Desperate times call for creative measures. As humans we’re bound to experience something out of the ordinary at some point in life. When that happens during our child-rearing years, you can bet our parenting journeys will look anything but normal.
Parenting is a difficult space for me. Despite my unconditional love for my kids, I tend to view parenting as my job—something I have to do that claims the majority of my waking hours.
When I chose to bring my kids into the world, I was desperate for them. Two humans couldn’t possibly be more desired than these two boys. But I’ve had some unexpected twists thrown into my parenting journey. My boys are just 4 and 6, and over the span of their existence I’ve lived through a traumatic divorce, picked up the sometimes awkward quest of trying to find a life partner, come to terms with the fact that my oldest son has some unique developmental challenges, and thrown myself into a writing career that I have yet to manifest into a viable source of financial stability.
It hasn’t been an easy path, and I haven’t always been able to walk it in the way I thought I would.
Go Your Own Way
Lately I’ve made it a point to better integrate my children into my whole life rather than trying to maintain a double personality between footloose kid-free me every other weekend and straight-laced single mom me the rest of the time. I’m also making it a point to build more confidence in my parenting style and give less weight to the opinions and criticisms of others.
Recently I had another revolutionary counseling session that catapulted me forward on my evolution as a parent. It came about as I expressed my fears over one day inviting another person into my parenting space. In keeping with my recent theme of vulnerability, messiness, and the willingness to be seen, my therapist reminded me of a truth I had yet to articulate:
Parenting is one of the most vulnerable things we can do.
We’re all doing this thing called parenting for the first time. Even if we’ve done it before, we haven’t done this kid before. So as a single parent on the upswing from a few years of tough luck, I offer these six strategies to consider as you move forward on your path.
6 Ways to Keep it Real
1. Change your narrative. For years now, I’ve been asking myself “Why would anyone want to sign up for my life with my kids?” The first time I said it to my therapist, she stopped me abruptly. “Whoa, whoa, whoa…you have to change that narrative,” she said. The replacement narrative she gave me for when it’s time to let someone into my parenting space is “Wow, this person is about to see me in a really vulnerable, messy place, where I take care of two humans who I love unconditionally.”
2. Show up. Half the task of parenting is simply showing up. When you’re overwhelmed by grief, show your tear-stained face. When you don’t know how to answer that out-of-left-field question about God or divorce, sit, listen, and admit “I don’t know.” Get up in the morning, wipe those noses, pack those lunches, read and tuck them in at night, rest, and then get up and do it again.
3. Do what you think is best for you and your children in the moment. Forget the shoulds and supposed to’s. Especially if you have a child with extra or special needs, every day will call for a different strategy. As you process grief and meet the challenges of single parenthood, some days you’ll need the assistance of screen time so you can lie in bed and cry or work like a mad woman on your next big life move.
4. Acknowledge the challenges of your circumstances. There’s a reason people date before marriage and kids. It can be extra challenging and complicated to deal with divorce and breakups and make space for new love when munchkins are involved. Not to mention, you’re running the show at home by yourself. It’s not so normal (common, yes, but not normal). Why would you expect your parenting to be normal?
5. Put parental influence into perspective. Thank god I have two boys. If I only had one, I’d probably over-estimate the powers of my parenting choices. Having two boys shows me how two children can grow up in the same home with the same parent and be completely different in terms of personality and behavior. No matter what my choices in discipline or extra curricular activities, ultimately I believe that the type of person I am and the way I live holds the most power in influencing the type of adults my boys become.
6. Don’t take criticism personally. No one has ever gotten close enough to my boys and me to become another consistent parental figure in my children’s lives. But a couple people have gotten close enough to have an opinion of my parenting style, which, in short, they’ve labeled as lax. When I brought this up to my therapist, she responded by asking, “What if all that wasn’t about you? What if that was about them?” She went on to note how strict discipline can be an attempt to control and make children at least look good to others. It can also come about as a result of not knowing how to fully express love. I don’t claim to be perfect, but these critical thoughts balanced out my own assessment of my parenting skills.
Own Your Strength
Don’t be afraid to rewrite the narrative of your parenting journey. In reality, it’s rare to find normal. It’s just harder to hide and maintain the mask of normal as a single parent. Stop beating yourself up for the things you think you’re doing wrong, and start acknowledging what an amazing job you’re doing in the face of larger-than-life situations.
Keep loving. Keep showing up. Keep on keeping on.