Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Single Mom? Are you really?

My little boy and I had a playdate with a recently divorced girlfriend and her two kids the other day. We actually had some time to talk (thankful for cafe with the tables of toys) and the conversation got around to dating. Or rather, the conversation got around to getting around to dating. As she finds herself single again, but this time with children and an ex who is still frequently present because of the kids, she's trying to figure out how dating works now - how to find the time and capacity to date. She in turn has a girlfriend under similar circumstances with kids who seems to find no problem dating, but who also declares that she's now a struggling, single mom. And as she starts to navigate the world of divorced moms, she has become totally aware of the differences between single moms - by choice, and single moms - by divorce or separation. It's something choice moms often struggle with when trying to relate to other moms.

Most of the time when having a child with someone else, the natural (and often legal) result is co-parenting and shared finances, a divvying up of responsibilities to each for the household and care of the children. There are obviously some for whom this doesn't happen - some parents are left behind to shoulder it all. But mostly, even if contentiously, there are 2 parents and each is involved to a degree. When you choose to become a mom (or dad) on your own, you are literally on your own. Even with promises of, and actual, help and advice from family and friends, every single decision and responsibility are yours. All of them, all of the time. There is literally no break from being the solely responsible person for your child's life, ever. And that is a lot to shoulder. So it's understandably frustrating to hear a divorced, co-parenting mom say that she is now a single mom, or even more frustrating to hear from a parent who's partner is, say, traveling for work, suddenly announce on Monday how tired they are because they're a single parent for the week, or from the mom who's husband is physically present but emotionally checked out of the marriage say she is doing it all on her own. Parenting is hard all of the time, regardless of partner status, but it is a very different thing to choose to solo parent with zero financial, emotional or 'parenting' back-up from another.

I hear this kind of thing a lot, but I got over correcting folks a while ago, probably because of my own lack of capacity. So it was really heartening to have my friend acknowledge that she knows the difference. She sees it and understands it. And in turn, I understand she has her own set of mama struggles. Some similar, some different. We all do.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Sleepless Nights

It's the morning following a night of little sleep because my toddler woke up WIDE at about 2am and didn't settle down until about 4 or so. He's a great sleeper and always has been, so this is somewhat unusual, but when it does happen, getting warm under my bed covers generally works to send him off to sleep. Not. Last. Night.

He was wide awake: singing, playing, talking, wiggling - all of that at his energy level usually reserved for 10am. I'm not sure why it happened, but I know I therefore didn't sleep either, and today is rough. But nights like these serve me well in a couple of ways: First, I'm reminded that he's always been a good sleeper so I've been lucky - far luckier than most moms I know; Second, it reminds me that he's still so young. There is a tendency to assume he's more developmentally advanced than he really is, because he's an amazing conversationalist. A M A Z I N G. And has been for a long while already. But when he's awake in the dark, next to me cuddling with me and his soft baby owl toy, holding my hand, or putting his face in my hand, I'm reminded of what a baby he still really is, and it helps to be reminded. All those milestones we are waiting to reach, patiently or more often impatiently, also make it easy to blow quickly through the stages at hand. We want them to grow, to expand, to explore, and it's hard, especially these days, to just let them "be" for a minute. I'm reminded to do just that, as much as possible.

Now, I need more coffee.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Another year gone by...

It's been almost a year since my last post. Time just gets away from me. Parenting, especially single parenting, is all consuming and when I have a chance at "down time" or a break, I go a little catatonic - not productive. My boy turns 3.5 today. It's shocking how fast the last 3 years have gone, and yet while in it, it's hard to believe we'll ever get through some of the daily slog.

I was on a FB SMC thread the other day, supporting new mamas with my experience or whatever I had to offer, when it occurred to me that the only way to get through this without also feeling like it's passing me by, is to truly be present for all of the experiences and moments with my boy. I work full-time, he goes to preschool full-time - so for many hours in the week we're apart. But when we are together, I find that as exhausting as it can be, staying present with him is the way I feel like I'm not missing anything. I want to spend my time with him, I want to talk with him and play games with him and feed him and bathe him and give him all my attention. The hardest part of absolutely wanting those things is that I don't take care of myself the way I should. There just is no time. And then my time with him can be full of frustration and impatience.

I hit 45 a few months ago, and for a couple of months we were struggling with a family health crisis, and the loss of my birthmother soon after the time of my birthday. But once things started to settle down, it also started to feel like things were crumbling down around me. I have NOT been taking care of myself. Physically, emotionally, socially - none of it. I'm not exactly drinking a fifth under the table after bathtime, but I don't think emotionally eating a bag of chips for dinner is all that far from causing the same kind of health damage. And it not only makes me feel bad physically, the guilt and hit to my self-esteem is totally damaging. Thoughts of my own mortality, and my son's subsequent well-being are churning around in my head constantly. I needed to find a way to put my own well-being somewhere near the top.

