Being a mother is one of the most challenging things a woman will ever take on. No matter how prepared you think you are, no matter how much you think you know what it’s going to be like, you can never be fully aware of just how much everything (yes: everything) in your life is going to change. Your body, your social life, your career, your perspective… none of it will ever be quite the same.
Being a single mother is next level. There is no built-in support: not emotional, not financial. Partnered parents can count on someone to tag in when you just can’t anymore and need to take a break. They can count on an occasional night out that doesn’t cost anything because their partner can stay at home. They have someone who shares the weight of household responsibilities, child rearing and disciplining, potty training, and bill-paying pressures. It isn’t ALL on either parent, they shoulder it together… and even still they feel exhausted.
Now, my entire life is a great chase that never ends:
I chase my daughter all over the place. She’s going to be 4 in September, and it gets harder and harder to keep up with her. I want to be on top of praising her when she achieves something and teaching her if she fails at something. I struggle with saying “fuck it” when she talks back or tests me because sometimes I just don’t have the energy to discipline her: but it must be done, or she won’t learn what she needs to learn to become the best person she can be in this life. That is my responsibility.
I chase the traffic to get her to school each day: so I can chase my dreams by chasing my career. I chase my deadlines for work. I don’t want to just make it every month, I want to make something of myself. Speaking of which, I chase the expenses: school tuition and countless school related events, parties, and extras involved in her class, babysitters (which seem to charge way more than I remember getting paid when I was a kid), forever growing out of clothes and shoes, advancing to the next car seat, toys and books that educate and stimulate her for each new developmental phase, my rent and bills, my insurance, my car, my savings, my own activities, clothes, and personal maintenance…
I chase the dog. He doesn’t get as much attention as he used to and he’s getting older (he’s 11 now)… I’m always a little too late bringing him to the groomer. I chase the housework, which has doubled since becoming a mother. As soon as I get one room clean, one load washed, one meal prepared, one project checked off my list: I look up and realize: my daughter drew on the Eames rocker, my dog missed the puppy pad, the sink is full again, I never got to hang my clothes up, the load that’s sitting in the washer now smells musty, there’s a trip to the post office I haven’t made, 4 phone calls I missed, and now it seems we’re out of milk and food.
I chase the babysitters around so I can chase my friends around and go out: ever. I hardly get to attend networking events anymore because I have to weigh out the expense of a sitter, and the expense of time… Every social event must be maximized with an equation weighing out how many friends will be there so I can get the most bang for my buck against how long I’ll be out for. There needs to be a justifiable ROI to warrant a positive RSVP.
I chase the clock. There is never enough time. Time to bond with her as much as I’d like, time to take the dog to the park, time to pull myself together in the morning, time to get to the gym, the post office, to return stuff to Target, to catch up with my friends who live out of town, to Facetime with family, to write more, to get alone time… And I still end up asking myself why I haven’t done all the things I said I’d do LAST week. Month. Year.
Ultimately, I chase my tail. It’s no wonder I can sometimes be so high strung… It all feels insurmountable at times. I hold myself to such high standards, I put such incredible pressure on myself. I want to achieve the immaculate house, my ideal body, be a perfect mother with a polite, well-mannered child who eats nothing but nutritious, home cooked meals and is forever a few steps ahead of her peers. I want to continue to be a leader in my industry, do incredible work for my clients. I often feel I am trying to make everything work like a well-oiled machine, and end up feeling I’ve made a huge mess instead. I shoot for the moon, land among the stars… and feel I’ve somehow fallen short or forgot something important along the way.
So then I do my best to chase away feelings of guilt, inadequacy, failure… due to all of the above. Am I a bad mother? Am I a slob? Am I letting myself go? Am I advancing as fast as my peers? Is my career taking a hit? Am I lazy? Am I crazy? How do these other women do it? Where am I not doing enough? How could I do more? Keeping a positive, optimistic outlook and not beating myself up for where I drop the ball is a massive task sometimes that I have to be incredibly intentional about. But it works: I feel good about myself through all of this chaos. I’m in awe of what I *do* manage and try not to compare myself to others. Comparison is, after all, the thief of joy.
Mother’s Day is just a month away, and the greatest gift that anyone could offer any single mother: is empathy and understanding. Maybe even, a night out. Please don’t judge me if my hair isn’t done sometimes or my house isn’t perfect or I can’t say yes as much as I used to, because I’m doing so much more than my best. Maybe I’m even trying to do too much… It’s just that I refuse to accept that I must sacrifice certain things in order to be a parent on my own. So I choose instead to say, hey: there are piles of clothes on the floor, but at least they’re clean! I choose to say, you know what? Tonight I’m not doing ANYTHING after I put my daughter to bed because I *need* to relax or I will break. This kind of leniency with myself keeps me from falling apart. These aren’t excuses. I can’t be all the things to all the people all the time. All I can be is my very best self. And I’m honestly doing the best I can. Forgive me if I forget to call you back, if I don’t reach out enough, if I can’t say yes to your invitations. Don’t stop inviting me… don’t stop counting on me. Just understand that you can never really understand what things are like… and love me all the same. Eventually, it will ease up. As my daughter gets older, as my routine solidifies, as my expenses slow down, etc.
But today… Well. What day is it again?