I had a long conversation with a 17-year-old girl who recently graduated high school. We talked about what it’s like to be a single parent!
I never planned to be a single parent. I became one, by choice, on December 15, 1994, when I said, enough is enough. I grabbed my spare keys, from their perfect hiding spot, grabbed my two children and left without a cent in my pocket and just the clothes on our backs.
I had spare keys made several months earlier and hid them well. I had started saving money approximately a year prior, that too was hidden. The plan – leave in January, 1995.
The reality – I wasn’t going to ruin the holidays for myself or my kids, and so, December 15, 1994 it was! I never looked back. It’s the best decision I ever made. I went back for the hidden money when he wasn’t there.
I never wanted my kids, as adults, to one day ask me, “mom, why did you stay?” I wanted them to grow up in a loving, kind, peaceful, fun home the way I did. My ending the marriage gave them that!
Life changes I explained to the young lady during our conversation. Sometimes we have no choice, sometimes we make the choice! But change will happen.
She was perturbed that her mother was selling the house she had been born in. Her mother was moving to another state with the man she had been dating the past six years. “It’s like she loves him more than me” she complained. She felt betrayed.
And so, we chatted. I asked her:
- “Do you have a boyfriend?” She replied “yes.”
- “Do you love him more than your mother?” I inquired? She looked at me shocked. “Well, do you?” She said, “no.” I asked, “Then what makes you think your mother loves her boyfriend more than you? Can’t she love you BOTH?”
- “You are leaving for college in the fall, correct? Do you feel you are betraying your mom?” Her response, “NO!!!!!” with a bit of indignation.
- “But, you said you don’t like change” I reminded her. “With that logic, you should stay home and choose a school within a few miles, so nothing would change. It would be the same as it has been all through your school years!”
- “Tell me, have you survived other changes in your life so far?”
- She replied, “There haven’t been any.”
- “Really. You started out in a dark, warm, safe environment and were pushed out into a bright, cold, scary world. You went from suckling to eating, crawling to walking. You went to preschool, then elementary. Things changed again when you started middle school and again with high school.”
- “College is going to be a drastic change.”
- “Things changed when you were four and your parents divorced, when your grandparents died and when your mother met her boyfriend.”
- “They changed when your mom went back to work full-time and when your dad remarried.”
- Life changes. It would be very boring if nothing ever changed.
- She contemplated a moment and then said, “well, that’s different. Those were things we HAD to do.” I reminded her that her parents didn’t HAVE to get divorced, they chose to. Her mom didn’t HAVE to date or work full-time. Her dad CHOSE to get remarried.
She, herself, didn’t HAVE to go to school; she could have been homeschooled and can take online college classes.
I also reminded her that she will always have a home with her mom or her dad, no matter where the home is located.
She asked me about being a single mom, and so, we discussed how I did it!
How I did it. My beliefs, my theories, my choices
- I believe the absolute worst thing any parent can do is pity a child.
- Feeling sorry for a child won’t give them any resources to deal with life.
- Prepare kids to be strong through the rough times, they have to be, they can’t crumble.
- Remind the kids of the good (pros) in their life. They are not the only children to have to deal with the situation and won’t be the last.
- Find a group setting where the kids can talk with other kids in the same boat. My children loved the program in elementary school. They met during lunch with other kids and the counselor. They realized they weren’t alone and learned a lot.
- Don’t bad mouth, but don’t hold back the truth – your kids shouldn’t see you as a doormat or delusional. Trust me, kids see and know more than most think. Even very young kids.
- If they see you always backing down (for the kids’ sake) they won’t respect you.
- I’m not saying create a war. I am saying, know right from wrong, stand up for yourself and stand up for them.
- I believe kids can handle the truth, no matter what it is. It’s the lies that create the most damage. Be honest.
- I do not believe that speaking the truth is harmful to children. Attempting to shield them causes more harm. If the other parent is an alcoholic, don’t hide it. Instead, explain the situation, educate them on alcoholism. Eventually the truth comes out and they will resent you for keeping them in the dark.
- Teach children to stand up for themselves, to be confident and independent.
