In honor of Pride day and the recent Supreme Court ruling, I wanted to give special acknowledgment to the LGBT single parents (and couples) out there who not only have to overcome the stigma and challenges of being a single parent but also fight to stand strong in who they are, despite the odds, empowering their children with love, endurance, and wisdom. It has been and continues to be a long arduous road indeed. Same sex parents can be denied the right to adopt, despite studies showing resilience, strength, and love in children raised in same-sex households. Income disparities abound in states within the U.S. that pile discrimination on top of discrimination, making getting a decent job or house almost impossible for LGBT parents. Some may actually have a partner but was not able to (until now!) have this recognized legally. Thank you for all your hard work, dedication, laughter, and tears. And thank you for help in tearing down the walls of stigma single parents face when sharing the fact that no, there isn’t a man/woman in my life and yes, we are still a complete family unit.
I originally wanted to title this blog post “Happy Father’s Day! Single Dads Doin’ it for Themselves” or “Happy Father’s Day to Dads who Kick A** and don’t take Sh** from Anybody.” Somehow it didn’t have quite that magical ring I was looking for. I briefly contemplated “Happy Father’s Day: Live Long and Prosper” but began to obsess over getting caught plagiarizing (stupid copyright laws). So instead, I decided to post a simple (albeit lengthy, read it to the end c’mon you know all about perseverance, quit your belly-aching) poem that expresses my heartfelt appreciation to all the complex arrays of single dads (and moms who fill that role of dad) who commit every day to this full-time job called parenting.
Child of my heart
Before I knew it
Before I understood
You became my life,
You taught me strength
Fierce love and
You taught me tenderness
Life’s miracles and mysteries
All that lay in the eyes of my
Child of my heart
For the tears
I try to wipe away
I swore to protect
From visible and invisible monsters
I’ll fight to my last breath
So that you can grow
To dare to dream
To rise above ashes
Despite the heaviness of sorrows
Always knowing you are
Child of my heart
As time passes
And I watch you grow
Son to Man
Daughter to Woman
Know I am still with you,
Have always been with you,
Father of your heart,
I really had intentions of posting on Mother’s Day, really I did. I wanted to give a shout-out to my fellow single sistahs who are kicking butt out there (don’t worry dad’s you get your turn in June). However, let’s just say that the day did not exactly go well. Let’s just say it ended in tears, exhaustion, and cereal for dinner. To be honest, at the end of the day, I felt more discouraged than ever. Those old dark thoughts that I had thought were put away for good, dusted off the mothballs and aired itself out like granny’s old underwear drawer.
“I can’t do this anymore.”
”What am I doing? I’m a failure as a mom.”
“I just want a break from my kids. I’m not feeling the love right now.”
All these thoughts and more may or may not sound familiar to you. After the argument and fighting, and I finally got my kids to bed, I sat there feeling sorry for myself and wondering why do some people have it so easy and the rest of us get the short end of the stick? I know life isn’t fair, but dang it could someone at least please give us a running start? As I was morosely brooding over these thoughts, I came upon this story, A Mother’s Strength, and it gave me perspective (advertisement for a particular non-profit notwithstanding. By the way this does not constitute an endorsement for a particular charity). This and many other single parent’s stories—some literally right next door to us—go unnoticed by many. Yet regardless of the “unfairness” of life, there still is strength at the end of the day to carry on, despite tremendous heartache. So for all the single mamas and dads who have overcome tremendous odds, thank you so much for all that you do. You have inspired this single mama to keep on going. Happy Mother’s Day, every day. ~
Okay, I may not be the single parenting guru, but I do have some pride in knowing my bookshelf is stocked with a plethora of sturdy, if dusty, books on parenting. Everything from positive parenting, to love, logic, and beyond adorned my rickety, sagging bookcases. Once upon a time I read them. Really I did. But somewhere down the line, I became bogged down in what I thought was conflicting advice from multitudes of parenting experts. I GOT SO CONFUSED! I know parenting in general is not an exact science, but don’t you think since we as the human race have been at this parenting thing since the dawn of time, that we would eventually get our stuff together and come up with THE parenting tome to guide our offspring into adulthood? Maybe you can help me out as I list some of the parenting advice that leave me scratching my head at best or, at worse, wanting to lock myself in my room until the kids are 18 or they burn the place down.
Be Consistent (But Be Flexible)
There’s something to be said about structure and schedules. Predictability is a comforting thing. If I know every morning I eat bran cereal and drink water I can find comfort in knowing I will have a bowel movement by 3pm. Yes being consistent with rules and consequences when your dear children eschew said rules out the window is an important cornerstone of parenting. I need to be firm, have structure and routines that would make an Army drill sergeant proud. But then I’m chastised for not being flexible enough in rules and routines. I need to create a more amicable atmosphere with my children. If I am too anal retentive, then my kids will develop a vindictive liking to death metal and horde a marijuana jungle in their bedroom. If I am consistent about being flexible though, maybe that’s the key but then that leads me to my next question….
