Single parent stress levels can be through the roof. Where you once had a partner to help you, you now must do everything yourself: cook, clean, take care of the kids, work, shop for groceries, schedule and attend appointments, deal with car repairs, make sure the bills are paid on time…the list is endless.
The problem with the stress, however, isn’t that it comes from having so much to do. A lot of the stress is because we feel we must be perfect at all of it. We feel as though we must cook delicious, gourmet meals every night; the house must be perfectly spotless; our children must be well-behaved, straight A students that have perfect manners, and so on.
The truth is, perfection isn’t attainable. Even if it were, it isn’t necessary. Soleil Moon Frye wrote a book recently, Happy Chaos, in which she discusses embracing the chaos in her life, and that of her family. She makes a really good point with that.
As a single parent, it’s important to know your limits, and to know what is and isn’t important in the bigger picture.
Accept that you are not Supermom or Superdad. The house doesn’t need to be spotless, and dinner doesn’t need to be a five course production. Yes, the house should be clean, and dinner should be healthy, but that’s it. If there’s a pile of toys in the living room, it doesn’t necessarily have to picked up right this very second. Cut yourself a little slack and take a break. Read a book with your kids or take a bath instead of rushing around trying to be Superparent.
Acknowledge that sometimes you’ll give in. There will be times you’ll be exhausted and pick up McDonald’s or pizza for dinner. You might wake up on a Saturday feeling sick and feed the kids nothing but Cheerios all day and let the toys linger in the corners rather than picking up. This is not a bad thing. Don’t beat yourself up and feel guilty over it. You will actually be a better parent when you occasionally give in to these things rather than forcing yourself to do something that you really don’t want to do.
Don’t compete with your child’s other parent (or the stepparent, either!). One of the biggest guilt and stress triggers is the thought that your ex or your ex’s new partner might be a better parent than you are to your child, or worse, that a judge will think they are better parents and give them custody. Don’t do this to yourself. Just because you buy McDonald’s now and then, or mop your kitchen once a week instead of five times a day doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. Neither of those things is grounds to lose custody either. You shouldn’t run yourself ragged trying to be a better parent than your ex. Your children will love you no matter what, and when they’re grown and on their own, they’re not going to look back and be grateful you kept the house spotless – they’ll look back and be grateful you spent time with them at the playground or swimming.
Don’t take what your child says personally. Your child went to stay with Dad for the weekend and now is home. All you’ve heard for the last two hours is what a great time he had at Dad’s, or how Dad did this or Dad’s new wife let him have whatever. You’re grating your teeth and biting your tongue to keep from screaming about how much Dad sucked at being Dad when he was still married to you. But odds are, Dad got a similar earful about you. In fact, Dad probably had to listen to how you make a better dinner than he did, or how you play boats with him while he takes a bath, or how you remember that he doesn’t like grape jelly with his peanut butter sandwich. Your child is not trying to make you feel bad or make you think his other parent is a better parent than you. Your child now has two homes, with very different rules and ways of doing things. His constant chattering when he is at your house about his other parent is his way of trying to understand the differences. Plus, he might be feeling a bit guilty himself about enjoying himself when he’s with his other parent.
Remember what’s really important. When you’re planning your to-do list for tomorrow, as you get ready to write down using a toothbrush to clean the grout between the kitchen tiles, ask yourself if that really matters. Is it vital to clean that grout or can you just give it a quick once-over with the mop and then go watch a movie with your kid or go to the playground? When your son and his wife come for Christmas in the future, which would you rather hear him say to her:
a. “My mom always made sure the grout was sparkling.”
b. “My mom took me to the park every Saturday.”
Which of those is going to make you smile?
Take your kid to the park. Go to the Marion County Library. Spend the day at Carney Island. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you’re doing what’s important: spending time with your kids.
You are a parent before you are anything else. Your child comes first. Let the house get a little cluttered and messy; have dinner from a paper sack now and then. A little chaos is what will make the best memories, for both you and your children.