- Teach them to be respectful, follow rules and heed authority, but to also think for themselves.
- Be sure they have a backbone; they know how to say no to the crowd, they can stand on their own two feet even if they stand alone.
- I taught mine that majorities mean nothing to me. I don’t care what EVERYONE thinks or how many agree; I care about what I believe and what I stand for.
As A Single Parent:
- My children always came first. When I first left my ex, I was offered a position in New York City for $80,000 per year. Back in 1994, that was a very good salary. I turned it down.
- If I went back to New York City to work, I wouldn’t be available to my kids.
- Instead, I took jobs close to home on Long Island, jobs that were family friendly. I earned less money, but it was worth it.
- I was able to see them in plays during the day, go to school parties, work half a day so I could go on a school trip, etc.
- I got them off to school in the morning and was home from work early. If I took the job in New York City, I’d be leaving at 6 a.m. or earlier and getting home after 7 p.m., later if there were delays.
- I always spent quality time with my kids. I did “EVERYTHING” with them.
- Mommy & Me, Gymboree, soccer, swimming, dance classes, karate, horseback riding lessons, and more.
- We traveled a lot back then. I always found discounts, deals, group rates and I often split costs with family and/or friends.
- We spent fun weekends away.
- We spent cozy weekends home, watching movies, playing games, having dinner together.
- During huge snowstorms we had family time at my condo.
- I surprised them with spur of the moment fun – a day at Adventureland, a day out East, a day at the beach, – just the three of us!
- One year I decided to do a “staycation”. We would do day trips at home.
- I had EIGHT KIDS, yes you read that right, EIGHT KIDS, spend the week. I was the only adult.
- I had my 2 kids, my sister’s 2, my cousin’s 2 and my friend’s 2.
- The group was female age 12, female 12, male 10, female 8, male 8, male 8, female 4 and female 3.
- Four of the eight were raised by single mothers, my two and my friend’s two. The other four were raised by both parents in the home.
- They all made it to adulthood with no issues. They are smart, kind, caring, responsible, law-abiding citizens with wonderful careers and lives. Some have their own children now.
- Sadly, one of the 8 died of a rare and aggressive form of cancer at age 24 almost 6 years ago.
- They all turned out EXCELLENT. The 4 raised by single mothers are doing just as well as the 4 raised by both parents.
Here’s a little tip, from my personal experience. Staycations are EXPENSIVE. I spent more that one week than I have taking the kids to Disney for the week!
We did have a ball and make wonderful memories. I’d do it all again – it was so much fun. I loved having the kids stay with me. One of my neighbors named me the Pied Piper because I always had a group of kids following me through the neighborhood.
Single With Children – Making Your Own Life
I’m a firm believer in a single parent making their own life. Now… I’m not saying neglect your kids, put yourself first, ignore your kids, none of that nonsense. I am saying, you need to make a life for yourself too!
Remember, the kids will grow up and have lives of their own. You will be left alone and lonely if you don’t also make a life for yourself. It happens in the blink of an eye.
Not to mention, you need a break.
- If you want to date, then date. I don’t believe in hiding it from the kids.
- When my kids where little, I chose not to involve my serious relationship with my family. I had a serious boyfriend; however, I didn’t introduce him to my family for several years.
- My kids knew I was dating; they even met him, casually. We did fun things together. We even took weekend trips.
- I didn’t want them getting too attached to anyone when they were very young.
- Once my kids were older, I then brought him around my family. We were dating several years before family met him.
- Casual dates, I brought around to parties every so often, but I knew it wasn’t going to become serious and he was just a friend, which is what the kids were told too.
Be the Parent/Boss
- Never let kids control you. Of course, take feelings into consideration, explain things to them, but don’t let them rule the roost.
- One of my kids at one point decided I shouldn’t date. I fixed that right away. I contacted the counselor at school who had a discussion in group. They realized from group discussion with other kids and the counselor and our conversations that dating was normal and should be expected.
- I explained to my kids, that if they felt I was never to leave them, then they should never leave me. No more birthday parties, sleeping at cousin’s houses, grandparent’s house, playing with friends. They must sit and entertain me 24/7.
