I realize I always should have just appreciated what single or solo parents do, and on some level, I always have. However, we often don’t tend to truly appreciate certain scenarios until we find ourselves in them.
My husband recently moved to another province for a new job. The opportunity came out of nowhere and was too good to pass up. He’s enjoying it, and I’m so proud that all of his hard work has paid off in the type of job he has always wanted. In the mean time, my son and I, along with our pets, have stayed behind until we sell our home. Once our place sells and we buy one there, we will move and join my husband (and while I can’t wait, I also kind of dread moving provinces with a toddler and 3 pets).
That means, until we sell this place, I have to try and keep it “ready to show” at any given time. With a three-year-old, two cats, and a dog. Just thinking about it makes me tired. I’m forever grateful for all the help of my mom, who comes up at least once a week to hang out with Cub so I can work my two jobs (more on that below!) and also does so much to keep our house clean and looking beautiful. My husband did a lot of the cleaning when he was here. One of the many reasons I miss him.
For those of you who don’t know me personally, I work another part-time job in addition to being a postpartum doula. I’m a web and social media editor 15 hours a week for an Indigenous newspaper. And then I’m obviously a mom full-time, and most of the time, it’s just me.
As such, here are the first four things that come to mind that I appreciate even more about having another parent around:
- Mealtimes. My husband would always make breakfast on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Oh, how I miss this. Maybe I was spoiled, but it was really nice having those two days where I could wake up and not have to worry about making something to feed myself or my toddler. I feel more relaxed on the one morning a week my mom is here, even if I still make myself and/or my toddler breakfast, just because I know someone else is here to help and can play with him while I get some other work done.
- Company. Even if I do most of the care for our child, it is really nice having someone come home at the end of their work day and be here for the evening, particularly on days when my toddler doesn’t want to leave the house. While those days are relaxing, they can be quite lonely. I love my boy, but we don’t have the most in-depth conversations, even if he does like looking up random animals and places from atlases. In addition to someone to talk to in the evening, it was someone who helped during mealtime, bath time, bedtime. And it was someone home with our son so I could occasionally go out to yoga, which leads me to….
- Self-care. We like to throw this word around to moms who are tired or stressed out. “Find time to do something for yourself, even if it’s something little.” I’ve realized I’m guilty of this: no doubt I’ve said something similar to single moms or moms who are solo parenting while their spouse is away for long periods of time. I’m sorry for that now because it probably came off as naive at best and annoying at worst. By the time my toddler falls asleep (which isn’t that late – usually between 8 and 9), I am too tired to do anything like yoga, even if my body is screaming at me to do it, and even though I know I’d likely feel better for it. All I want to do is have a bath, zone out on social media, and go to bed. But what I’ve noticed is if I don’t find time to do something for myself, my patience wears thin, and I get short and angry at my toddler for things I know I should let go. It’s true I now need to find self-care in different ways: the odd yoga stretch here and there if I can’t do a whole practice, listening to a relaxation recording before bed, a cup of tea I like, or an outing we both enjoy. I have managed to incorporate short yoga practices once he goes to bed and I’ve started meditating.
Self-care: standing pigeon pose while the toddler has a bath. Take what you can get.
- Getting s*** done. I mentioned above I work another part-time job. I sometimes felt completely overwhelmed by this when my husband was still here, so now it can feel even worse. Somehow I do it because I have to, but it isn’t always easy. It was definitely easier when I had a partner in crime who could play with and parent our child so I could do my work. Now I do it when my mom is here or when my son is watching a video or playing a game. Now household chores are also entirely my responsibility, although my mom helps a lot when she is here. However, that’s one or two days a week so the rest of the time, it’s on me. I follow the advice I give other moms: I let go of what I can (most housework, to be honest), and I try to do work when my toddler will watch videos or when he’s in bed if I must.
After a visit to the art gallery and river walk, I felt invigorated. I kept telling my son how much fun I had with him. Getting out can make a big difference.
These are just the 4 that come off the top of my head, but I know there are more. As the saying goes, you often don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I half joke that being apart has made us realize how much we love and rely on each other. Not that we didn’t know before, but you really don’t fully understand until you’re apart. I know my husband and I both eagerly look forward to when we are reunited as a family, and I know not every mom who is solo parenting is that fortunate.
So if you have a friend who is a single or solo parent, help her out. Offer to pick up some groceries for her when you’re out. Drop by for coffee. Take her a meal. Play with her child so she can do a quick yoga practice alone in her room. What might seem small to you will be huge to her.
I tell moms all the time: you need to take care of yourself in order to take care of others.
I know first-hand how hard it can be to follow this advice.
I also tell moms: motherhood can be hard, but you’re not alone.