Pick Your Battles (But Be Consistent?!)
So now I am being told that I need to lighten up, get my panties unbunched, because I need to Not Sweat the Small Stuff (note: young child setting stove on fire does NOT constitute small stuff). Save your ammo for those big battles like, “no sex on prom night” even though your teen became sexually active three years ago…or fight for the remote control (I WILL watch Grey’s Anatomy reruns dammit!), but all the while being consistent (CONSISTENT people!) in executing swift and judicious punishment. Like, on a regular basis. Then one has to ask, who gets to determine which battles are important and at what time? I may not care two figs about whether my four-year old gets to wear Spiderman underwear or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but you can guarantee the gates of hell will let loose if you give him the wrong pair and it’s five minutes before mom needs to rush out the door for work.
Let the House Go (But If Your Kids Are Buried Under Clothes, CPS Might Get Involved)
As a single parent it is a matter of survival to be a multi-tasker. That’s all fine and dandy, but then some middle-upper class parenting magazine tells me to “let the house go. The dishes don’t have to be done today. Spending quality time with your children is more important.” Do you know how many dishes my kids go through in a given day?? If I let that go, my kids will have to eat off the floor. And they might accidentally digest a dust bunny. There’s also a little paranoid part of me that carries the worries associated with society’s views of single parents. What if the UPS guy delivers a package, peeks past me at the door, and sees my kids playing joyously with dirty underwear they pulled from the overflowing hamper? “Aha! I knew it! She’s a single parent; single parents are dirty, filthy slobs. I bet CPS has her number on speed dial.” How does one manage “casual dirty look”? C’mon Martha Stewart, help me out here!
Be in the Moment (But Pay the Bills)
Children grow so fast (sometimes not fast enough sad to say), so enjoy all those little moments with your kiddos. I’m all for this one. I’m actually (believe it or not) quite fond of my kids. But as soon as I attempt to focus on playing hide-and-go seek with them or play Transformers for the fifteenth time today, it’s like my brain gets possessed with ADD-like qualities.
Me: Did I pay the electricity bill or did I just dream that I did?
Child: Mom, c’mon you are supposed to use your scary Megatron voice!”
Me: Oh, sorry honey…I mean I’m going to rip your arms off Optimus Prime! RAARRR!”
Child: That’s a dinosaur mom. Megatron doesn’t go RARRR!”
Me: Oh, sorry…speaking of dinosaurs, did you put your dinosaur bedsheet in the hamper? Oh dang it! I paid the phone bill but not the electricity…”
Me: Oh, right….RARRR!
I guess the big take-away point from all of these advice—consistent or not (take that parenting gurus) — is to forge the best path you can think of for you and your family. If it means cheating and vacuuming the kitchen floor instead of sweeping so be it. At the end of the day, if your kids retire to bed with all limbs attached and you don’t break down into a hysterical mess (and even if you do), and everyone knows they are loved, maybe you can call it good enough.
So we recently emerged from the depths of sickness that’s been going around this season. Weeks full of hacking, coughing, fatigue, stomach aches, throwing up, runny nose, stuffy nose, headaches you name it, we had it in the last four weeks. As my kids slowly started to crawl back to the land of the living, they hit that nice plateau stage of sickness in which they weren’t well enough to go to school, but were well enough to harass Mom and each other. So as I fired up the computer and frantically Google-ed any kind of indoor activities I could get my hands on to ensure my kids didn’t kill each other (or I them), I found some pretty cool resources for those times when we are stuck indoors.
- Rockin’ Mama: 7 Indoor Activities for Sick Kids
- 5 Fun Ways to Entertain a Sick Toddler or Preschooler
- Parents: Indoor Activities
Eh, what the hell, I’ll also throw in a few of our favorite go-to activities:
- Build an indoor fort with pillows and blankets and create a den for your sick one to chillax.
- Card games (never under-estimate the power of Uno)
- Read out-loud to each other
- Make paper airplanes and have a race (even if your little one has the unfair advantage of dexterity to build a mini-F15)
- And finally, watch marathons of your favorite shows on Cartoon Network until you both pass out
As my birthday week approached, I started to hope that things were bound to be looking up. My kids had decorated the house with original art and decorations that made my heart smile. They were definitely more hyperactive which translated to a clean bill of health (I’m trying to infuse enthusiasm in this statement, really I am). Nothing makes family bonds grow stronger than being able to kick your kids out of the house and engage with other human beings other than yourself. As I breathed a sigh of relief and was grateful for the tools I had at hand to entertain my kiddos, I noticed my head was hurting and my throat was starting to feel sore. And my stomach hurt. And I couldn’t shake this cough. And I have a runny nose….oh crap.
