There are days when I fully expect to be sad, anxious, depressed. My wedding anniversary. The date my ex-husband came out of the closet. Around the holidays. And there are other times when I just wake up, on a beautiful sunny day, with nothing in particular to be worried about, and it feels like the weight of being a single parent is just coming down on top of me. My stomach is in knots, and I know I shouldn’t drink coffee because it will make it worse, but I also know I can’t function without it on the little sleep I got last night. I mentally run through the list of possibilities of why I might be feeling this way. There is food in the fridge. I am not PMS-ing. I have a great job that I love, and both my son and I are in good health.
It is nothing in particular, and yet it is everything, bubbling up over the surface when I least expect it. The endless piles of laundry, the bills, the appointment I forgot to go to, the late nights trying to get my son to fall asleep in his own bed after years of sleeping together. The mice who have invaded my home this winter, making me feel like, even if I dedicated my entire day to cleaning, I would never, ever be clean enough. The mortgage broker calling me yesterday asking if I received child support or government assistance, whose voice trailed off after saying, “I’m just looking for any additional income we could cushion this with…”.
Yeah. You and I both. And yet I know that even if I had the offer for more work, I wouldn’t take it. There are just not enough hours in the day. It’s bad enough that I have to constantly explain to people why my son goes to sleep at 10pm because I often work until 8 and he waits up to have a snack and read books. I do not think that people who offer parenting advice are intentionally trying to make me feel bad about myself, and there are days when I just let it roll off. And there are other days when it feels like I am doing it ALL wrong.
“You know you really should get him to sleep by 8:30. That would make your morning easier.”
“You really should stop letting him snack so much. That’s why he doesn’t eat.”
“You should try following more of a routine.”
“You shouldn’t let him stay up late on the weekends.”
Etc., etc., etc. I know single parents are not alone in receiving this kind of unsolicited advice, and I know that it is actually very good advice. They are absolutely right. But I also know that I am the only one doing everything, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 355 days a year (my son goes to see his other parent for about 10 days a year). And at the end of the day, I don’t get to go home to another person who is equally accountable for my son’s existence and say, “shit, we are doing this all wrong.” It’s just me, looking at myself in the mirror at the end of the day. And sometimes the person looking back at me is like, “Shit, are you doing this all wrong?”
But when I stop freaking out about whatever I am doing wrong, I realize that I am doing the absolute best I can. And that absolute best is sometimes shitty, oftentimes mediocre, and once in a while amazing.
And if that means that my son stays up late to eat dinner and snuggle because he hasn’t seen me for 10 hours, then so be it. That desire to eat together and snuggle will not last forever, and I want to soak it up while it lasts. If that means that I take him to my friends’ house on the weekends where a bunch of adults are sitting around drinking wine, because I know that I cannot pay a sitter and I need some social time, and he ends up passed out on the couch after watching hours of cartoons on Netflix while I giggle my heart out with my girls, then that’s fine too.
And he will be fine, not in spite of it all but because of it all…BECAUSE he has a single mother who works her butt off and is passionate about her job and takes him to parties and lets him watch Netflix while she reads novels and lets him stay up until 10 and has tons of other mothering imperfections, just like every other mother in the world. Maybe he could do without all the snacks. But, that’s for another day.