So, back to regular therapy, back to prepping salads for the work week lunches, and I started the Couch to 5k training program (with the help of my roommate agreeing to stay home with my boy 3 nights a week for 30 minutes or so). Two weeks in and I'm grappling with just how to actually put myself somewhere near the top of priorities. But two weeks in is much further along than I've ever been, so there's hope?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Compromises and Adjustments

I have been thinking about what to post lately, because a lot has been going on the past few months. I don't know that much of it has been noteworthy, except that we're moving in a couple of weeks. So, I decided I'd write a little bit about compromises and adjustments. The kind that come with becoming a parent, and most specifically a single parent.

Making the decision to become a parent later in life, on one's own, is usually a very planned process. Though I made my decision pretty quickly and a bit out of nowhere, from the moment I did, I planned out just about every moment until it happened. And for a lot of single women who choose this path, they've been fairly or very successful financially - have had an active and ambitious career, own their own home, have a substantial savings already, etc. - and can afford having a child on their own with some security. I was not that woman. I've had a patchwork job life, and have never been financially savvy or secure. But I had health insurance and a job, and I did start this with some lofty goals of getting myself (and my shit) together before the baby happened. But honestly the baby happened quite a bit quicker than I'd anticipated AND if really honest, I also hadn't done the work to get on track. Once I started the process, any money I did have flew out the window for all the things that it takes to make, have, and raise a baby. Forward to today, and I'm an embarrassed, closeted debtor with little ability to see how to get on the right track in my current situation. Frankly, it scares the crap out of me. I fear poverty desperately, though having the privilege of supportive family around, am also somewhat enabled by the cushion they'd provide if I really needed it for us. But my reality is becoming somewhat stark and I've been faced with the need to move without the resources to really make it happen in this expensive city. So when offered the opportunity to move in with a friend, I decided it was the best thing to do.

My friend is amazing and generous, has the space for us to live there comfortably without crowding or stepping on one another, and has recently broken up with his partner, so probably could use the company. He's known my son since the day he was born, and they love each other like family. He's stable and kind and an all-around good guy. The move into his home affords me a somewhat reduced rent and honestly, a better suited dwelling for my toddler boy and me. It gives me another adult in the house to somewhat lessen that constant, underlying anxiety of shouldering every bit of every responsibility on my own, for while. And it gives me some space to get my shit actually together this time. It's transitional. It's a gift. And I think a gift for each of us.

I am very, very grateful. But I'm also sad. While I truly believe it takes a village, I also banked (funny choice of words right now...) on being able to do this thing mostly on my own. Balls to the wall, badass and ass-kicking. But having started this parenthood thing already in over my head, digging out of the avalanche that followed has been nearly impossible without help. Maybe I should have waited. Except I was already 40.5 years old when I made the decision. Waiting wasn't actually, necessarily, a viable option. And I believe my son is the perfect example of what is meant to be, will be.

So now, I have to scrape my way back by making some compromises to my living situation, my privacy and personal space, my own little life with my son, my finances, and just how we live our daily life. But I have learned quickly that I'll do anything I can to make a good life for my son. This is just not so much a sacrifice or hardship as it is an adjustment. And a gift.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Maintenance & the older mom

Normally, when a woman has a baby, then toddler, she strives for (longs for, maybe?) more ease in her personal daily routine. And if you're also lazy, like me, that means easier hair, flatter shoes, comfier clothes, backpack, less gym rat more a stroller-stroller etc. Anything that lets you be wash and wear, and able to catch a fleeing kid. Less need for upkeep, for at least a little while in the early years while your body recovers from pregnancy, childbirth and perhaps nursing. As time moves on, you add back in the nice handbag and heels if you so desire, or get those nails done - whatever makes you happy with your appearance. I looked forward to this OH SO DAMN MUCH. 

This, therefore, created a hard reality when I had a child at the start of my middle age. Middle age often brings more needed maintenance for a lot of us. More frequent trips for hair color, desperately needed gym time, better facial care, falling apart body issues, blah blah blah. And for those of us who choose or need to work outside the home, it's especially hard if you work in a job where you are expected to not wear torn yoga pants and a baseball hat. 

I was having one of my first girlfriends-only lunches the other day (since having a baby) and she, who had twins at 39, said the same thing. Pregnancy at this age is kind of hell on the body. This whole, "back to your body in 9 months" or the very longest, a year, stuff is total crap when you're our age. At least it has been our experience. She's in 'therapy' with a holistic medicine expert/nutritionist, I'm in therapy with an actual therapist and my hairstylist. And both of us have joint issues from carrying kids on our hips, up and down stairs. We're a mess, desperately trying to manage our daily lives while also trying to feel confident and good about ourselves. It's just so much harder at this age, and it's hard to give ourselves the needed time to maintain, and the necessary breaks to recover from any of it. And as a single, working mom - I'll honestly include that finding childcare and the money to do anything to take care of myself, is just even a bit harder. Add to that, how in the world would a low-income mom have any of the time or money, or just support and encouragement to do it? 

