Does It Ever Get Easier? [Spoiler: No]

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Photo Cred: Harper’s Bazaar 2012

A young single mom recently asked me if this gig ever gets easier. You know, the momming by yourself? I was alone in my bed, drinking wine and eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and laughed out loud. Poor sweet thing. She might be thinking since my squad is a lot older than hers, I’m on easy street now. But alas. It doesn’t quite work that way.

My short answer? It doesn’t get easier. You get tougher.

And while nothing feels better than being an invincible, badass woman and single mom, holy smokes–shit ain’t easy.

But here’s the long answer:

The past few years have been some of my toughest mom years yet. When they’re younger, the physical exhaustion is greater than the mental exhaustion. But as they get older, it’s the mental load of single-momming that weighs the heaviest.

School stuff. Grades. Projects. Health issues. Health insurance. Driving. Cars. Car insurance. Friend problems. Boyfriend problems. Broken hearts. SATs. College visits. College decisions. Financial aid. Teach them life skills. Teach them coping skills. Teach them math. Proof read papers. Quiz them on vocab. Teach them morals. Teach them boundaries. Teach them about relationships. Teach them about God. Religion. Tolerance. Safety.

But also, have fun. Be cheerful. Be happy. Be breezy. Make memories. Create a warm home environment that reminds them we’re a family. A whole, loving, family.

By yourself.

With your job. And your house. And all the other life stuff that comes with being a grown up. (By the way, look good. Stay in shape. Eat well. Don’t age.)

In Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed says this of single moms, “She has to be her best self more often than it’s reasonable for any human to be.” 

There is no luxury of passing the baton or tag-teaming it. There is no whispering fears in the dark of night.

“What will we do if….?”

“How should we handle…?”

“I’m scared.”

There is no space for being too tired. Too spent. Too done with the day. The week. The month. Life. They need me. And they need to know that I am here and I am present and accessible and theirs. No matter what happens. No matter what we face. And happily so.

It’s not that I don’t have a super supportive family and boyfriend and friends. I do. And I could not be more grateful. Their intense love and support for both me and my kids is a total game-changer. But the buck still stops with me. There is still an aloneness to single-parenting that rests squarely on my shoulders. 

I have to make it okay. Every single day, I have to make it okay. That is my job. And my commitment to giving my kids the lightest part of the mental load runs deep.

“We will figure it out.”

“What’s coming will come and we’ll meet it when it does.”

“I’m not worried about it. We’ve got this.”

These are my mantras. There are no alternatives. If anyone is going to lose sleep under this roof, it’s going to be me. There is a constant drive to make their lives feel whole. Safe. Steady. Happy.


If it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not. If it sounds like a cry for sympathy it’s not. Raising these three kids? It’s the Magnum Opus of my life. It’s also really f*cking hard. And not (necessarily) because they’re hard kids. But because life is hard and there’s something about parenting alone that is lonely. Every misstep and mistake follows a trail leading back to me. But also every triumph. And there’s been lots of both.

I’ll never get over the wonder I feel for each one of them. These magical people they are turning out to be; But I can’t get over the amazement for who I’ve turned out to be, either.

I did it. I’m doing it. We’re doing it together.

I am trying to sell my kids the world. I want them to believe along with me that life is good. This world is tough. Life can be absolutely brutal, but it’s still a good place to be.

This life, right here with them, is exactly where I want to be.

“Any decent realtor, walking you through a real shithole, chirps on about good bones: This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful.”                    [Good Bones, by Maggie Smith]

I have made this place beautiful. And so far, I think they’re buying what I’m selling.

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If you’re new around here and curious about the backstory to my single momming, grab a glass of wine or cup of tea and your own bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, settle in, and read  THIS post about becoming a widow at 26, or THIS post about divorce. Yes that’s right. Widowed and Divorce. All that and a bag of Cheetos 😉

A Thank You Letter to my Toughest Kid

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I never thought I’d write you, of all people, a thank you note. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? After all, for what on earth do I have to thank you? If there’s a debt of gratitude here, isn’t it from you to me?

But I’m reading “Field Notes on the Compassionate Life- A Search for the Soul of Kindness,” by Marc Ian Barasch, and like any book worth the paper it’s printed on, with every page I am propelled into an emotional tug of war.

“Soren Kierkegaard said we think a person who is loved owes a debt of gratitude to the one who loves them. There is an expectation that it should be repaid in kind, on installment, “reminiscent,” he says sarcastically, “of an actual bookkeeping arrangement.” Instead, he turns the whole thing on its head: “No, the one who loves runs into debt; in feeling himself gripped by love, he feels this as being in an infinite debt. Amazing!”

Was Kierkegaard onto something? Is it I who owes you for the privilege it has been to love you? For the way that love has transformed me? Shaped me? Whittled me down to the core of my personhood? Dared me to look in the mirror and see myself for who I really am– flaws and imperfections included– so that I could fully understand who YOU really are and all the ways we are more or less the same? So I could see how similar our struggles really are? So I could humbly take note of all the things I want to change about you- that I pray you outgrow- and clearly see they are the very things I hope and pray for myself?

Like a hurricane, you have torn through my life at times, upsetting all that was so meticulously thought out and designed for my comfort and enjoyment. My ease. You force me to regroup. Re-think. Re-configure. Your selfishness forces my hand to be more generous in word and in deed. Your frequent lack of concern for my feelings forces me to see all the ways I, too, am selfish and self-centered and want the universe to revolve around me.

Your strong-willed spirit requires so much more from me than I knew I had.  Your absolute insistence to do things your way instead of mine constantly reminds me that I do not own you. You belong to yourself and you need to live in a way that makes sense to you, even when I don’t understand, even when it would never work for me.

