Survival of the Fittest – Single Motherhood

While I am trying to get into a regular routine for the fall, I think I am going to try to devote Tuesday’s blog to answering questions that are presented by my readers.  Let’s hope I can get into the swing of life soon, because today is day two of school and I already feel like I have been railroaded!

First day of school - 8th grade & 5th grade

First day of school – 8th grade & 5th grade

Ironically enough, the topic I chose for today (fitting for this time of year) is:

Organizational Tips for the Single Mom

I sat down to write the outline for this blog and it was absolutely the easiest topic on which I have ever brainstormed.  After being a single mom for almost nine years, I have plenty of tips and ideas on how to improve the quality of life for not only you, but the people around you.

1) Don’t Put Off What You Can Do Today!

That is very self explanatory, but essential when you are a single mom.  If you put one thing off, then with certainty there will be four more things piled on the list before tomorrow.  So as soon as a permission slip comes in, fill it out and have your child put it right back into their folder and write the field trip in your calendar.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have forgotten to write something in my calendar and had to fly in a panic the morning of the field trip to take a lunch bag to school before the bus leaves.  All of that anxiety can be avoided if you just followed the simple procedure – sign, give to child, write in calendar.  Which brings me to my next tip:

2) Make Your Calendar Your Best Friend.

My ex, his wife, my husband and our kids all have access to the same Google Calendar, so although I prefer to have a hand written calendar that I can look at, I always enter dates into the Google Calendar so my ex can stay on top of events even when the kids are not with him.  I compare my calendars weekly to make sure they are both up to date.  Having both allows me to schedule an appointment at the dentist even if I don’t have my hard calendar in my purse.

It’s also helpful because it can help put the responsibility into the hands of your ex to stay on top of what is going on.   When we were first separated and the kids and I were living over an hour away from my ex, I tried to send him weekly emails about what was going on with the kids and what activities they had and when.  My daughter was too young to have phone conversations, so I would be her voice in letting him know what we had going on.  It was and still is important to him to be an active daily presence in my kids’ lives even when he cannot be with them.

Early in my tenure as a single mom, I was not very good with being on time and keeping track of appointments.  Honestly, my ex had spent so many years staying on top of me about where I needed to be and when that I don’t think I was really prepared for having to keep everything in order alone.  It was tough, but once I realized the importance of organization, it made life much easier on all of us.  And once I learned the stress it caused my kids to be late for school or their activities, it made my children much happier.

3) Don’t Commit to Something Just Because it Sounds Good.

This is actually a big deal.  It may not sound like it, but if your child sees a commercial for the Circus and you say, “We should go to that,” you are setting yourself up for torment.  I used to say that a lot to my kids, “We should go on a cruise” or “I’ll take you there someday.”  In my mind, I was telling them how everything was going to be great in our life someday.  I was convincing MYSELF that things would be better.  Sadly enough though I now realize I was getting the kids excited about things that would never come to fruition.

My advice to every single mom is this: Unless you KNOW that you are going to do something, even something as small as going to the park on Saturday, then DON’T COMMIT.  It is disappointing to the kids and it will be death of you while the kids attack you with a barrage of questions on when you might go and where and how and with whom…..

What works best for me now that my kids are older is to say, “I will think about it, but I cannot possibly commit to that right now.”  My kids know that if I say that, then there is a possibility, but only if they BACK OFF.  Because they know that if it’s a NO, then I will say NO.

4) Learn to Say NO!!!

Let’s practice that right now… “NO!”  I don’t just mean to your kids… I mean to ANYONE and EVERYONE who wants more from you than you have to give.  I hate to say it, but I had to resign myself to the fact that being a room mom or hosting book club in my child’s class two afternoons a week was better left to the many stay at home moms who had kids in my child’s class.  It’s hard enough to be a mom, but throw a full-time job (where you are the only source of income for your household) and there are just not enough hours of the day to be Super Mom and volunteer nonstop.

The key to learning to say no is to also learn that you cannot beat yourself up over it.  I desperately WANTED to be the mom who could help dish out food in the cafeteria or do the cash register at the Book Fair, but it just didn’t fit with my work schedule.  I have always done my best to help with field trips here or there or special parties, but even that can be draining on your work hours and your finances when living on a budget.

So learn to say no and focus on your kids in other ways.  They won’t doubt your love and will understand if you explain that you cannot get off work, but will take him/her to ice cream after dinner.  Quality time is the most important way we can say yes to our kids.

5) Delegate, Delegate, Delegate!

I have always been TERRIBLE at asking for help.  It was like asking for help was admitting some perceived shortcoming.  I learned over the years that there are SO MANY PEOPLE out there who are willing to help you if you allow them.  Being afraid to ask or feeling like you are needy is completely in your brain and you need to figure out how to deal with it.  I don’t know how I would have survived the years as a single mom without the help of my parents, my friends and even my ex and his wife.

It took many years to get there, but I finally over the last couple of years got to the comfort level where I could ask my ex if he could take the kids if I had an event or if I just needed a break.  I think it was a paranoia for years that he would in some way “use it against me” if I asked him for help.  The truth of the matter is he was just happy to get some extra time with the kids.

Another form of delegation is getting the kids to carry more weight around the house.  I have a couple of single mom friends who still do everything they did for their kids before their divorce although they are no longer stay at home moms.  One of my best friends actually gets up and blow dries her daughter’s hair every morning.  Another one of my friends gets up early, gets ready and then fixes elaborate breakfasts for her kids.  My children learned how to fix their own breakfasts at a VERY early age.  I would be busy getting ready for work, so my kids had to gain an independence earlier than some.  They would get up, get ready, pack bookbags, fix and eat their own breakfasts, brush their teeth and be ready when I came downstairs.

Again, it is guilt that keeps too many mothers from allowing their kids to do for themselves, but THEY NEED TO LEARN INDEPENDENCE!!!!

I have struggled a little with Joe on this topic because he is accustomed to doing EVERYTHING for his kids – laying out and ironing clothes, fixing breakfast, pouring milk, etc.  I have had to ask him NOT to do all of that for my kids because I am proud of how independent they are and I don’t want to take that away from them.

6) FIND TIME FOR YOURSELF………………………………….

This is the biggie of all biggies…. because it’s nearly impossible, but it must be done if you are to have any sanity.  My kids went to their dad every other weekend for the first four years after our divorce.  So my alone time was few and far between.  They were so young though that I could get a sitter after putting them to bed and meet up with friends for a while.  At their age now I could not do that because they are up too late (and I’m older and couldn’t handle going out so late on a work night!).  But there are plenty of ways you can be good to yourself so that you can be the best you that you can be.

I think after divorce we try to recreate ourselves.  If we initiated the divorce then we want to prove that we are better than we were before.  It seems that most of my friends who have gone through divorces follow the textbook divorce routine.  They exercise when they don’t have the kids so they lose a lot of weight.  They try to do what they can to improve their physical appearance – change their hairstyle, wear more make-up, get manicures and pedicures.  All of this is just part of the rite of passage and is probably needed by women as a way to build self-esteem during a time of very low self-esteem.  I’m not saying that you should run out and schedule work to be done, but you need to TAKE CARE OF YOU!!!!

The truth is that if you cannot take care of yourself, then you are of no use to anyone else.  Including your children.  So do what you can to take care of you, including moving past the anger to enjoy your new freedom.  Focusing on the future will allow you to stay positive and HOPEFUL.

And who can’t benefit from a little hope?

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