Advice for a Single Parent
The Top 5 Lessons I learned as a Single Parent
Single parents should be listed as one of the wonders of the world in an important book. Seriously, they should. I have done my part as a single mom of three, struggling to balance the roles of mom, dad, and breadwinner all at once. It was not an easy time and I would not wish it on anyone else, not even my worst enemy. Throughout the devastation, heartache, and tears I learned some very valuable lessons, five of which I have deemed the most important.
1. No matter how bad you THINK you have it, someone out there is WORSE off than you.
Yes it is true, and I will use my story to prove it. I got pregnant my senior year of high school, one month before graduating. Saying it was unintended would be a huge understatement, but all in all it was my own damn fault. In an attempt at avoiding the wrath of my dad, I hightailed it out of state a week after I got my diploma. I moved back in with my mom, and was separated from my child’s father by 1200 miles. When I was five months pregnant I found out he committed suicide. This is a horrible story, a horrible true story I wish was fiction, but it is not.
I spent weeks playing the “what if” game in my head, crying, and calling his phone to hear his voice on his voicemail until it was cut off. I wanted to die. I had not told my family who my child's father was. He was not what they had envisioned for me at all, and I was afraid to disappoint them any further. So I suffered secretly, with nobody to talk to. Nobody had it as bad as me. Then I met a woman at my doctor’s office at my nine month checkup.
She was smiling at me for all of thirty minutes before she came and sat next to me.She asked me how I was, and I broke down. I told her everything, and she sat there with her hand on my shoulder, listening to me. When I was done, I apologized to her for it all, my crying, my rambling, and my snotty cry coughs. She then asked if I would like to hear why she was there, and I said yes. I was prepared for a happy story of a baby that would know its dad and grow up to attend Harvard.
She began by telling me that her husband was at home under hospice care. He had cancer and would die in a few weeks. They had always planned to have babies, lots of babies. Their dream was to buy an old Victorian house and fix it up as a family, watch their children grow, get married, and be grandparents. The best they could do was harvest sperm, and hope that it took, and she was praying that would happen in time for her husband to see an ultrasound picture of a baby that would live.
She had already had three pregnancies that all miscarried, and she was there to check her hormone count to see if she was pregnant again. She was hoping she was, because they had used the last of the sperm, and they could not get anymore. As she finished, I was called in. When I left she was already in the back. I waited in the parking lot for her to come out, and when she did I saw tears. I recognized that they were tears of sadness and not of joy.
I didn’t get out of my car. I figured it would do her no good to see my giant pregnant belly, especially after me going on and on about how I wasn’t ready to be a mom, when being a mom was all she wanted. I then realized I was the lucky one. I may have lost someone I loved, but I had a piece of him to keep and care for. That woman probably would never have that.
2. Sometimes it is better to stay single than strive for a two parent home.
After I met my daughter, I only wanted the perfect life for her. My teenaged mind somehow translated this to “Get married ASAP!” When my daughter was 18 months old I did. I married a guy that I thought would grow into a great father and husband. Did you see that “would grow in to”? Yeah…that means he was NOT anywhere near that when I married him, but I wanted my daughter to have a dad, and I saw his potential.
The next five years produced two more children, numerous police visits, two trips to jail for my husband, two major hospital visits for me, and three emotionally traumatized children. Even after this, I would say that children do benefit from a two parent home, but only a stable and happy one. Do not rush in to a marriage just because you feel like it would be better to have another parent in the house. Make sure that the marriage is built on a stable foundation. Marry someone that you DON’T want to change…at all. My husband now is amazing. I could not imagine a better man to have married. He took that guy I use to dream about, Mr. Perfect, challenged him to a duel and won hands down. My children now have the opportunity to see a healthy relationship and have a good male role model.
3. Occasionally locking yourself in a bathroom and crying hysterically is ok.
I remember the first time I did this. I was living with my mom, in her basement, and my oldest daughter had just dumped a bowl of Spagettios in her little brother’s playpen. I lost it, but not in front of the children. I asked my sister to watch them for ten minutes and there I went, into the bathroom. I cried it all out, and then I entered back into my reality. Later I told my mom what happened and she laughed at me. Turns out she use to run and cry in her room on occasion, and was very pleased that her wish of “I hope when you have kids they act just like you!” came true.
4. Single parents are not given any leniency when it comes to school.
Yup, they do not care if you are trying to handle a household and a job on your own. They still expect you to have time to help all of your children with homework, get them to school on time, and pick them up when they are sick within 30 minutes, go on field trips, make it to back to school night, attend face to face parent/teacher conferences, and participate in all fundraisers selling little tubs of candy and popcorn for insane amounts of money. I have had my fair share of school related issues. I have always found it completely absurd that schools expect so much in this day of two working parents and single parents.
The fact is, our schools are very overpopulated, and teachers rely on parents, and expect them to be involved, so much more than they did when I was in school. The problem is that a lot of children have both parents working, or have a single parent home. Time and availability is lacking. Some teachers understand and some do not…at all.
I have had teachers make me feel like I was the worst mother in the world for not attending a school event because I could not get time off work. I have been scolded for not participating in fundraisers, because it hurt my daughter to not win a little dollar store toy for selling 20 items. I have gotten teacher calls for not helping with projects that I just had no time to help with (What parent wakes their kid up at 3am after a double shift to make flash cards?). I have had to explain myself when it took over an hour to get my sick child from school because I had to find someone with a car to go get her. I have also had some understanding teachers that accommodated our family situation.
It is hard to have to defend yourself, knowing that the teacher may be looking at your child like they are a poor child from a crappy family. You will feel guilty at times when you can’t make the play, because you will get fired if you miss any more work. You will feel guilty when your child is disappointed because you could not get to a school function. You will feel guilty when you can’t afford the field trip. You will feel guilty when the teacher blames you for your child’s falling grades. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
You can only do your best. We do not all have three hours free time every evening to help with homework. We cannot all leave work early for a play. We cannot all afford a $30 field trip. It is what it is. Accept it, and move forward.
5. Single or not, your children HAVE to come first.
This is by far the most important thing I have learned, because if you truly follow this rule everything else kind of falls into place. When you become a parent, your child is now depending on you to be a parent, even if the other person that was supposed to be responsible walks out, dies, gets abducted by aliens, etc. Before you make any choice, you need to ask, “How will this affect my child/children?” You must sacrafice. Sometimes you must sacrafice your own happiness and/or dreams, friends, and potential relationships, just to name a few things. I have given up many people/jobs/things for my children, and I will continue to do so until the day I die. I do it because I love them more than I love me or anyone else, and because I chose to be a mom but they did not choose to be my child. I want to one day ask each of them “If you could have chosen your mother, would you have picked me?” and I want them to say, without hesitation, “Yes. Out of all the moms in the world, I would have picked you.” Maybe a little selfish…but that’s what I want.