow a car from in the morning when yours breaks down, or who makes sure that there is money going into your retirement fund.  There is no extra pair of hands and eyes, so you can just run to the store to get milk without packing up the kids.  When it snows or the grass needs to be cut or something heavy lifting needs to be done or a wound needs to be tended or your daughter gets her period and you don’t have the right perspective, there is no other person to constantly fill that void.   To say you are a single parent when you are married to someone is both insensitive and uninformed.  So I created a list that I feel kindly outlines when you are truly not a single parent:

  1.  The other parent travels for work and often leaves for a few days at a time each month.
  2. The other parents does not do chores around the house or any of the cooking.
  3. The other parent lives in a different city for work during the week, but is home one the weekends.
  4. The other parent works really long hours.
  5. The other parents doesn’t seem to share the same level of commitment that you have for your children.
  6. You live with a significant other who is not the child’s father and he/she doesn’t take any responsibility for the child.  (If this is your scenario, you may want to do some careful thinking.)

Again, the title of Single Parent is one that needs to be used with caution.  It is extremely difficult to be one, and if that isn’t you, please refrain from using that title.  We would greatly appreciate it.

Single Mom Life: A Cautionary Tale

Once upon a time…

In a city far, far away…

There was once a princess…

Actually, I don’t know where I am going with this.  To be honest, there is no fairy-tale way to begin this story because this is certainly not a fairy-tale type of story, but the advice that comes from it needs to be said.  This is partly because, just recently, a very good friend of mine broke up with her boyfriend because of this advice.  My student teacher heard the same exact thing two years ago, and she also broke up with her current boyfriend.  My friend’s niece heard my tale and she too broke off her two year engagement.  They have all thanked me for my information.

“My life is a cautionary tale,” I told to my mom on the phone.

“Yes,” she answered, “but look at all the good you’ve done.”  These three women all ended long term relationships with significant others their families had been warning them about for years.  They ignored their families’ pleas because they believed they saw something in their relationship that others could not.

Here were some of the signs I told them I saw in my relationship, but I ignored them all. Instead, I continued the relationship and even pushed him into marrying me.

A list of all of the things I ignored and later realized were serious red flags:

  1. I ignored his constant lethargy.  He was always tired and full of excuses for why he could not help more around the house.  “You are just a clean freak,” he would say. “No one can keep up with your level of clean.”  When we had children, and my level of clean naturally lowered, I realized that he never felt like doing any chores at all.  He had just let me do them all of the time.
  2.  I ignored his emotional shut downs.  He was never available to talk about problems in our relationship.  “Can we talk about this when I am not enjoying a cup of coffee?”  or he would say, “It’s too late at night to discuss this issue. I am just trying to relax.” He was always too busy or just enjoying his downtime, but it amounted to our never discussing the mounting issues that were piling around us.  He would never say “no” but he would never say “yes” either.
  3. I ignored our lack of capability.  I love to read and go for runs and argue about controversial topics.  He loved music and drinking beer and sitting around just enjoying the creature comforts.  I always relied on my friends to provide mental stimulation. I relied on my job to be an outlet for mental energies, and I still don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with having your own things in a relationship, but when you cannot find any common ground with your partner on multiple levels, the foundation of the relationship can start slipping away.
  4. I ignored how much I started to resent his complete inability to support me financially.  When we were young, he never had money, but I believed that was only because we were just getting started.  But as we got older and started to move towards adulthood, his inability to make and keep money started to become more of a liability.  As a very independent woman, I grew up and still very much believe that I do not need a man to pay my way, but it is nice when they can.  Being with a man who had no money and no way to support us or our family was a tremendous burden.  I was working full-time, and he was the stay-at-home parent, but he would not even sit down to help me pay bills.  All of the money was my responsibility, and this was a huge burden.
  5. I ignored the way he treated his family, especially the way he treated his mom.  His mom is a train wreck, and she lacked boundaries and many members of his family were also struggling with multiple aspects of life.  I always blamed them for why he shut down and didn’t even return their phone calls.  I was irritated by his family also, so it made some sense to me when he would say, “It doesn’t matter. I don’t listen when she starts going on about that stuff.”  Or he would let his voicemail box get full so his family could not leave messages about their continual problems.  He was never there for them when they needed him, which I selfishly attributed to his being with me instead of helping them, but then I realized that as soon as anyone needed him, he disappeared.  And he didn’t always disappear physically.  He was just as good at shutting down emotionally to the point where he was truly not aware of what was going on around him.  “When did you say that?”  He would ask me tiredly, exhausted by my need for him to do something to help keep our family going.  “Are you kidding me, right now?  I told you multiple times and wrote it down.  What planet are you on?” I would yell.  As the pressures of our lives mounted and his protective shut down mode went into overdrive, we lost sight of everything.

Why did I ignore these things?  I ignored them because I believed that he would change and because in isolation none of these things seemed to loom as large as they did when they were all piling on top of our marriage.  It wasn’t until we had children that these flaws turned tragic, and each one felt like a crime against me, against our family.  To retaliate against my hurtful attacks at his character, he shut down further.  His passive aggressive nature and his need to punish me for making him feel inept and child-like pushed our relationship over the edge.