I have no words of wisdom yet, because I'm still trying to figure out how to take care of myself. But I am working on it and will post my progress. Carry on...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Judging the other parents who are likely judging me

My son LOVES to go to the playground, and he is incredibly social and verbal, and has been from a very young age. So when we go to the playground or on walks, he looks for other kids to engage with and often approaches them and says hi. The problem is that most kids his age, so far anyway, haven't been quite like him. They either aren't very verbal yet, or still aren't very social, and they get uncomfortable and he gets upset. It's tough because I understand their level of development and his, and I often am the one who encouraged him to say hi in the first place. So sometimes I try to run interference so he doesn't get his feelings hurt or they don't get freaked out. I talk him through it - out loud, "It's nice to say hello, good job!" "Some babies have other ways to say hello" "That was nice of you, K, now let's go play over here..." And often, the other parent says nothing to me, to my son, or to their kid. Which feels weird and awkward. K will also say hi to adults, or just start talking to them, and many just look at him as though they don't get it or do not care, they won't even smile. If they don't, I guess that's okay. But it's hard for me to watch him feel a little defeated and it actually pisses me off. I'm not asking them to pay for college, but really - would a "hello" kill them? These are people with their own kids, do they not see that it has an effect on a kid when you ignore them outright?

Playground visits nearly kill me. I'm, 99% of  the time, on my own with him and am usually surrounded by partnered families or mom duos or groups. All of which are just fine, but also all of which leave me feeling isolated. I have encountered a few solo moms when the playground is less crowded, and can engage with them sometimes - if they aren't buried in their phone. It's just not easy - and it really should be. Why aren't we totally ready to band together? With access to information 24/7 and a barrage of  different parenting experts at the ready to tell us we are ON IT or are complete FUCK UPS, we are instead set up to be defensive immediately, to compete with one another and distrust one another's styles, and we already feel inadequate on a daily basis being so totally and completely responsible for raising a good citizen of the world. And then there are some who don't care so much about what kind of person they are raising, and aren't paying enough attention - which opens the door to the dreaded bullying. And we have seen the desperation caused by being bullied.

I know not everyone feels this way, just to make my point exactly. We are all different, raising different kids, with some cultural variations, in a commercial society fixated on one-up'ing each other or beating the crap out of each other. Breastfeed vs Formula, Helicopter vs. FreeRange, Vax vs Antivaxxers, Homeschool vs Private vs Public Schools, Stay at Home vs Working outside the home, Thrift store vs Nordstrom, Wholefood home-cooking vs processed store-bought ready-made, and the list goes ON and ON. It's relentless.

I know some can just deflect the looks or not give the criticism a second thought, but I find it really hard - I think especially as a single parent. Because I chose this, the bar feels exceptionally higher for me than it is for other parents. And I worry that my angst over these encounters will be absorbed by my kid.

Monday, February 16, 2015

1,000,000 Daily Decisions

Several things have come up for me in the past few weeks around the structure of parenting and all the decisions - good and bad - that I make in a day. Things happen so instantly with a toddler (except getting out of the house); and emotions are often running high and incredibly close to the surface. With my responses and actions, I can make my boy happy in an instant, or mad, or sad, or tearful, or hyped up, or annoyed. And, so much of this I love and so much of this I hate. Honestly, it's a LOT of pressure to say and do all the right things all the damn time. And I both succeed and fail a million times a day.

I want to set him up to succeed in life, and you know, not get hit by a car before he gets the chance. And both of these require structure and discipline and engagement and lots and lots of love. He already exercises his right to decide his fate FAR more than I'm willing, or is safe, to let him. Because he is, after all, two. But that means I have to be the big scary loud bad guy at least once a day. My kid is smart and communicative, and stubborn. He tests me and my rather tired, short fuse at all the wrong moments. So sometimes, my reactions are that of a big jerk. I should be more patient and recognize his age, and I'm definitely trying to take a deep breath and decide better in the moment what actually needs to happen vs. what my instant reaction is. It's hard, just after those moments, to not feel horrible about myself and so sorry for my kid! Then there are times, like other night in the grocery store parking lot when he got away from me as I was juggling groceries and keys, etc., and almost ran in front of a moving car, when my reaction feels horrible but totally justified. And then the frequency of all these moments happening in the short awake time we have together, makes me often feel defeated.

Solo parenting has a lot to offer, but it's in time like these, when No One is there to take the pressure off being the ONLY decision maker, even a tiny bit, when I get a little envious of my partnered friends and family. Luckily, I have the power to also turn the moment around usually, and fairly quickly (remember the toddler rollercoaster I mentioned earlier?). And I think that there's also a lot to be said for the very clear guidelines made by one parent, in a home where there is no arguing or second guessing between parents. No way is perfect, but if my intentions are always solid and about what is best for my boy - and I find away to stay consistent - I'm hopeful my decisions are the right ones.