Super Heroes are Us!
"You are so strong." "I don't know how you do it all." "You can do anything!" "I couldn't do what you're doing."
These phrases are meant to encourage a struggling, single mom. But, to be brutally honest, they come across as an insincere, canned response to... "Oh, you know, I'm okay... "
I am not strong. I'm a fake. I'm constantly terrified that I will forever damage my kids somehow. I go into my bedroom and bawl my eyes out more times than I will ever care to tell you about. I work really, really hard; I have no clue how it comes across as effortless. I'm exhausted, spent, done. I can't do anything right. Will you please tell the phone company about my super powers? All they ever think about is money. They just don't get it!
Here are a few tricks I've stashed up my sleeve since I became a single mom four years ago - my little contribution to the hopeful future of broken families.
Embrace 'same ole, same ole'
Develop a routine... it will save your life on high-stress days. It will help you to stay focused on the important things. Keep doing what works. Change what doesn't.
I just finished my nightly routine of setting the coffee maker and the alarm clock. These are things I do every weeknight. It's expected. It's noticeable. If I forget, someone will remind me. Mom's autopilot is broken. Someone switch the old girl back on please.
My car practically drives itself to work every day. Before I know how I got there, I'm opening my travel mug of coffee, and tucking my spare behind the monitor on my desk. I set my phone to vibrate, so the kids can message me at work (for important - or not so important - details of their lives) without disrupting my coworkers. I can focus on my job without wondering constantly about what they're doing, and "do they need me?"
I cannot stress enough, how liberating this routine thing has become. I actually feel like a "normal" person sometimes!
Pay the mortgage/rent first
Have your mortgage payment automatically withdrawn as soon after payday as possible (or pay your rent first out of your paycheck). Once that money is pulled out of your account, it's gone. You can't spend it on something else. Your mortgage is THE MOST IMPORTANT bill you will pay. It keeps a roof over your head. It gives your kids a place to come HOME to. It's very, very important! At the end of the day, when you come home after work, you can relax, knowing you've at least accomplished one thing. You've given your kids a safe place to hunker down and regroup. The 8-10 hours you just spent away from them was fruitful. You did THIS for them.
If you're anything like I used to be, it will be very hard to accept help from anyone. After all, you have your superhero image to uphold. You can't have anyone knowing how desperate you are. Get over it! You are in a desperate situation. You will learn humility, or you will be miserable for the rest of your life. It doesn't just make YOU miserable, it makes your kids miserable, and your parents, and everyone who ever cared about you. They want nothing more than to be there for you. Accept their help. Be grateful. A grateful heart sleeps well at night. A well-rested mama can focus on the important things. Who needed what sewn, and what day is that parent/teacher conference?
Protect quality time
Caution: Don't spend all your hours working. Keep time for the kids. Knowing how important that dollar is to your family, the temptation will be to grab every single one you can get your hands on. Don't fall for it! Your kids NEED you! You will reap rewards later if you protect that bonding time with them now.
Know that there is hope
I have five kids. Two are up and out, three are still living at home currently. I really am not anxious for them to move out. I hope they stick around. They encourage me, even my most critical, tell-it-like-it-is, even-if-it-hurts child. "Do what you know, mom. You're good at it! Even if you don't make a lot of money, you'll make a little." The support of my kids... priceless!!!
Evidence: They leave me personal notes - on my desk in my home office, in my purse, on the kitchen counter. They're encouraging. They see me trying very hard to meet their needs. They see me struggle. They see me fail. They see me try, try again. They know I am doing everything in my power to make their lives comfortable. They know they are valuable, precious to someone... me. In return, they try to do the same for me. They try to make my life easier. Sometimes they feel guilty for asking me to do things for them. They know I'm busy, or tired, or frustrated. They sometimes forget that they were trying to encourage, and instead whine. They're human. I whine sometimes, too. I expect it... occasionally.
Don't put it in park
One last thought for the "still marrieds": Don't sit idly by, expecting that you will always be taken care of. Take care of yourself too. There is a chance, no matter how strong your marriage is, that you'll have to do things on your own someday. Maybe you won't get divorced; but what if your other half dies? Or a bear carries them into the wilderness, never to be seen again?
Be smart. Be prepared. Learn things. Do things - NOW, while you can. If you don't need money, volunteer. Go to school. Be useful. Do things that you can put on a resume later.
I know. I know. You won't need it. You can always do it later. That doesn't apply to you.
Don't be fooled. Develop your skills. Do something you love. Later, you can use it to make money, pay bills, support your family. Just in case. Please, I'm begging you. Do NOT be idle!
Hey, life will hand you lemons. Take them! Use them! Worst-case scenario - you have contributed to your family's well-being. You can NEVER go wrong there!
Tammy McConnell was a stay-at-home mom for 19 years! Then, the unspeakable happened. She found herself at a crossroads, with 4 teenagers and a grown daughter to pilot into and through adulthood, alone. It IS possible to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on! She uses her website, growing-home.net, to encourage others like her, to do just that.