Back when I was single and working full time with two small kids I often found myself feeling overwhelmed and totally inadequate. All these women around me seemed so perfect, with perfect kids and perfectly ironed clothes and homemade bread on their counters. I felt like a complete failure compared to them. My home was typically a disaster, my bread was store bought and lucky if it didn’t have mold growing on it, and I don`t think I even owned an iron.
I worked full time to support my kids and when I came home at night I spent my time playing with them and laughing with them and dancing around my messy kitchen with them. Yes, there were many things that didn’t get done at my house, but guess what, WHO CARES?!!? I was playing with my kids and they were happy and loved and we remember that. Don’t get me wrong, my house wasn’t gross or unlivable, it just wasn’t perfectly polished. But my world didn’t come crashing down if there were toys on the floor and laundry not done. Sometimes things just couldn’t all get done, so I would focus on what I could get done and then I let the rest go and I played with my kids. And when there was cleaning that had to get done I would put on the soundtrack to Disney’s Lion King and we would dust the house running around to the song “I Just Can’t Wait to be King”. We would laugh and giggle and dance while running around to that song. And to this very day it is one of my son Dalton and I’s very favorite memories from his childhood – our cleaning/dance sessions together. Time with your kids building memories is the most important time you will spend.
Many parents today, whether single parents or married parents, often are required to work full-time outside of the home in order to financially support their family. But when we get home from work it’s critical to structure what little time we do have at home in a way that allows for valuable memory building moments with our children. Those memory building moments don’t need to cost money – my cleaning the house while dancing around with my kids didn’t cost me a dime of money and the truth is that me and my kids remember those experience far more than we remember the fancy trips we took when they were little, which tells you that the memories your kids will retain the most have absolutely NOTHING to do with how much money you spent on them and everything to do with their being the focus of your attention. .
When I think back to my own childhood there is one particular memory of my dad that I value more than almost any other. It is the memory of my Dad coming home from work and putting on his slippers and wrestling with us on the family room floor. You see, my dad worked a lot when I was young, but that memory is so special to me because it was a time we kids laughed and giggled with him and he was focused 100% on us as we all pounced on him and tried to pin him on the floor. He wasn’t reading a paper and he wasn’t watching TV…he was playing with us – and that meant the whole world to a kid.
Many people have asked me for advice on how to handle things as a single parent and how to get it all done. The advice I give is this – You don’t have to get it all done, in fact it would be IMPOSSIBLE to get it all done, single parent or not. So don’t be so hard on yourself. Put your kids needs first. Work hard to support them financially and then come home and enjoy them. Refocus your energy into doing quality time activities with them. The activities don’t have to cost money and they don’t have to be fancy, they just need to be focused time from you. Don’t pull your kids into life’s dramas. Protect them from it. When you are struggling, do what you can to be strong for their sake – they need you to be strong. They are totally dependent on you and they are counting on you to make them feel safe and loved. Provide a happy home for them. A happy home doesn’t have to be expensive; it just has to be filled with love. I still remember when my big brother was going to college at BYU and he and his wife lived in the married student housing at BYU which was a trailer park back then. I used to love to go over to their little trailer and spend time with them because when you came in the front door of that small little trailer you felt nothing but love and happiness there. They had a spirit in their home that made it feel safe and happy. It didn’t matter that it was small. It didn’t matter that the couch they had was probably a hundred years or more old. What mattered was the love you felt there.
There is no greater challenge that I have experienced than to be a single parent. It is hard and it is lonely and it is scary and it is incredibly stressful. Mostly it is lonely. But there are also blessings that come to you when you find yourself in a life as a single parent. You can develop a fantastic bond with your children because you can pour your time and attention into them. You become a stronger, more capable person. And I firmly believe that angels attend to the single parents, even if you can’t always see them around…they are there. Remember that.
Whether you are a single parent or married parent, my advice is the same – Don’t get overwhelmed, and NEVER EVER think or feel that you are inadequate, because you are not, you are amazing and you are capable and you are absolutely better than adequate- you are AWESOME!
~Amy Rees Anderson