I am a single mom. But not only does the title not fit, the job description falls way short of the responsibilities. There is nothing singular about anything I do. With the lives of three children in my hands 24/7, I am actually a “double parent,” one who has done double duty for more than ten years on everything from 4 a.m. fevers to wiping tears after the mean girls have inflicted pain on the playground. All this is done while treading deep financial waters, struggling not to drown and keeping a smile on my face and hope in my heart that all will be well.
Most Double Parent moms I know don’t talk about it. We don’t have pity parties (except in private) and we keep on keeping on because frankly, most people don’t get it and we’re too busy to do any explaining. We’d rather hide behind a curtain of cheerfulness than take our masks off. Our other mom friends are leery of looking into our mirror, maybe afraid of the anxiety behind it, or that our “condition” might be contagious. So we just smile and pretend that somehow we fit into their world.
We live in a secret sorority without a safety net. There is no owner’s manual, but there is an unwritten set of rules for meeting this logistical challenge of the heart, calendar, and checkbook. Here are the basics:
1. Make "I Got You" Your Mantra
One of most important things I strive to do for my children is to let them know that they are loved completely. “I got uou,” has become my mantra. I want to guard them like I am a lion. I am the one who runs alongside them and cheers them like they are learning to ride a bike without training wheels. I'm also the one who bandages the scraped knee if they fall. In two-parent families, one parent says "fly!" and the other wipes up the mess. I say both.
2. Make Your Home a Sanctuary
There’s a rule (or several of them) in our house about having respect and being kind to each other. No matter what mud the world flings at my kids, I have insisted that our home is a safe place physically, emotionally and spiritually. Certain behaviors are unacceptable and I am a Mother Bear at the entrance to the cave when anyone threatens to invade. You have to be thick-skinned even when you feel like The Velveteen Rabbit.
3. Teach Your Kids to Strive
“Teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea,” is a phrase I’ve adopted from one of my favorite authors, Antoine de Saint-Exupery. At the risk of sounding crude, the reality of their lives on some days is pretty sucky, especially when they are comparing themselves to the perceived Hallmark card-perfect families living in our neighborhood. They speak of the things we don’t have: expensive vacations; designer clothes and handbags; all “the stuff” their friends have because “their parents aren’t divorced.” I can’t give them the things, but I do try to teach them to strive for their dreams.
Your kids are first. Period. That’s why you can’t hang out, or go to a movie, or join the girls for the weekend spa retreat, even if your friends don’t understand. You need to stay laser focused, working at multiple jobs and freelance gigs to piece together the funds for college tuitions, travel soccer fees, dentist bills, a broken furnace, and the incidentals like book fees and prom dresses. To say that Double Parent moms need to be single-minded about their priorities is to understate.
Sometimes, when so much of what “is supposed to be” is stripped away and the vision of what you thought life as mom and wife would be is a tad smeared, your focus becomes more clear. Becoming a Double Parent makes you reinvent. I hope that by challenging myself in a half-marathon, enrolling in classes to learn new career skills, or burning the midnight oil to do that "third job," I am helping my children to see the world through a sense of wonder and curiosity about what can be, and how it is within their power to work hard and create that for themselves.
6. Be Flexible
You've also got to become a master of improvising. It it takes three jobs to pay for healthcare, so be it. If the children were supposed to be with their other parent and they arrive home four hours earlier than planned, better be waiting. Always be ready to think outside the box and turn on a dime.
7. This Too Will Pass
On the days when you have to pull yourself (or them) up from the mat, it’s important to remember that this, too will pass and it will get better. Pick yourself up and just keep on moving toward your goals: raising happy, healthy kids. You have to keep reminding yourself – and hoping – that your hard work and resilience is making an impact.
8. Bite Your Tongue
It’s not their fault, because think about it, before you became a Double Parent, would you have ever imagined or predicted that the babies you were holding in your arms and the hopes for family you yearned for would have played out this way? Highly doubtful. So, like me, you may sometimes have to struggle to bite your tongue (or hold in your tears) when friends, neighbors or auxiliary people you bump into at the ballet recital inquire: “Do you still live in the house?” “How do you do it on one income?” Or my favorite, which came out of the mouth of a counselor: “Well you chose to be a single mom. I'm a widow, I didn't have a choice." Or, “Blank Name’s (your ex's) wife is so nice, and their little kid is so cute.” Clamp it.
9. Don’t Wallow in Self Pity
There is too much work to do to stage a pity party. You don’t have time to become devoured by the circumstances or sink into terrifying feelings. But most Double Parents I know don’t even enter that zone. They’re go-getters who face their lives with guts and gusto.
10. Count Your Blessings
Enough said. You just have to be. Whatever your reinvented family needs, whether it is food, enough money, enough love or a pep talk – you figure out how to get it and make it happen. Ultimately, despite everything, you have to hang on to one thing that is for certain: double parenting comes with double the rewards.
It's kind of a two-for-one when it comes to love and living a life of purpose. Circle of Moms member Ashley G. sums it up profoundly: "You have to believe that they (your children) will know who read the stories, sat through the homework, kissed the booboos, cuddled when they were sick, held them when they cried, comforted during nightmares, and was just there in general. It is these small things that make them know that they are truly loved, even if they are too young to realize that right now.”
What has been your biggest challenge as a Double Parent?
*Caveat: In no way am I trying to diminish the role of moms who are married or who have loving (and not loving partners) and or single moms who have engaged and helpful ex's. This article is meant to describe the league of moms who for whatever reasons have to go it alone without much support. It is also for moms with a partner or an ex who does not support their efforts or who undermines them.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.