- They realized that we still love one another and still spend precious time together but everyone should be able to pursue individual friendships, hobbies and interests.
- Take adult only vacations, with your friends, family or significant other. It’s good for you and good for the kids! My kids had a ball with family and friends while I was away!
- Expect to be exhausted – it comes with the territory
- Don’t be too hard on yourself, none of us are perfect.
- Listen to others advice, take it into consideration, but in the end, make your own choices.
- Never care what others think, live for YOU. It’s YOUR life.
- Have confidence, nothing is more attractive, liberating and helpful in moving forward in life.
- Don’t worry about being judged, especially by those who never walked in your shoes. If you are doing your best, working hard, and have done nothing illegal or to hurt others, then all is good.
No Regrets/ No Jealousy/Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself
- I was never jealous of anyone or anything and taught my kids the same. Everyone’s life is different and what may look good on the outside may or may not be wonderful on the inside.
- I regret no decision I ever made. At the time, I believed it was the right choice, regardless of the outcome.
- Would I not make that decision knowing what I know now, yes. But I don’t regret having made it when I did back then.
- I don’t hide the past or refuse to mention it. It’s what brought me to the present. I have amazing, wonderful memories of the past which I will always cherish and a few memories of bad circumstances that I don’t dwell on.
- I did my best. I was a single mother, working full-time, going to school to earn my Bachelor’s Degree and going on 4 hours of sleep a night for many years.
- No one can do it all. I set my priorities. It was much more important to me to spend time with my kids and also have my own social life than to have a spotless home.
- My motto – we are dressed, fed, have shelter, have great family and friends, therefore, we are doing great.
- When the laundry piled up – it was all good. We haven’t shown up naked yet was my motto! Have a sense of humor, it gets you through.
- If I had to choose between redoing the bathroom and taking the kids on a cruise, I chose the cruise. The bathroom got redone eventually.
- If others didn’t like your choices then or don’t like them now, I say “F*ck em”. Yup, that’s always been my motto. I worked with someone once who used to find it hysterical every time I said that.
- My kids have amazing memories and learned so much from traveling. I seriously doubt they remember one thing about when or how I remodeled the bathroom. Nor did they learn much from it.
- If you love your kids, care for them, teach them well, more often than not, they will turn out to be wonderful people with great lives.
The 17-year-old said, “I never thought about all that.” I explained, “Most kids don’t think about what their parents go through.”
I reminded her, “Your mother waited until you were leaving for college, she put you first. You will be gone four years and who knows if you will move back home or move away. Don’t you think mom has a right to be happy too?”
Statistically, most kids who go away to college don’t move back to New York. It’s VERY EXPENSIVE.
A lot can happen in four years. Should mom stay in limbo, in a very expensive state, and then in the end, the kid calls up two days after college graduation and says she decided to take a job in Timbuktu in two weeks.
She’s spending the two weeks before starting her job backpacking through Europe with her best friends, but promises to be home for Thanksgiving!!!!!
At the end of our conversation, she admitted she really didn’t believe deep down that her mom loved the boyfriend more than she loved her.
Methinks it was a typical teenage ploy to make mom feel bad/guilty to get what she wanted even if it was done subconsciously, or possibly consciously.
The few times my kids tried to pull that, I always called them on it and straightened their heads/butts out quickly.
Kids are resilient. They survive. Life is full of changes and challenges. They need to be able to handle it.
If I had been pitied as a kid, I wouldn’t be able to handle everything I’ve gone through and am going through now!
Don’t buy into the pity party. Don’t let the kids make the decisions or rule the roost. In the end, it’s destructive to them and you!
Being a single parent isn’t easy. But it is doable.
From my experience, the kids will be just fine even if they do get a bit dramatic at times! Just do what my mom did when the dramatics started. Simply say, “Oh, Sarah, referencing Sarah Bernhardt, Sally Field (or whoever the current winner may be) already won the academy award!” Mom is a pip!!!!!
Written by: Doreen from Teaching An Old Cook New Tricks