It’s a little after 10 a.m. and the first time in awhile that I’ve had the house all to myself. With a busy start to the school year, made even busier as my first child begins the college application process, I’m finding myself under more stress than ever before. So when my ex-husband told me he was planning on taking the kids this weekend, I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. But not because I would have a few extra moments to devote to straightening my house (which could use some straightening). Or to run errands without interruption. Or to work on my book. It was instead because I could give the little bit of extra time to something even more important – me.
Parenting is draining, particularly when doing it alone, whether it’s a few days per week, most of the year, or all the time. To parent well, we need to be strong both physically and mentally, which means it’s sometimes necessary to take care of ourselves first to accomplish what we must during a given day or simply get through a day.
Of course, on the surface, such an idea runs contrary to the parenting mantra that dictates we must always put our children’s needs before our own. And we always should – wherever their health, safety, and overall well-being are concerned. However, when it comes to consistently pleasing my kids, I tend to draw a line.
One of the biggest lessons I learned after coming out of a long marriage is how to create boundaries with the people in my life, from the men I date to friends, my community, and my family. Especially my family. My children are no exception. In fact, I’ve made them the rule since where they’re concerned it’s often difficult to pinpoint the place that I end and they begin, putting me at risk for succumbing entirely to their desires at the total expense of my own.
For a parent, particularly a single one, that can be a dangerous outcome. Here’s why. I’m the captain of this ship and, in many ways, it’s up to me to make sure we don’t sink. Therefore, I cannot sink first. In other words, I need to stay well and in more ways that one because if I’m not happy and healthy, it becomes nearly impossible for me to parent the way I wish, which is with my full attention and heart.
I also don’t want my children to grow up thinking that the world will give in to their every whim or demand. Or that it’s okay to lose themselves to those they love by continually putting others’ needs and wants before their own in the name of love. That’s why today I make it my business to engage in certain behaviors even if it sometimes means re-allocating time and money away from them to me.
I’m the captain of this ship and, in many ways, it’s up to me to make sure we don’t sink.
Though I believe looking good on the outside directly influences how we feel on the inside and can be a quick fix when feeling down, I’ve found that habits such as getting enough sleep and regularly exercising are the easiest (and least expensive) ways to keep my mind and body healthy. Anyone who knows me understands I’m very protective of my sleep time, and I’ve emphasized to my children repeatedly how critical it is that they let me sleep and not wake me in the middle of the night unless there’s an emergency. Although children’s ages are a factor when it comes to how well we can negotiate this point, even when my kids were small, I made sure to sleep when they did. I know I’m a better mom when I’m not cranky. Not to mention that when I’ve had enough rest, I get depressed or physically sick less often, which, when it does happen, can make life more challenging than it already is. Who needs that?
It’s for this reason I go for routine physicals and screenings when I’m well. After having a couple of irregular mammograms that ultimately turned out to be fine, I’ve become vigilant about preventative care. Although no one likes to think about the possibility of ever getting sick, it can happen to any of us, and early detection for many types of illnesses has been proven to save lives. So schedule those yearly check-ups, and if your providers request testing for whatever reason, follow through with their orders promptly. Because a kickass single mom is a mom who doesn’t wait for life to kick her in the ass. She’s a mom who stays a step ahead just in case she finds herself facing a challenge and when she does, summons all her strength to kick back.
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