Saturday, June 20, 2015

Tools for Father's Day (for Single Mothers)

10 Million. 

Over 3% of the entire population of the United States.

That's how many single mothers with children under the age of 18 there are in this country. 

That's how many women deserve to be celebrated tomorrow, June 21st, on Father's Day.   

I've seen various criticisms of this idea floating around the Internet - mostly, well-meaning folks proclaiming, "let the dads have their day!" So, before I delve into the only gift I can possibly offer these amazing women - our single mothers, let me go ahead and head my critics off at the pass and set the record straight. 

This post is not meant to detract from the single dads out there who are similarly pulling double duty, nor it is meant to steal any thunder from the men in this country who are generally kicking ass and taking names in the parental department.  Celebrating single mothers on Father's Day in no way negates or detracts from the amazeballs, diaper-changing, burping, wrestling, baseball-playing, swash-buckling, dinner-cooking studs that are handling business. My husband will undoubtedly and rightfully be the center of our family celebration on Sunday. He's an amazing father and deserves every bit of the attention, love and praise he will receive. He does not, however, have a corner on the market.  The "dad role" comes in all shapes, sizes, and situations, and that role is, in many instances, filled by the very same person that fills the "mom role," which is no easy feat.  So, to the naysayers, suck it up and spread the love.

My words are solely intended to, hopefully, lighten the very heavy load of the 10 million women out there - to reiterate, 3% of this country's 321 Million people - who are putting an incredible amount of pressure on themselves in an attempt to hold it all together for the sake of their children's happiness and well-being. My friends and I call it the "Camel Namastay" - the crazy, non-drinking, non-eating (occasionally spitting) animal carrying the weight of the world in me recognizes the crazy, non-drinking, non-eating (occasionally spitting) animal carrying the weight of the world in you. 

Of course, there are various reasons why our single women are manning the responsibilities of both Mom and Dad, including being single by choice, divorce, an absentee father, being widowed, etc.  The reason why is less relevant than the fact that they are actually doing it - day in and day out.  And it's fucking hard.  There is really no other way to describe it succinctly.  It's just fucking hard. And I want all of these women to know that I see you.  I hear you.  I admire you more than you'll ever know.  

I was raised by a single mother who struggled day by day, just like you, to give me every opportunity I could ever want. I was raised by a single mother who took the time out of her many part-time jobs to sit down and show me how to color inside the lines and figure out tricky math homework. I was raised by a single mother who threw her own relationships with others right under the bus for me.  I was raised by a single mother who, between loads of laundry, took the time to teach me how important it was to speak eloquently over the phone.  I was raised by a single mother who, between doing dishes, taught me the appropriate time to go nuclear on someone who just wasn't being a reasonable human being. I was raised by a single mother who reminded me that I was loved when I didn't feel loved at all.  And, I think most importantly, I was raised by a single mother who taught me to LAUGH (mostly at myself because, come one, I'm hilarious) and to know that I'm RESILIENT.

You see, these last two lessons are what eventually became my most useful tools when I found myself divorced, broke, and the mother to a beautiful baby boy - when I had to pull double duty and figure out how to be Mom and Dad and work and run a household.  These were my fallbacks when I had to sit through many a Father's Day fretting to the point of nausea over how I'm going to explain to my son that we weren't celebrating that day, even as everyone around us was talking about their dad's new ugly tie. Figuring out how to fill the fatherless hole in your children is the bain of every single mother's existence, and it's even more pronounced and gut-wrenching on Father's Day.

And so to all of my lovely, beautiful, capable, smart, strong, amazing, badass single mothers, for your Father's Day I give you, along with my enduring admiration, the gift that my mother gave to me - albeit, in a much shorter form.  I give you some tools to stuff into your already full MOM/DAD backpack to make it through this Father's Day and every day hereafter that you feel heavy with the weight of all that you are carrying on your shoulders:

1. Stability is key.  This is #1 on the list for a reason. Lack of stability is enough to break most people, but it's particularly difficult when you're trying to navigate raising a child on your own. That's why it's important to get handle on your finances the best that you can.  The less you depend on others for your and your child's financial well-being, the better.  (That does NOT mean ditch your child support if that is, in fact, your situation - child support is for your child.  Your child is entitled to it. Do not be shy about advocating on behalf of your child. If you have to fight for it in the first place, something is wrong with him, not you. YOU ARE NOT THE BAD GUY. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU BUY INTO ANY GUILT TRIP ABOUT RECEIVING CHILD SUPPORT.) Additionally, if at all possible, have your own home for just you and your child.  This was one of the most liberating pieces to the getting-my-shit-together puzzle.  I pay for it. I decorate it. I decide on the furniture (I really loved that red couch) and the art on the wall.  I provide the bed, games, and toys for my son/daughter. I decide if it's a powwow and movie night on the couch and if we are going to get a puppy. If I spill wine all over the kitchen floor and I'm too tired to clean it up, well, that shit will be there in the morning. If I want to watch reruns of The Bachelor 24/7/365, no one is going to tell me that Chris Harrison isn't the bees knees. I'm the only one with keys to my home and no one is coming over and into my son or daughter's life without my explicit OK. Be your own gatekeeper.