You would not let me be a lazy mom (if such a thing exists). You’ve demanded I be present. Involved. Aware. Creative. Much more thoughtful. Smarter. Clever. Strategizing and learning to cope with what I, in my piety, have deemed a difficult person.

For all the circumstances you dragged me into involuntarily that required me to get over myself; That obligated me to learn how to circle the wagons in loyalty even when my heart was breaking in humility, thank you. For compelling me to dig deeper and become the best version of myself as a mom, a woman, person, just by being who you are, thank you.  Because of you, I’ve seen the very worst and very best of what I’m able to be. Do. Overcome. Persevere through in order to give you more. More. More. More. Thank you.

You see, the other children are easy. Rule followers. Quick to listen. Quick to act. Wanting to please. They require so little of me, really. I can relax around them.  But not you. Your struggles. Your needs. Your unwillingness to just do things my way, dammit will not let me rest. They have driven me crazy with anger and frustration and grief and made me search. Search, search, search.

You have kept me awake at night, gripped with fear. Whispering prayers in desperation. Prayers for you, prayers for me. Holy utterings that one of us will somehow get this right. This growing. This learning. This becoming. And somehow, even though I am the parent and you are the child, it’s happening together. It’s happening to both of us at once. While I am trying to teach you, you are teaching me. And though I would not have chosen it to be like this– while I would have rather taken the easy road, it’s the difficulties here that are refining both of us.

And I have finally accepted that the toughest chapters of my life have always. Always. Always been followed by the best chapters of my life.  And that includes the pages with your name on them. And your name is on all of them.

I’ve always believed each child should secretly suspect they are their mother’s favorite; That I’ve done such a thorough job favoring each one of you, NONE of you would believe this is about you.

So if you’re reading this and do imagine it to be you? Thanks, kid. I owe you.

 

{Looking for another Mother’s Day read? Check out The Mosaic of Motherhood from a few years back.}

 

Suck it up, Buttercup

 

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Photo Cred: HAIR, by John Barrett

She was crying as we pulled up to the school and she didn’t want to get out of the car. My daughter was having an “off” morning and I was trying to decide on the best course of action. Is there a worse way for a mom or dad to start the day than with a crying kid who doesn’t want to go to school? I was stuck in the frustrating in-between of wanting to push her out the door so I could get on with my day and wanting to crawl back in bed and snuggle her close, rub her back and shelter her from whatever was making her upset.

“Are you going? What are we doing here?”

“Do you think you can you suck it up and make it through your day? If I’m going to get a call from the nurse in 5 minutes, please just save me the trip back to school and we’ll turn around right now.”

” I know you don’t feel 100%– but you don’t have to feel 100% to make it through the day.” (Hell, I make it through all kinds of days hovering around 35% or so.)

Yeah. These are things I said. But if you’re a parent, I’m pretty sure you’ve said them too.

We circled the Drop-Off loop one more time while she was wiping the tears and checking her mascara in the visor mirror, all the while my heart complexly interwoven with impatience and heartbreak. I knew it was not her best day. I knew she was upset. And I knew she was upset with me, too. She thought I was being hard on her and that was making everything worse.

As we pulled up to the doors, my eyes were watching the clock. I knew in one more minute she’d be late and I’d have to cop a lame excuse note, but the tears were still coming.

Ticking clock. Cars behind me. Buses lined up to move. What do I do? Do I make my normally cheerful little freshman walk into school crying? Do I drive us back home? On any given day, I’ve done both.

Today? I made her get out.

“I love you. Take a deep breath. You can do this. I know it’s not your favorite thing right now. It’s not mine either. But in just a little bit, you’ll be distracted and moving on with your day. Go. So you’re not late. Hop out.”

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Many a day I’ve allowed less than sick kids stay home. Many a day I’ve coddled kids who didn’t feel up to doing whatever the day required of them. And the more time goes by, I’m not sure it was the right decision. In the moment, it was the easiest decision, but the easiest decision and the right decision are unfortunately not usually the same thing.

When you’re trying to raise up kids into strong-minded and responsible adults, it becomes more clear on the daily that you’re not doing them any favors when you allow them to lie down under the weight of their little world. It’s not reality. It’s not how life works. And it’s a mentality that won’t serve them well– or at all– in the Grown Up world.

A friend recently introduced me to the famous acronym, MTXE, coined and embraced by former Wichita State head coach Gene Smithson during his tenure from 1978-86, which stands for “Mental Toughness Extra Effort,” a mindset that helped the Shockers compile a 155-81 record with two Missouri Valley Conference titles and a trip to the Elite Eight over a span of eight years. I’ve started using it with my kids and there are days I want to write it on my own hand as a reminder.

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I think of my own life experiences, of things that have required Mental Toughness and Extra Effort in my own life (widowed at 26 with 2 small children, a tough marriage, a tough divorce, an accident resulting in a few broken bones and surgeries, to name a few);  Of the endless days I’ve lived through compartmentalizing personal pain, anxiety or fear so that I could fulfill obligations and responsibilities and be a dependable mother, employee, daughter, friend. I want to know I’m raising my kids with the mental toughness and fortitude that difficult life- or even just DAILY life- experiences require; That there is a way to be both aware of your feelings and in control enough of them as well, so you can face the day regardless.

I’ll be thinking of my daughter all day, aware that she’s struggling. And if the school calls and I need to pick her up, of course that’s okay. But I still won’t be sorry I made her get out of the car. And someday, even if it’s not today, neither will she.