Finally, I ended it.  He was shocked.  He could not believe that I would quit on him like that, not realizing he had given up on us long ago because in his mind he was coping.  He could not wrap his mind around the idea that I felt miserable and trapped in a relationship that was sucking the life out of me.  I had let the story play out to long, and now we were married and had children, but I destroyed it all to start over from scratch.

“A phoenix,” my mother said.

“Yes,” I agreed because I liked the image. I felt far from a phoenix. I felt small and fragile and scared.

I hope this story makes other women think.  I hope this story makes it so someone else does not ignore the red flags.

Single Mom Life: “Let’s get you skinny!”

The above quote was said to me by my eight-year-old son.  My son is eight going on eighty-five, and he loves his lists.  After hearing me gripe about not being able to go running because of the 22 degree wind chill, he decided to come up with an indoor workout we could both do.  Apparently, the workout involved his own hand-crafted moves including, but not limited to, the whale, the turtle, and the anchor.

I was intrigued and also a wee bit flattered that he would go to such lengths to help me out, so I agreed immediately.

“Great,” he said as he started to bolt down the steps.  “I will go get everything ready.  Let’s get you skinny!”

The words hit me as I heard him jump to the final step.  Does he think I’m fat? Has my terrible body image infiltrated our lives to the point that my youngest son feels he needs to help keep me on track?  All of these thoughts started to run through my mind all at once.  I wasn’t sure if I should address it or just let it go because I was not really sure what to say. I did not want to discourage his momentum, but I also had to know where that statement came from.  I am certainly not getting “Mom of the Year” if  I have made my son feel that is all I care about.

I walk downstairs and he has taken all of the pillows off of both couches and is piling them around the room.

“Hey, buddy,” I said as I approached.

“Hey, Mom,” he said as he continued his work, putting my arm weights in the corner of the room.  “That’s going to be the Arm Station.”  I smiled.

“That’s really great,” I said, “but can I talk to you for a second?”

“Sure, Mom.” He stopped working and looked at me.

“Buddy, I was just wondering why you think you have to help me get skinny.”

“Because that’s what everyone wants,” he said.  “I want to get skinny, too.”  I laughed.  My son was a rail.  Despite how much I feed him, he continues to grow taller but no fuller.  You can see his ribs.

“You don’t need to get any skinnier,” I answer.

“Ok, well, we will just get you skinnier, then,” he said.

“Buddy, no,” I replied. “I don’t want to get any skinnier. Mommy just wants to get healthier and stronger.” I felt like this was a profound revelation for me.  Yes, I thought, this is really all I want.

“Oh, okay,” he said.

“Does that make sense? ”

“Sure,” he answered.  “Can we start Jonah’s Spectacular Workout Program now, Mom?”  I nod my head and tell Alexa to set the timer for 20 minutes.

Like so many, I battle every day with how I feel about my body.  I have worried that my negative views of my own body would affect my children.  At 42, I think I am finally ready to live in this world of just being healthy and strong, but I am still afraid that the damage has been done.  In all fairness, I am not the only one to blame.  You cannot turn on the television or tune into the radio without a constant barrage of ways to get skinny.  Living in a country where over half the population is obese, weight loss has become a money making machine.  Whatever the cause, the symptom is my eight-year-old is concerned with getting skinny whatever he thinks that means.



Single Mom Life: Pimples & Pubic Hair

My son Cole is only 11, and I recently saw two emerging pimples on the left side of his nose.

“Oh,” I said, “You’re getting pimples.”  I said it lovingly because I realized that this is his ascent into puberty. “Can I pop them?”

“No,” he said with shock.  “Why would you do that?”

“Come on, Cole,” I said chasing him around the kitchen.  He ran to his room and shut the door.  “I can at least put stuff on them.”

I was less tactful when I saw that he is starting to get pubic hair.  He was getting ready to get into the tub.

“What the heck is that?” I ask as I squinted my aging eyes at his nether region.  He covered himself quickly. I had inadvertently shamed him.  “Cole,” I continued ignorantly, “You have pubic hair.”  Since then Cole has been locking the doors of the bathroom and won’t even let his brother near him when he is changing.

“Mom, what’s wrong with Cole?”  Jonah asked as he pushed against the locked door.

“Nothing is wrong with him,” I responded.  “He’s just growing up.”  My eyes filled with tears as I stare at the locked door, too.

When did my little boy’s body start to morph into one I did not recognize?  When did his body become completely off limits to me?  I knew I was no longer allowed to comb his hair or straighten his shirt, and come to think of it, he hasn’t needed me to do those things in a long while, but when did this begin?

He still sleeps with his stuffed puppy. How can this be congruent with a growing boy’s body?  Tears ran down my face and I wiped them away knowing that this was a train that could not be stopped…should in no way be stopped.  This was going to be a painful growing experience for the three of us.

As I started to rise from my seat, the bathroom door lock popped open and Cole peeked his head out.