2. Keep your world small.  Raising a child on your own is - ICYMI - fucking hard.  Limiting the people in your lives to only those who bring joy, support, laughter, and happiness will make everything you do substantially easier.  Do not invite friends, family, or men that bring any drama into your small world. This little tool also lets you know who you can reliably call when it's midnight on Friday and you have an emergency - like running out of wine. Again, be your own gatekeeper.

3. Take care of yourself. First. I know. I know. This seems counterintuitive. Isn't everything you do supposed to now revolve around your child? I mean, what if your child is permanently damaged by this situation? (Full disclosure: I was verging on masochistic with this one.) Shouldn't you be socializing your child at every opportunity and scheduling playdates and reading to them all the time and teaching them to swim and ride a bike and jump rope and...fuck, I'm already exhausted. Short answer - nope. Long answer - You remember that long-ass safety briefing you get at the beginning of every flight?  The one wherein the undoubtedly coifed, gorgeous flight attendant deigns to tell you that, once they've notified you that you should calmly begin to kiss your ass goodbye, you should place the panic-inducing oxygen mask over your mouth FIRST before placing the mask on your child? Well, same thing here. And - get this - the flight attendant is right. If you're unconscious (read: overstressed, overworked, depressed, anxious, angry, bitter), how are you supposed to help your son or daughter get what it is that they need? So, PLEASE: If you are depressed, anxious, bitter or angry, get help ASAP. Sometimes that means talking to a supportive friend or family member. Sometimes it means therapy - and there's no shame in going to therapy. Zero. Zilch. It means you care about the mental state you are conveying to and teaching your child. That's noble and selfless. And, best of all, you can totally come unglued in therapy - vent, scream, yell, cry, snot, sniffle, roll on the floor and kick the stupid couch. If there's even a question in your head about whether you should or should not go - just do it. You will not regret it and your child will reap all of the benefits of you being a saner, healthier mother. Make sure you eat well at a minimum and, if you have the time and inclination, do a little exercise.  "Hangry" is not a healthy mental state in general and no one has ever said, "Damn. I hate it when those endorphins kick in. All that high-flyin' positivity really chaps my ass." Again, these go to your overall well-being and keeping yourself feeling capable and badass. If you are overstressed, start by pulling things off of your schedule that are not 110% mandatory. The only place you HAVE to be (when you are not at work) is with your child.  Your friends and your family will understand.  If they don't, see #2 above.

4. Be your own kind of woman. One of the absolute best things about being a single mother is that YOU get to decide who you are and who you want to be. Many times that means you get to explore the world and yourself in a way you never had a chance to do previously. Make a date every single night with yourself after your child goes to bed to figure you out. Which new TV shows do you like? Which new songs and bands do you like? What did you always want to chase down a "google-hole" but haven't yet? Go look that shit up. Not sure if you like weird YouTube cat videos?  Look that shit up too. Trust me when I tell you that there are plenty to choose from. Do you want to take an online class? Get an online degree? Do it. Want to take a 4-hour bath and then pluck all your eyebrow hairs off and draw them back on in a happy face? Go ahead. THE TIME AFTER YOUR CHILD GOES TO BED IS ALL YOURS. USE IT TO MAKE YOURSELF HAPPY. I also highly recommend stocking up at the sex toy shop. Not only because you're likely not getting it from a human (who has time for that anyway, amiright?), but also because you get to figure out what you like and what you don't like; what works and doesn't work for you. If you want to know what a butt plug feels like, there aren't any prying or judgmental eyes there to dissuade you from trying it. Butt plug away. Not sure if you would dig Ben Wa balls? Give it a whirl. There's a very distinct confidence and calming power in knowing who you are, who you want to be, and what you want - both in and out of the sack. The kind that comes in rather handy if you should decide to dive back into the dating world at some point.  The kind that let's you tell someone on the first date, "I love Nickelback, macaroni art, and butt plugs!" Ok. Fine. Second date. Point being, be your own keymaster. 

