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Dear Single Moms: Don't Compare Yourself to Married Mothers
I'm hard on myself. Always have been.
Other people tell me I'm doing a great job raising my kids, and while I appreciate the praise, sometimes I have a hard time accepting it. I constantly feel like I should be doing a better job than I am. My kids are clean, well fed, and happy, but sometimes I still feel like I should be doing more for them.
Giving them more things. More time. More love.
Taking them more places. Signing them up for more sports even though I can barely afford the sports they currently do. RSVPing for more playdates since I cancel half the time because I'm exhausted or my van needs repairs yet again.
More, more, more. I know that quality matters more than quantity, but I constantly worry that I should be doing more for my kids.
I've gotten over my fear of married moms, but I still compare myself to them at times.
But I Shouldn't.
I'm doing my best, and so are you.
I often feel guilty that I can't afford a big house for my kids to call home. We traded our big house for a tiny mobile home after I spent years battling things out with my ex in the courtroom. I work 6 or 7 days a week, and I'm exhausted. I grew up believing that hard work was all it took to be successful, but I failed to factor in the fact that life is expensive and some costs (medical bills, legal expenses for failed relationships) are pretty much beyond your control.
I feel sad when I hang pictures on the wall that only contain me and the kids or the kids with their dad. There are no two-parent family pics in my home anymore.
I worry that my kids will grow up depressed or stressed because they live in a single-family home. My ex feeds into these fears by sending me texts bragging about how perfect his new relationship is. He sent one the other day that said "I'm so happy our kids can finally see how a healthy relationship where two people who treat each other right should look."
I've seen the statistics about how kids who grow up with a single parent are more likely to drop out, do drugs, and commit violent crimes. I've read the hateful comments from Internet posters who blame the parents (or lack of) for every documented crime a child commits.
"But where are the parents?" they ask, their disdain evident even through the glaring screen of my smartphone or laptop.
"My kids would never do that," they proudly proclaim, as if that somehow makes them better than the rest of the world.
Sometimes the parents are there. Sometimes there's only one parent, and that one parent is doing the best he or she can. Most of us don't expect our kids to make headlines for terrible crimes, and it puts so much pressure on all of us...not just single moms.
Even if You Do it All, it Might Not Be Enough.
You can show up for every class party and attend every single soccer game or choir recital, but that's not always enough. You can do your best to mold your kids into responsible adults, but you can't control the outcome any more than you can predict what the temperature for your city will be on March 7, 2037.
But it doesn't always feel that way.
It's hard seeing kids show up in hand-sewn costumes or $100 ensembles for the class Halloween party when your kids are wearing something you bought at Goodwill.
It's depressing sending your kids to school in whatever happens to be on the Target clearance racks because that's all you can afford on your single income, even though you know that it shouldn't matter as long as they're clothed. But it does matter, and kids are cruel. You don't want to feel like you're the reason why your kids weren't cool enough to get invited to a sleepover or birthday party.
It's frustrating to decline offers to serve on the PTA or help run the school carnival because you can't find a babysitter for your other kids or you're just too dang tired to commit to another activity.
It's heartbreaking to know that being a stay-at-home mom is probably not in the cards for you because, well...bills. That rent and electric sure aren't going to pay themselves.
Even if you are a stay-at-home mom, there's a good chance you're a work-at-home mom. It's hard to balance parenting with self employment or telecommuting, and clients often call right as you're about to bake cookies with your kiddos or sit down to help them with their homework.
But Husbands Don't Help That Much, They Say...
"You don't realize how lucky you are. My husband doesn't do anything. I feel like a single mom."
People make comments like that all the time, and although they mean well, it doesn't help make single moms feel any better about their lives. If your husband contributes $1 a month toward rent or listens to you vent about your life once a month, that's still more than single moms get. If your husband watches the kids while you run to McDonald's and drink a soda alone for 15 glorious minutes while the kids are in bed, that's more of a break than single moms get.
All moms work hard, and single parents get that. However, there are still times when many of us feel like parenting would be much easier with a husband around.
Are You a Single Parent?
I often think about how much I could accomplish if I had a husband around to provide financial and emotional support. There's nobody to help pay the rent if I fall behind on work when the kids are sick. There's nobody to encourage me to chase my dreams or congratulate me when I accomplish my goals.
My toddler gave me $0.12 recently and told me he wanted me to take the day off work. That was one of the most heartbreaking moments I've experienced all year, and I kept thinking about how awesome it would be if I had someone to help contribute toward household expenses.
But I Don't.
The reality of the situation is that the entire financial burden of providing for my children falls on my shoulders, and it might always be that way. I have no desire to date anyone right now, and I couldn't afford a sitter anyway. I'm going to be alone for a while, and you might be in the same boat.
But it's okay.
It's okay if you can't give your kids the same life that kids in a two-parent home have.
It's not the end of the world if you're too tired to host a playdate at your house or too busy to help with the PTA.
There's nothing wrong with saying, Hey, I already have enough on my plate as a single parent, so I regret to inform you that I can't lend a hand.
Parenting is not a competition. If you don't have the time, energy, or finances to give your kids the same things other families have, that's okay. If you can't do the same things married moms do, that doesn't make you a bad mom.
Just Keep Doing Your Best.
They say people forget what you say and do, but they always remember how you make them feel.
When your kids grow up, they'll remember how much you loved them. They might not remember the days you had candle parties because you couldn't pay the electric bill on time or the days when you cried nonstop because you were so overwhelmed by your custody battle.
Heck, even if they do remember that stuff, it's okay. You showed them that you're human and it's normal to go through rough times in life.
Remember, You Are Just One Person.
You are the only person paying the bills and buying food, clothing, and diapers for your kids.
You are the only person who takes out the trash, vacuums the carpet, and sweeps up stray crumbs.
You are the only person who takes your kids to medical appointments, parent-teacher conferences, and sporting events.
It's just you. Nobody else.
You are one person. You can't possibly do the job of two people, no matter how hard you try. If your house is constantly a mess or you pray for rain during your son's softball games so you can rush to pick up his sister from volleyball practice, don't be too hard on yourself. If you live in fear of the landlord knocking on your door or regularly dodge phone calls from bill collectors, don't let it get you down.
You're just one person, and your name is Mom. At the end of the day, that's all that really matters.