“Mommy?”  He called.

“Yes,” I answered.

“Can you help me? I tried to pop my own pimples because they are getting so big, but I couldn’t do it.  Do you have that stuff you were talking about?”  I nodded my head and went over to help him.  In his fragile state, he let me kiss his forehead like I have done since he was a baby.

“Okay, so you have to be really careful when you do this,” I began…

woman carrying baby at beach during sunset

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Single Mom Life: A Little Poem for This Cold Morning

My Son

Sometimes my son squeaks

He points and gesticulates wildly

trying to get his point across

He can speak

But, at that moment, he chooses not to

For an entire day

I go back and forth–worrying–maybe this is the time he stops talking altogether

Do I force words from his lips, from his heart

Or do I let him continue to purse his tiny lips and emit a high-pitched, squeaky sound, like a large mouse?

But I like it…I like the way his blue eyes shine when he is trying to tell me something but his self-imposed edict does not allow him to do more than squeak.

Please—he seems to say with only a look–Please see me

silhouette photo of man leaning on heart shaped tree

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Single Mom Life: For Whom the Bell Tolls

I set the mousetrap and it worked.

I knew it would be effective. I never doubted it’s ability.

My mind teethes on pride and sadness.

The trap was flipped upside down.  The body laid beneath.

I asked/begged the boys to join me as I took the thin plastic bag, which was going to act as a final resting place.  I wondered it the sealed bag would stop a smell from forming.

I told them not to look.

“Why are we standing here?” My oldest asked.

“Because I need your emotional, physical, and spiritual support right now,” I answered.

“I’m here for you, Mommy,” my youngest sang out from behind his forearm that covered his eyes.

“Thank you, baby, I really need you guys right now.”

“We are still talking about a mouse, right?” My oldest asked again.

I turned my head and opened the cabinet door, peeking in the through the crack. I slid my arm through and grabbed the back of the trap.

I double bagged the corpse, just in case.

I threw it away in the garbage container in the garage.

Jonah hugged my waist as I walked back inside.  “I love you, Mommy,” he whispered. I kissed the top of his head.

“Are we done here?” Cole asked before he headed back upstairs.  I nodded.  “It’s okay, Mom,” he said seeing the sadness on my face.  “You had to do it.”  I nodded again and went back to the kitchen to set another trap.

Everyone says where there is one there are more, and I found more droppings in the second drawer.

hanging christmas bells decors

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Single Mom Life: Mousetrap

When I was a kid, Hasboro created a game called Mousetrap.  I begged my parents to get it for me, and I promised that it was something I needed to survive.  The picture on the box showed a complex construction that promised fun for hours.  In theory, it looked like a great time.  Your character was a mouse who traveled through various pitfalls to collect more cheese than your opponent without getting caught in one of the many constructed “mousetraps”.  In execution, things did not turn out exactly as planned.  The large plastic constructs were almost too tall to be supported properly by the thin cardboard base.  Your plastic mouse character would get caught by the traps, but often they did not fall as planned and the other player would have to slide the cups over in a less than dramatic way to catch your mouse because the plastic did not spring into action the way it was supposed to.  The game I could not live without quickly gained dust in the corner of our bookshelf never to be opened again.

brown rodent on gray fence beside green leaved plants under sunny sky

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Last night I finally figured out the very real mousetrap and placed it under my sink.  I returned home yesterday only to find my new sponge chewed, a pile of plastic chewings from a bag of dish detergent pods, and poop all over my clean wash clothes.  My patience gone, I grabbed the peanut butter and a single trap.  I carefully smeared the “attractor” on the fake plastic cheese, then I pulled the heavy metal back with a determination I lacked yesterday.  In one fluid movement the bar was set and the mousetrap was placed carefully on the floor of the cabinet.

“What are you doing, Mommy?”  Jonah asked as he walked into the kitchen and saw me sitting on the floor with an open jar of peanut butter.

“I am setting the mousetrap,” I answered.

“Oh, so it’s going to kill her?”

“Yeah, I think so,” I said.  He nodded and looked at down at the trap.

“When she tries to eat the peanut butter?”  He continued.

“Yeah,” I said shutting the cabinet door.  I took the ball of baking twine out of the drawer to tie the doors to the sink shut.

“Is it going to make a noise?”

“Yeah, I think so,” I said.  I wrapped the twine around the white handles of the kitchen cabinets and tied it in a neat little bow.

“Is that so she can’t get out?”  He asked.

“No, it’s so neither of you will open the cabinet before I do.”

“Oh, I don’t like this, Mommy,” he said.  I kissed him on the top of the head.

“Me either, buddy.”  And I really don’t like this.  Unlike the game, I know that this mousetrap is going to work and by work I mean that is going to catch and capture a living thing as she tries to eat the peanut butter I laid out for her.  It is not a broad expanse of twists and turns with little cups falling from the sky.  It is a simple metal bar that will crash down on her neck because she has been lured by the smell of peanuts.

No child’s play here, Ladies and Gentlemen.