Because I haven’t been following my own advice, I’ve found myself feeling overwhelmed and isolated. Ironic, right? I’ve come to realize, though, that I’ve been focusing so much on helping other moms that I’m not doing the best I can for myself.
I’m sharing all of this not so much for your sympathy or pity, but so you realize every mom has her struggles, including me.
In some ways, I have tried to reach out, but I’ve found this difficult now that I’ve moved into a caregiving position. In other ways, I’ve felt isolated or maybe even isolated myself.
I’m always excited when a support group for moms is established, and when a new one recently began, I contacted one of the organizers about coming as a support for moms. I was asked to not attend so attendees weren’t overwhelmed by facilitators or experts. What I should have asked was, Can I attend as a mom myself? Because the night of the meeting rolled around, my husband was working out of town, and I found myself at home with my toddler, feeling sorry for myself, lonely and excluded.
To do something fun for myself, I signed up for a class where my toddler was in childcare in the next room. I thought it’d be a great opportunity to meet some moms and who knows, maybe gain a friend or two. There was an incident where my son was crying in the adjoining room (door closed and locked, but I could hear him and see the tears through the door opening). I tried to get to him and was stopped, informed the policy was for the caregiver to take care of it. I bawled on the car ride home, asking myself, Was it because I felt I’d been admonished in front of my peers? Because I felt peer pressure and then didn’t respond and be the parent I wanted to be? Because it made me feel even more alone in my parenting choices? D, all of the above.
I tell you these stories not to throw shade on anyone. In the above case, the instructor forgot to send me the policy beforehand: these things happen. We are all busy moms, we are all being pulled in multiple directions, and we all have our own struggles. That is my point. If you want to look to me as someone who has it all together all the time, I am not the support person for you. If you want someone who is real, struggling sometimes, and needs support herself, that is me. I’d rather be honest than pretend because pretending doesn’t help anybody.
I want to attend meetings both to support moms but also for my own support; however, I worry about coming across as disingenuous, like I’m attending for business reasons only. The truth is, it’s the opposite. It’s because at times I am lonely.
Lonely because I work from home while also being with my son. Working from home is a blessing because I get to be with my son. It is also stressful, trying to get my work as a web and social media editor done, while entertaining my child enough so he isn’t on an iPad all day. Add in trying to grow a postpartum business, and I’m often overwhelmed. Cranky. Resentful of the job I once loved even though it gives me the freedom and flexibility I want. It feels like most women with toddlers his age are not at home (I realize I don’t just need friends with kids the same age, and I’m grateful for the many I do have). Lonely because he is still nursing, and on top of not knowing many women at home with toddlers, I know even fewer whose toddlers are breastfeeding.
Lonely because for whatever reason, our son doesn’t want to say very many words, even though he knows his colours, the alphabet, numbers. It can be hard to be around people with toddlers who talk a mile a minute or parents who ask, He’s still not talking much yet? I feel like I’m justifying my son’s intelligence, that he is developing at his own pace (which I believed before and continue to believe after seeing a speech pathologist who couldn’t offer us much advice), and I shouldn’t feel the need to do that. That’s on me, not others. I know people are mostly curious but of course I worry about them judging him. We all want the best for our children, and we all worry about them being labelled as “different.”
I’ve written this post over the course of a few days, and I’m feeling way better. Since I first wrote down my thoughts, I’ve had conversations with numerous women in my life. Strong, wise women, who have made me realize I’m not alone, that I have a very solid tribe behind me, and that like everything, this is a hard season, but it is a season that will pass. Thank you to these wonderful women. I also attended and was welcomed at a support meeting for moms and was reminded again that we are all struggling at times, some more than others. Together, we are stronger.
Last night I went to my weekly yoga practice, one of the things I do regularly for my self-care. The instructor suggested next time we feel anger or distress to breathe in the moment and try to just acknowledge the feeling and then let it go. Similar to what my husband reminds me and what a journalist once told me: it’s important not to wear other people’s stories or pain. I found myself crying because I’ve definitely had moments in the last little while where I found myself frustrated with my son, unfairly, when I know it’s not him who is causing me the distress. I also know when you are down, it can be hard to practice gratitude, even if you know your life is great. And I know mine is.
I like to think crying last night was a release and a fresh start to a new week. One where I will continue trying to focus on the mantra I say to others: Be kind to others, but most importantly be kind to yourself.
I will still be here if you need me. Please don’t hesitate to contact me. But for the next little bit, I have to focus more on me so I can get myself back to where I need to be for myself, my child, and my husband. If you need me, I’ll be in my garden or at the spray park. Come say hi, and bonus points if you give me a hug or a coffee!