I’m not very good at taking constructive criticism. Sometimes because of pride. Mostly because of shame.
Today is one of those days I’ve struggled with shame part. I had warned the boys that we would be going to church this morning. It’s sad that I use the word “warned,” but we’ve gotten out of any sort of routine when it comes to church. Most Sundays when they are not at their dad’s, we elect to sleep in or have “house church,” where we gather together in the family room, read from the Bible and then discuss what we’ve read. We pray together, and we’re done.
But I miss church sometimes. And I miss them going with me. So I warned them because I knew they would whine and come up with 101 excuses not to go. After some arguing and quite frankly some manipulating on my part, two out of the four actually made it to church.
As for the other two: one was downright obstinate and church attendance is not a battle in which I wish to enter because I never want my kids to have a bitter taste for faith resulting from being forced into attendance. In other words, I wasn’t willing to totally guilt him into coming with us, especially at his age where he is trying to figure out his faith journey separate from his parents. The other objector had been coughing up a storm — and nobody wants to sit next to a hacker at church, or anywhere for that matter.
After church, I took the youngest to the NCAA Hall of Champions because he has been asking to do something fun all weekend and I hate the idea of him sitting in front of the TV or playing video games when he’s begging for an engaging outlet. The second-born has been asking to take his bike to the repair shop so when I returned from the field trip with my youngest, I had the second-born load his bike in the car. Then the oldest remembered he needed to pick up his guitar, and he wanted to get more driving hours in, so the three of us set off on some errands.
We were just a block from returning home when the oldest, still driving, got too close to another car and clipped the side mirror. We pulled over and rang various neighbors’ door bells to find the owner of the car so we could bear the bad news and offer to pay for damages and exchange insurance information.
By the time I walked in the front door with groceries that my boys did not offer to carry, I was spent. Haggard. Irritable. Truthfully… I was ready to rip a head off of one of the mice, hiding under my stove, with my bare hands. From the whining about church to the lack of gratitude for being taken to places they asked to go, to the downright sense of entitlement, I was done.
I walked into the kitchen and looked up and down in disgust at the dirty dishes piled in my sink. I passed the pile of clothes that needed to be put into the washer, and sneered at them. I threw my phone and keys on my bed, not caring if they bounced off and hit the hardwood floors, and I entered my bathroom where I turned on the water to fill my solitary, serene claw foot tub to the hottest temperature possible.
And there I sat and read my book about India. A book that had nothing to do with church, or errands, or car accidents or children with attitudes. I read until my toes looked like the tread on my winter tires.
My boyfriend is smart. He knew it was best to leave me alone. So he waited. And several minutes after he heard the bathwater drain, he knocked on the door. By then I was in some comfy clothes propped against some pillows in my bed. He sat on the edge of the bed, and started with “You’re a good mom.” And, “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way.” And then, “I know you are overwhelmed.”
My arms crossed against my chest. I set my jaw forward. And I set up every invisible wall I have ever constructed for a time like this. What followed was not comfortable. But it wasn’t horrible either. He offered insights on what he saw in my boys and what he thought they really needed from me. None of it was new to me but it was now that I needed to hear it. A lone tear ran down my cheek as I dismissed the defensive linemen around my heart so I could receive the advice he lovingly offered.
Being a single mom is hard. It’s damn hard. When a married woman wonders how she’s going to survive when her husband is out of town for a week, I try not to throw myself a pity-party knowing that single-parenting is my story every week. Nearly every day of every week, there is no spouse to help with the day-in/day-out — wake up calls, laundry washing/drying/sorting/folding, breakfast feeding, lunch packing, dinner making, dish washing, grocery shopping, sports-practice running, game attending, band transporting, cheerleading, new shoe shopping, teacher conferencing, homework checking, shower demanding, teeth-brush reminding, full-time working — duties.
And sometimes it wears. me. out. Sometimes I’m too worn down from my children’s complaints, that I give in when I shouldn’t. Sometimes I’m in such desperate need of peace and quiet that I retreat to my bedroom instead of engaging in conversation with my children.
So we single moms (or dads) beat ourselves up an awful lot because we let our boundaries slide or our discipline tank. But thankfully I am fortunate to have a strong man in my life who loves my boys and is willing to step up more if I give him permission. And I have an ex-husband who is active in my boys’ lives and who parents them well… because, my Dear Readers, I can’t do this alone.
I thank my boyfriend for reminding me of that tonight. I didn’t ask him for his advice and I certainly didn’t ask him to do my dishes or make my kids dinner. But he did it because he knew I was swimming in a sea of disappointment and shame that I had not handled my children differently today. He knew that I wanted to have better boundaries and parent with grace instead of with disdain.
If you know a single parent, I encourage you to ask her what she (or he) needs. And ask more than once. Because there will be times when she has all of her plates masterfully spinning in the air without so much as a bobble. But ask again and you may find her slumped over a heap of broken dishes wet from her tears. That is the time she will know she cannot do this parenting thing alone. So pick something practical from the list below and take a bit of the load off – even if she didn’t ask you.
- Make her family dinner. There’s nothing like coming home from work knowing dinner is a ready to heat and eat.
- Ask to come visit then unload and load her dishes (or hand wash if she doesn’t have a dishwasher).
- Pick her child up from practice or school and, depending on the age, either watch the child at your house for a while, or drop the child off at home.
- If she has more than one child, ask if you can help one of them do homework while she helps the other.
- Take a load of her laundry home and wash it, dry it and return it folded.
- Babysit her children while she takes a nap. Or a bath. Or runs to the store alone.
- If her kids go to her ex-spouse’s for a night ask her to do something fun together. Since being single, chances are she doesn’t go out as much any more.
- Call her to see if she needs anything when you are running to the grocery and drop off her items on your way home.
- If she has a sick child, deliver Gatorade, crackers, Tylenol, etc. Or see if she needs a prescription picked up from the pharmacy.
- Pack her kids lunches for the week and deliver them to her labeled and ready to go.