Going at it solo – single parenting in the 21st century, demystified
Raising a child is a bit like heading a nuclear programme for North Korea – everyone has an opinion on what you should do, and there seems to be a lot of doubt regarding the outcome. The world over, parenting seems to have become a carefully choreographed dance with minimal room for error. Unfortunately, there is a history of patriarchy in society, which is still present today. Women are still considered by many as the lead dancers in the production that is parenting. Hence, in the 21st century, we have the super-breed of single moms who have not only defied cultural norms by raising a child without a partner but also challenged the norms of patriarchy by working and raising a child at the same time.
In the age of feminism where working women are celebrated, single working mothers are under more pressure than ever. Feelings of anxiety and guilt often manifest, leaving this super-breed of mothers feeling not so super.
As hinted at earlier, parenting is a complicated and sometimes daunting task. While a majority of the parents agree that the rewards outweigh the stress of raising a child, there are many mothers – particularly single moms – who sometimes feel the exhaustion of managing a house and a job. To those single working parents out there, I want you to know that what you are experiencing is not only normal but a healthy response to a complex balancing act. Being a provider both emotionally and financially can take its toll and it is natural to feel like your physical and mental health is hanging on bare threads.
“Parenting is no sport for perfectionists.” – Andrew Solomon
I distinctly remember a client of mine sitting across from me sharing her experience of motherhood and how it was far from what she imagined. “I just feel done, and when I feel I have nothing left to give, I get an email from work or a call from Krish and I force myself to find the energy. I just feel constantly guilty, constantly never enough. I love my job and I love my son…but I feel like a below-average parent and a mediocre employee,” she shared.
Mothers often feel guilty about their inability to give their child or their job everything. The truth is that this concept of giving one aspect of your life (parenting) everything you have is impractical and ineffective. It is healthy to have multiple dimensions in your life, which you continue to explore and delve into. As a parent, the focus is often on what you have not done versus what you have done, which brings about guilt as an emotion. Therefore it is key to identify when you feel guilty and understand that guilt, as an emotion, is based on your current situation. Therefore, if the situation cannot be changed, acceptance of the situation is your first step in getting over the feelings of guilt.
Guilt and anxiety are common emotions and stresses associated with parenting. While these feelings are natural, they need to be dealt with. In order to be able to deal with feelings of guilt and worry, you need to have clarity of thought, which will assist you in rationalizing difficult emotions. In order to achieve thought clarity, you need to attempt to lead a relatively healthy and balanced life. Although a ‘balanced life’ seems utopian, it isn’t. A balanced life does not involve what we see in the movies or on television – it does not involve you being flawless and constantly having everything under control.
It involves you consciously prioritizing your tasks, understanding and accepting your limits, and within your routine finding time for one self-care activity (yes, I know, easier said than done). The golden rule when it comes to balanced parenting is kindness – kindness towards yourself, kindness towards your support systems, and most importantly, kindness towards your child.
“The uncertainty of parenting can bring up feelings in us that range from frustration to terror.” – Brene Brown
There is a saying it takes a village to raise a child. I am a big believer that having your children interact with multiple consistent authority figures is actually healthy. There are many mothers who get anxious that the individual watching over their child may not follow their instructions or be there for the child like they would. To those mothers, I would say – that is the point. No one is ever going to be you in your child’s life; you are irreplaceable, by virtue of being the mother. Children have a phenomenal amount of resilience and will adapt to different rules and relationships.
Building different types relationships helps your child in developing flexibility. Furthermore, it gives your child the opportunity to imbibe a diverse range of qualities from the people around them, making them more dynamic human beings with varied experiences.
When worried about leaving your child in the care of another, it is helpful to remember why you have identified this particular person to take care of your child. The truth is that it is virtually impossible to do everything by yourself, and when you are a single mother you will need assistance. Do not judge yourself for not being able to handle everything, but acknowledge the strength it takes to rely on other people. Building a support network is key in your journey as a single parent, not only because it will help your child, but it will also prevent you from feeling isolated in your journey as a single parent.
“There is no such thing as a perfect parent so just be a real one” – Sue Atkins
At the end of the day, what makes a parent an authority figure a child can turn to is honesty. I believe it is healthy to be an honest parent – to show your child your strengths and your weaknesses. This not only builds a genuine relationship with them but also allows them to develop a realistic understanding of life in general. This is not to say you should have frequent breakdowns in front of your child. However, communicating when you are upset or tired can provide them with context and understanding of your responses and thoughts.
For those single working parents who strive to create and maintain the best environment for their children, I would like to conclude with a thought: It is imperative for our survival, to hold on to love and believe that the difficult moments will pass. Two questions to ask yourself in relation to yourself: Did I give it my best shot? Is my heart in the right place? If you get a yes to both these questions, I would say you are winning the parenting game. It is this kindness towards yourself that will allow you to prioritize your tasks and understand and accept your limitations. It is human to feel exhaustion, guilt and frustration. Finally, it is important to remind yourself that you are a human being first and then a parent.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)