Whether you start out from day one as a single mom or due to divorce, death, or a breakup become a single mother overnight, many of us initially think solely about survival. Those basic needs like safety, food, and shelter are the ones we focus on because we don't have a choice. And even if paying the bills is still a challenge after quite some time, this doesn't mean that as a single mom you should continue to keep your eyes on just surviving. It's time to think about thriving. About having a full and happy life despite the circumstances you're in, because if you're not happy, chances are your kids won't be either. If the ship has sunk and you're trying to repair the boat, you won't get anywhere with just one paddle. Here are five things a single mom needs in her toolkit to thrive and steer that boat!
Note: Gilligan is totally optional, unless he's willing to cook, clean, and foot half of the bills.
Family support can really make or break a single mom in many ways. If you have family that is willing to help out, you know how much better that makes things for yourself and your children. What happens, though, if you have the family but haven't felt like leaning on them either because you're too stubborn to ask or you don't always like the little things they do when you're around them?
You put on your big girl underoos and ask them for help. If your mom gives your kid too much juice or she tends to turn on the television more than you like . . . deal with it, even if you just choose to do so in drips and drabs. Why? Because sometimes, any help will do. I understand that some people are too toxic to ever call on, but getting a break or having someone there even if it's just a warm body can make the difference.
If you don't have any family support to rely on, it can make everything doubly hard. For myself, my parents are 75 and 76 years old. As much as they might want to help, they're not in the best position to help me. Everything from starting my new job to figuring out who was going to pick me up when I was sick in the hospital became a new challenge going from being a married mother to a divorced mother. If you're not fortunate to have the helping hands of family members, don't despair. This is the time when it is not just crucial but mandatory to keep a close set of friends nearby. When I got a job offer but my daughter's school hadn't opened yet after Summer vacation, two friends stepped in to watch my child. I haven't forgotten their generosity, and in many cases, my friends have become integral to my daughter's and my life.
Which brings me to . . .
Now is the time to cut off the dead weight if you've got friends who aren't there for you or are negative soul suckers. You know, the kind of friends who always compare your life to their lives. The ones who don't shake their pom-poms for you when something good happens for you. The kind of people who miraculously show up when stuff is bad for you not because they're there to support you but because misery loves company. Anyone in your life — family or friend — who makes you feel like crap needs to go. Today.
I used to chase around a few friends and ask them to hang out because they were bad at making plans or were too busy, but since the divorce proceedings, I've cut out that bad habit. It's not because they were bad people but because I got tired of wasting my energy. I had other friends who, time after time, were always showing up for me. As I've gotten older, I've learned that I don't really need a whole bunch of friends but just a few good ones. Shake off the dead weight. You'll know a good friend by the following actions:
- Tells you the truth — gently — when you're not being good to yourself or others.
- Cheers you on when things go your way and offers kind but honest advice when you're making some serious bad turns.
- Makes time for you, even if it means scheduling plans a month or two in advance.
- Doesn't use you as their emotional dumping ground.
Side Note: I've noticed that my "tough love" friends are often exactly what I need. Don't be wary of people offering constructive criticism unless they're always trying to fix you.
It's not enough to check off the stuff on your to-do list. In order to thrive, you've got to find a method to decompress when you're feeling overspent. If you sit around each day with the weight of the world on your shoulders, you're going to have a mental breakdown.
For me, there are five things in my toolkit for when I'm ready to blow a gasket: the gym, a book, a bath, a phone call to a friend, and my laptop. I write when I need to process something; I read when I need a break from the noise of others and my own head; I exercise when I need to feel better about myself or my moods; I take a bath when I want to hide away; I call a friend when I need to go on a tangent.
Whatever it takes, whether it's a jog, a run through Pinterest for some baking ideas, or a week without social media, you better do it. I've seen moms who have refused to acknowledge their stress levels, continuing to simmer in their own junk or engage in self-destructive behaviors in order to escape the feelings they have inside. Look, we all do bad stuff sometimes: we're human. And we certainly can't make all of our problems go away. If we could, many of us would simply snap our fingers, and voilà! We'd be happy! But since Cinderella's a greedy b*tch who won't share her Fairy Godmother, we've got to learn to create our own magic. Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo girl! Give yourself a time-out and suddenly, you'll be the prettiest princess at the ball instead of the sad sucker crying night after night into a bowl of Ben & Jerry's.
In my opinion, you can be single and completely happy, but if your heart is set on dating, you need to say ta-ta to the drama dudes, whiny babies, late-night booty calls, Ambivalent Andys, and Last-Minute Larrys. If a man has a bunch of issues, can't get his act together, just wants you for that beautiful booty, can't decide if he wants you or not, or likes to ask you out at the last minute, you need to show that boy the exit sign. You can't thrive in life if you're holding on to some "stand-in" dude just so you won't be lonely. How are you going to ever be happy with Mr. Screw-Up in your life? How will Prince Charming know how to find you if he sees you canoodling with some sleazeball? Date someone who makes your life better, not burdensome.
If you want to thrive, have humility. Don't be afraid to tell the people you love, "I'm having a hard time. Can you help me?" There's no one more unattractive than that angry gal who's always b*tching about her life but refuses to do anything about it. If you're feeling overwhelmed, peel back some of those responsibilities and get back to basics. You don't need to sign on for everything or try to save the world. And for the everyday single mommy, you're probably doing just fine, but if there comes a day, week, or hour when you feel like you could run away and never come back? Ask for help. It takes a strong woman to know when her cup overfloweth.
You're Gonna Make It, Baby!
No matter what, you have the right to be happy and the tools to make it happen. You're an amazing woman and setting the example for your kids on how badass and amazing women and mothers truly are, and you know what? You should be proud.
Cheers! Here's to you!