You may have read on my Facebook page that I pulled an 8 day stint with all 3 kids, on my own. It was honestly like a great emotional/spiritual/physical journey by the end of which I felt totally unraveled. The purpose of this post is not to complain about the woes of parenting, or to get pats on the back for undertaking what some people thought was a crazy feat. I’m sharing this experience because it changed me in so many ways, and the conclusion I came to has opened my world to new possibilities of serving.
When my husband asked if I’d be cool with him going to Mexico as part of a work recognition, I didn’t hesitate to say, “Of course.” This is an honour he has been given for several years and every year he turns it down without even asking me. This year, I thought, would be as good as any for him to be away for a week.
I honestly thought it would be a breeze.
I made plans to help my week go smoothly: Only take them to their Saturday, Monday and Thursday activities, have a friend babysit the toddler during the Monday activity so I can take a ‘break’ for an hour, order enough pizza to last two dinners, and have chicken nuggets on another night. Basically, limit activities and increase take-out.
I actually thought this would be a relaxing week. After all, I do 7:00 am – 5:00 pm on my own anyway…what’s another couple hours in the evening until bedtime? Then after they go to bed, I could read books! For like 2 hours! I’d get a lot of reading done.
What I didn’t know was that in the span of those few days there would also be: a clogged toilet that overflowed, a little boy up till midnight with an earache and heartbreak (over his dad’s absence), a trip to the doctor, suuuuper sad kids, a fridge door left open…all night…You know, life stuff. Stuff that happens to everyone, all the time. But stuff I never had to encounter alone.
What I realized was how much I need my partner home in the evenings to help with the post-activity aftermath of tired children, dinner clean-up, laundry, baths and bedtime. We do the whole she-bang together so, though it’s busy, it’s manageable. We divide and conquer. Without him, I felt like I was the one being conquered. And the dishes got left to the next day. Again.
I tried to catch up on housework during the day, specifically during the toddler’s nap, which meant no time left over for my work. Also, the fact that she missed two naps during the week so I could take care of things outside the home meant I had less child-free time to catch up on housework. Or simply to catch a break. I felt like I was in this cycle of can’t-do and never-gonna-get-to.
There was no reading whatsoever. I was dysfunctional by 8:30 pm.
When my dad texted on Tuesday afternoon that he and my stepmom were coming over with some food for that night’s dinner, the kids were so thrilled they were tripping over themselves helping me tidy up. The spontaneous visit was totally welcomed but I feel more comfortable when people can walk through our home without risk of injury due to toys strewn everywhere. It was a good excuse to push through and get ‘er done, and honestly the three of us had a lot of fun doing it. Anticipating a visit, listening to music…even the toddler felt the change in mood and was giggly.
But I caught them – those thoughts that tried to sneak around in my consciousness without me noticing. The ones that said, “You’d fall apart if you ever had to do this gig alone. You wouldn’t be strong enough to do this.”
My dad and stepmom came and we ate, and they left after a couple hours. Then, it was just me plus 3, with baths and bedtime looming ahead.
I won’t even pretend they bathed as much as they normally would have. And neither did I.
I held my breath through the rest of the week and got done what I could. But it was all coming to a head. And this is how I came undone.
Late Saturday morning (Day 8), my older daughter was at a class and the other two were playing together in the living room. I decided to take a couple minutes alone in my studio to just take some deep breaths.
But I wasn’t really alone. I had my thoughts to contend with.
“I yelled at them so much this week.”
“I could never do this alone. I’m not that strong.”
“I am totally failing at motherhood.”
“Why couldn’t I have been cool and collected? It was just a week! People do this every single day!”
“What a whiner. Nadir’s coming back tonight and I’m out all day with a friend tomorrow – how many people can do that easily? Suck it up!”
You get the picture. It was super painful going through that. My friend, Saira, had single-parented her two children from Sunday-Friday for 7 months. I felt terrible that I hadn’t known exactly what she had gone through. I texted her: How did you do it?? I’m totally failing at motherhood. She encouraged me to lean into it, just go through the process. (She is an excellent therapist, by the way!) So much came out of those few minutes, as I lay in child’s pose on my rug.
I went through the shame of complaining about a temporary situation, I felt the burden of my disparaging thoughts and self-judgments of my mothering, I felt frustrated that I had never truly empathized with others who were doing this daily. The emotions happened simultaneously and I was stuck in child’s pose, taking it all.
Once my head got a little quiet, I went back to the living room where the kids were playing and asked my son if he wanted to open his mail. I had picked it up the day before but forgot about it. He had received a newsletter from Canuck Place Children’s Hospice, which he fundraised for earlier this year. I said I’d read it to him.
He hopped into my lap and this was the message inside:
The tears started up again and my son looked from me to the letter and back at me, as I continued on in a broken voice, face wet. This time I didn’t feel shame or guilt. I felt compassion and solidarity. We all have our challenges and heartaches, and they don’t need to be the same as the next mom’s, but that can’t stop us from reaching out and helping each other. I have heard this exact sentiment expressed in countless blog posts and social media feeds…but never had I actually felt those words so deeply. I finally understood that we may be mothering different children, we may be living some very different realities, but as mothers we all have our sappy moments and wish-I-could-start-over moments.
While all moms need help, I understand that single moms don’t always have access to it.
I shared this insight with my friend Jamie this morning and she sent this to me.
Please click on the pic to read the stats of single mothers in Metro Vancouver, how you can help and what your donations give to these women. The best way I know to embrace this truth is to serve. I know exactly what I want for Mother’s Day.
I’m no longer chastising myself for complaining about my temporary situation. I’m super grateful that I was able to progress a little in my solidarity with all moms: single, attached, working, stay-at-home, and mothers of kids with all kinds of needs.
Thank you for reading.