By Dena Landon
Pick up my son from school. Make dinner and help him with homework. Maybe a half hour to play Sorry! or another board game, depending on what traffic was like getting to our house from the school. Bath time, then the bedtime ritual of brush teeth, read a story, cuddle in my bed for two minutes before moving him to his bed, sing him a song and lights out.
After he’s down, wash the dishes (I don’t have a dishwasher) and tidy up the kitchen. Prep his lunch for the next day if I didn’t get to making the week’s lunches on Sunday. Throw in a load of laundry. When you’re a single parent it can start to feel like your life revolves around your kid(s). Because it does. Many of us have learned that if we don’t run our household like a well-oiled machine things start to fall apart. I’m not naturally an organized person but I’ve developed the skill as a survival mechanism.
And then there’s the guilt when we’re the only parent standing in the drop-off line at school. When you’re tucking your son into bed one night and he says, “Mommy, I want a Daddy.” Or you overhear him responding to the neighbor kid’s question – How often do you see your dad? – with a shrug and a “not much.” That’s when the urge to overcompensate kicks into high gear.
Not for us a quiet weekend playing in the backyard. On Saturday we’re going to swim class, then eating lunch at our favorite dinner before heading over to the children’s museum. Sunday breakfast at the local place where the waitresses know to bring over a bottle of ketchup with his beignet order, then the beach and a playdate. Birthdays? Better believe it’s the fancy package at the warehouse-like jump house chain with loud music, screaming children and air compressors going full tilt. Never mind the headache – it’s worth it to see your child’s smile. The latest toys, best clothing brands, every experience those two-parent, two-income kids have my kid is going to have – an better.
There’s no need to overcompensate because we’re enough. And we need to believe that in our core.
Even if you can afford it, it’s not sustainable. And I don’t know if it’s really good for our kids. The constant round of expensive experiences and of competing with other families is draining on both your wallet and your sanity. Even if you’re like me and take advantage of every free story time, museum day and zoo day in town, it’s setting up the expectation that your kid will constantly be entertained.
I realized this two weeks ago. I’m in the middle of a cross-country move so there have been a fair amount of “play in the backyard with the neighbor or by yourself” days while I carry boxes in and out of the house. Less activities and more unstructured playtime. He’s been getting into the bathtub filthy, covered in grass stains and with dirt under his toenails. And luxuriously happy. After one day where he’d spent a whopping six hours playing outside, running between the two backyards and barely holding still to eat, he threw his arms around me as I tucked him into bed and exclaimed, “Mommy, I love you more than infinity!”
Sometimes our kids remind of us the important lessons we’ve forgotten in the midst of turning our lives into well-oiled single parent machines. That it’s okay to relax and not plan every hour of the day. To live in the dirt-filled, running through the sprinkler moment. That they, and we, will survive if we relax and let go.
Single moms are a kickass bunch, no doubt. But sometimes we get so caught up in running our lives and managing everything that we forget to, well, live. If a two-parent family doesn’t need to plan every moment, why do we? There’s no need to overcompensate because we’re enough. And we need to believe that in our core. Even two-parent households have their issues and bumps in the road. Single parenting isn’t really anything new – whether from widowhood, a dad who took off, a father who was out in a fishing boat for months at a time – moms have been managing this a lot longer than we think. It may look different when compared to some families, but not all. Comparison is truly the thief of joy so when our kids notice and remark upon the differences just acknowledge them and move on. And if we want our children to embrace and love the traits that make them unique, to view them as special rather than weird, and to love themselves – well, we need to model that for them. There’s no need to kill ourselves trying to be two parents when one kickass mom has got it covered.
About the Author
Dena Landon is a single mom who eats raw cookie dough, passionately debates intersectional feminism and frequently tangles herself in yarn. Her work has appeared on The Washington Post, Narrative.ly, Salon, bust.com, and in Dance Teacher and Dance Spirit magazines. Her first novel was published by Dutton Children’s Publishing in 2005. She blogs at femmefeminism.com, and can be found on Instagram and Facebook.