Single Parent Look
Because of my work I have traveled a lot. At times, this has made me feel independent and strong. The master of my universe. But I've also felt isolated and vulnerable.
A friend of mine was saying she loves to have alone time, but when she travels, it always feels a shame not to share it with someone. You look out over the landscape and are filled with wonder. You turn to share the awe, and there is no one there. You take a bite of that perfect dessert in that hole-in-the-wall you discovered and look across the table to find there is no one there to enjoy it with you.
This is how single parenting can feel. Sometimes, you're sick and have been up all night with a screaming toddler who demands oatmeal and then remembers he hates it. You long for backup - that other parent - to step in and tag out. These times of crisis were awfully hard for me, but during these times of crisis I went into "manage" mode and came out the other side . What I found even harder than the crisis times were the moments when my son did something hilarious and there was no one there to laugh with me. I'm certain I missed so many opportunities to laugh because I was so exhausted- emotionally and physically- simply from being a single parent. I looked up with that feeling of pride and amazement that my little one was turning into a big boy and that look fell onto the face of no one. That is when being a single parent was hardest for me. But it taught me a lot. I learned to look at him instead of the partner that wasn't there.
To do this with a child is hard because they may not fully grasp the sentiment, but I had to become okay with that. It was enough that he may not get the full extent of my joy in seeing him do these little amazing things, but really did it matter? If anything, perhaps, he was encouraged by the look of love for him and the knowledge that I am proud. It was hard to feel alone, but I learned to reach out to family and friends, regale them with stories of him, even if it bored them to tears. The look we exchange with travel companions, or dinner guests, or partners - we are trying to exchange our experience and reaffirm our role in the world. By actively sharing these moments with friends and family, I could reaffirm my sense of success at my parenting and continue onwards. This may sound vain but I think it's important for parents; single or together.
A friend of mine said the clock would turn seven and she would be practically throwing her children into bed, only to be on the couch, minutes later, cooing over a video of them taken that same afternoon. When we hold an image of them of them at their best, we can carry on through the more difficult times. It's easier to do that as a couple, because you are each other's cheerleader. Single parents don't have that luxury.
So I hope you hear this: be proud of those moments and share them with anyone who will listen. This will come in handy when you have to be your own backup and get creative with how (and why) you celebrate. One thing that really helped my single parent household was to make a reward program- not for tidying or good listening, but for making people laugh. When Nikko was about five, I began awarding him a gold star if he made me laugh. It worked miraculously. It helped him develop his sense of humor and it helped me see that we could laugh more together. And the stars by the way.... they didn't exist. It wasn't even a real star chart stuck to a wall. It was an imaginary star chart and he did it simply because he liked the idea of having a star given by me to him. Really a miracle. Remember that, to kids, something make-believe is really powerful! Laughter led to play, which led to a stronger connection.
Single parent (and any parent really): here is a star for doing your best. I write this from a place of love. I want you to know that you are supported. At times you feel all the joy in the world and then immediately comes that sinking feeling that you are the only one who sees it. You are not. It will reflect onto the little human you are raising, and they in turn will learn to enjoy the landscape, savour the perfect bite and find pride and joy in what they do.
Please email me to share your experiences and imaginary star tricks.