5. Give yourself some latitude. When I was newly divorced, I was all puppy dogs and ice cream cones in my son's presence, but as soon as I turned off his bedroom light and shut his door, I went straight to the kitchen for the wine and then straight to the couch to cry into my wine. And that's what I did for a solid month. The first two weeks were especially brutal. And, honestly, I didn't know what was going on in my own head. Everything felt fuzzy and confused, and I was really beating myself up about all of it. Why did it all fall apart? Was I making the right decision? Am I going to be able to do this alone? How badly am I damaging my son? Am I ever going to find someone else? Who am I?  I felt so incredibly lost. At some point, though, the haze cleared a little. And then a little more. And I finally realized that, hey, I'm just sad - and I'm sad for good reason. Something important to me ended. The future I had imagined over and over in my head came to an abrupt halt and then disintegrated like it was never there. It was jarring and crushing and it made me really sad. So I started allowing myself to feel sad and to cry when I felt I needed to, sans the guilt. And then I'd dry my eyes and go back to my self-date. Crying without the guilt and understanding it was simply a manifestation of my sadness was freeing. Eventually, the tears stopped (I was a little shocked, honestly, because I didn't think they ever would), and I started to feel real joy and a renewed sense of self again. So, if you're feeling guilty for falling apart, just drop that crappy guilt stuff off right here.  Allow yourself some time and some room to feel what you need to feel. And STOP feeling guilty for the lack of bike riding and jump roping and swimming and hiking and blah, blah, blah. Your child will learn all of those things in due time. Mine did and he's no worse for wear. Right now, all he or she needs is to know you love him or her and that you are there and not going anywhere, ever. And you single moms have THAT in spades. 

6. Fucking LAUGH. There is quite literally no better medicine for you (and your child) than laughter. Read comics, or memes, or go to the Humor section in the bookstore. Listen to Weird Al songs. Call or text that one friend who always has a crazy story to tell. Watch all the stand-up comedy and comedic movies you can. Do weird dances with your kid in your living room. Sing in loud, strange voices. Find a funny podcast or blog (ahem!) that makes you "emphysema snort" (Zoey, did I get that right?). There is nothing wrong with laughing at yourself either. I used to cry on the phone to my mom and then make fun of my Type A-self for being such a hot, snotty mess. I used to call my friend and tell her about how my son was mooning people at daycare and how I fell asleep on the couch hugging my wine bottle. Finding humor in your situation and in every day life is essential to maintaining a healthy perspective and to avoid the feeling of being a victim of your circumstances.

7. Date carefully. I'm not going to preach too much about this - we'll save that for another post - but I do have some simple, but important, things to keep in mind. First, please, please, please don't jump back into dating right away. Why? See #4. Don't be the chick in the Starbucks drive-thru that doesn't know what she wants so she's just sitting there, holding up traffic and staring at the same menu she stared at yesterday. You'll thank yourself for knowing what you want before you jump back in. Second, if and when you're ready to take that ride again, BE SAFE. You are the only thing between a crazy person and your child - do not give that space away easily. No one needs to know where you live and what schedule your child keeps until you know their social security number and their mother's maiden name. Ok - maybe you don't need to take it that far, but you get the idea. Make sure you understand who you are dealing with before you give away proprietary information. Likewise, the internet can be an amazing way to meet people, but it's also where unsavory lurkers chill and wait for unsuspecting, unknowledgeable women to open up to them. Learn enough about internet security to LOCK YOUR SHIT DOWN and don't ever give any personal information to someone on the internet. Use a different name even - I like Cinnamon because everyone will assume you're a stripper, which makes for great fun in fucking with people. If the person on the other end is worth their salt, they'll understand. Lastly, every time you meet someone that you are considering dating consistently, it's may be hard but you have to ask yourself: Are you into this person because they will be a good, long-term fit for you and your child, or are you into this person because you're lonely? And listen to your gut reaction to the question. If it's the former, date away. If it's the latter, accept that for what it is - it doesn't mean you can't still see them. But be sure you delineate in your mind that you are doing this for the experience, companionship and growth (and sex - let's be honest); not because it's going anywhere. It's important to know the difference between these two types of relationships from the get-go because you do not, under any circumstances, want to introduce the latter to your child.  It wouldn't be safe or healthy for anyone involved.

8. Have a Father's Day. For you. You cannot fill that fatherless hole in your child. You can stop trying. Seriously. Stop. What you can do is be honest and open and loving with your child about the situation and be there with open arms when they are upset about it. At some point, they will be and it will suck and there's nothing you can do to prevent it. What you can do is celebrate yourself and your relationship with your child on Father's Day. Do something with your child tomorrow that is meaningful and unique to your household as it stands. Create your own tradition. Celebrate Grandpa and Uncle, of course, but carve out some time just for you and your child. Let them know and show them that just because your household situation is a little different doesn't mean it's not special. It most certainly is.

Single moms, I know these tools I'm giving you are a pale offering in comparison to what you actually deserve - something like an all expenses paid vacation to Fiji, complete with endless cocktails and massages and breakfast in bed - but I hope they let you feel a little lighter, a tad more secure, and a buttload more appreciated. Many folks will have you and your children in their hearts and on their minds tomorrow. You're never alone. 

Happy Father's Day to our Single Badass Janes. We'll work on the Fiji trip for next year.

* Saera Jane *

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