No matter where you look, it’s everywhere. You think you will take a harmless trip to the grocery store and, bam! It doesn’t take long before you are inundated with hearts, flowers, chocolates, aftershave, perfumes, jewelry, nose hair pluckers, you name it. And then there’s the question of the quality of items that must be debated. If you get someone Whitman’s versus Godiva chocolate would that automatically put you in the cheap category? Might as well put your own belongings in a trash bag and set them out on the front lawn. Would anyone REALLY know if you bought diamond earrings from Fred Meyers but you say they’re from Tiffany’s? And agh, if you bought the cologne that has the packaging of Clive Christian but suspiciously smells like Axe is this the end of the line for you?
Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s a beautiful thing to have someone you cherish and who you can share life with (besides your kids, that’s cheating). But you have to admit being a single parent can definitely have its advantages. It took me quite a few Valentine’s days before the dull ache in my heart started to subside and I realized I had something much better—freedom. Freedom to not care. Now before you un-follow me, hear me out.
As a single parent, I can live in the freedom in knowing that love does not come once a year in a perfunctory heart-shaped box. Instead, I learn that love comes in the form of seeing your little one be sick and cry himself into an exhaustive version of sleep, snot running down, yet the only place where he’s comfortable at the moment is in your arms (even if said arms wind up falling asleep). Love comes in the form of homemade Valentine’s Day cards with your name misspelled (how can you misspell mom?!) but contains lots and lots of sparkles. Lots. Love is not perfect and it was never meant to be. It’s meant to be messy, confusing, heart-wrenching, crazy, joyful, and manifest in unexpected places, all at the same time. Now that, I think, is a Valentine’s gift worth keeping.
There will always be some book somewhere from a PhD individual who will tell you the key to parenting success is to create complicated color-coded behavioral chart systems with positive reinforcement techniques while describing the neurobiology of the developing brain, blah, blah, blah. Usually I throw those books into the corner or use it as a stepping stool so my little one can wash his hands at the bathroom sink. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be more helpful to talk about what NOT to do from parents who have been-there-done-that, won’t-touch-it-again-with-a-ten-foot-pole? After all, learning from life’s screw-ups can lead to the path of wisdom; I think I read that in a fortune cookie somewhere. Anyhow, here are my thoughts:
Whatever you do, do NOT show up in sweats. I don’t care if you just finished running the Breast Cancer Awareness 5K. Don’t do it. As soon as you do, and they’ve figured out you are a single parent, you will automatically be branded as that parent. You know what I mean. Also, it is not a good idea to lean over, grab the principal by the tie or pearl necklace and yell, “Do you know how many hours I’ve worked this week??!! And you want me to be a better parent by creating a color-coded, alphabetical filing system while relearning pre-calculus under the new essential learning requirements in my spare time so my child can graduate 3rd grade?!” I can tell you, this usually does not go over too well. In fact, this often can lead to you being escorted out by security.
People at work–whether they have children or not–do not care two figs about your parenting woes. No matter how well they wear their fake-interested smile, they do not care to hear how you had to cancel that dinner date because your ex decided to have a breakdown prior to picking up the kids for visitation. Or that you sucked all your sick leave dry because all your kids decided to come down with mono at the same time. Trust me, your co-workers may care up to a point. Usually that point is reached somewhere between them asking “how are you?” and you starting to reply.
Grocery Stores, Restaurants and Other Public Places You Can’t Avoid
As a single parent, you must be brave (or crazy) to go in to grocery stores or go out to eat with your kids in tow. Sometimes it also takes acts of desperation, like when you run out of everything edible you can feed your little piranhas and you break down and head out into the great wide world. If your child is calculating (all of them are, especially the ones who look innocent) they will pick the worse time to have a screaming, crying, drag-out meltdown. If they’re skilled they’ll rope their siblings and any other random kid into the fray. If this happens, do not under any circumstances, break down with them, nor sit on the floor crying, wondering where in life you went wrong while you grab the nearest Nutella and eat it straight out of the jar. If you are lucky, you would have planned for this ahead of time and recruited a battle buddy to go in and pull you and your screaming kids out of the area, stat.
Disgustingly cute, young, wide-eyed couples who invade these types of gatherings do not want to hear about the realities of parenting. They prefer to keep that nice illusion that having kids is full of pink unicorns and fluffy bunnies, not how you had to change your shirt three times before coming here because your little one threw up all over you. Also not a good idea to bring your kids with you because you couldn’t find childcare (bouncers at nightclubs seem to frown on this). And whatever you do, do not ask random guests to hold your baby for a few minutes so that you can use the restroom. I guarantee your little one will choose that moment in time to have diarrhea and you will find yourself banned from all future get-togethers.
Don’t ever give up. You know you’ve lost the battle when you are curled up in your bedroom in a fetal position with a white flag hanging out your door. Your kids are running around in their underwear, making “pancakes” using flour and play-doh, watching 13 episodes in a row of Sponge Bob. But you know what? You have not lost the war. You are a single parent dammit. So in the words of George C. Scott as Patton, “heroes don’t die, they just fade away…” wait, never mind. In the words of Roosevelt, “the only thing to fear is fear itself” you can do this thing called parenting regardless. Believe in yourself. Now go get ‘em.