Almost daily, I have at least one person stop what they are saying mid-sentence, stare at me with wide eyes and ask me, “how do you DO it?” I know i make this single parenting biz look seamless (yes, that’s sarcasm), but really, i have no idea how I do it. I’ve been thinking about this, however, because so many people ask me with such disbelief. Parents with one child. Adults with cats (and no kids). Married people with one child or maybe two. One of my favorite parenting mottos is to have only a few rules, but I make sure the rules are clear so there is little room for misinterpretation and negotiation, like “food stays in the kitchen;” instead of any other combination of “don’t eat the food in the ____ room.” Clear and concise. Beyond that, this is how I do it… (cue Montell Jordan). I was going to do 10, but felt compelled to add one.
My oldest child has just turned 16 years old and then i’ve got a 9.5 year old and a 7 year old and my youngest is 5. So, after years of doing this parenting thing and the majority of it as a single parent in some form or another, I’ve come up with my favorite answers that I give to people.
- I have no idea. Because really, I don’t. You just do it. You can’t stop to think about what it is you are doing because once you do think about it, you’re REALLY going to make yourself crazy. I mean do I really have a choice NOT to do this?!
- Self-care. Self-care. Self-care. I too have to remind myself of his one and it’s super important.
- I limit kid activities. Each kid gets one activity/sport/lesson once a week per season. The youngest two have gymnastics at the same place during the same time. We carpool to gymnastics, we live right near where my 9 year old practices basketball and the oldest snowboards, however, he only goes on weekends. Limiting activities ensures time for homework, baths, stories, connecting. This brings me to number 3…
- I refuse to be a taxi driver carting kids all over. They better do some advance planning and get in on the ride schedule or errand running if they want to go somewhere (this one is for the oldest mostly).
- We have family dinners as often as possible. I TRY to plan remarkable dinners, but you know, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. When I don’t cook, it’s “why didn’t you cook dinner, mom?” and when I do cook, “this is gross. I’m not eating it.” And then 3 of 4 do eat it and it’s delicious. I often use dinner to chat about their day, but more, I want to connect as a family. It’s really the perfect time to work on manners, dealing with annoying eaters, making the impatient 16 year old sit and really learn how to work through desperately wanting to get up and go back to his room.
- I cook one meal option. The only exception to this is if I make something like pasta and need a separate gluten-free option for the 7 year old with Celiac disease. Aaaand also the 9.5 year old with a dairy allergy. I am not a line cook and I refuse to be in the kitchen constantly. Eat what’s available or be hungry.
- They have Chores. They’ve gotten good at divvying up the work. I love watching them use “child seniority” as a way to pass on a chore they don’t want. They also have weekend chores and some things I expect daily like hanging up coats and backpacks. We are a team and I cannot do it all.
- Public space vs private space. Seriously, don’t junk up the main parts of the house we share. The rule is, your room is for you to have how you see fit. Clean it up on Saturday and have a fresh start. Honor the public space as it is for everyone.
- Slow down…to play, cuddle, read a book, color, watch a movie, eat popcorn. Sunday night snacks are our FAVORITE thing. We all help make a ‘snack’ and we eat in the family room while watching a movie. This is a tradition my grandma started when my mom was a child and it has survived on to me and my sisters also doing it.
- Help each other and LET others help you. Yeah, I’m mom. I know sometimes they just want me, but really? We have been working on asking sister to turn the channel on the T.V., help make breakfast, etc. My other favorite thing to say is, “it’s okay to let someone else help you because I cannot always be the one.” This is improving as we do it more.
- Wine. (this one is for me and me only!) When all else fails, pour yourself a glass of your favorite wine. Or whatever you have on hand. Sit down, sip your drink and watch them just be amazing little people. There’s no money in this world that can take away the relationships within our family and the memories I am helping them create and hopefully one day, appreciate how I raised them. I believe in holding them accountable and loving them as they are. I like to meet them where they are RIGHT NOW, which allows for less striving and feelings of being let down. Instead, you see them with fresh eyes and an open heart and it lets you just love them completely.
In the midst of feeling like I’m really just screwing up everything and unable to function even on anxiety medication, my mom called to tell me that my oldest son really appreciates how I have raised him. It felt like the best compliment coming from my 16 year old son. Maybe I’m doing a lot of things right, even though there are days it feels nothing is right.