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Sitting in a counselor's office, at a local pregnancy crisis center, I was told one thing which changed the course of my single parent career...forever.
"You will need to find your 'new normal,' Gina."
New normal. What does that mean? It means grieve what's been lost and embrace what is ahead. I'm going to step on a few toes and say, "a new normal doesn't apply to military wives." A military mother is not a single mother. That's not to say military mothers have it easy. Roles of military wives and single mothers do overlap, on some levels.
Here are 10 lessons I've learned as a single mom:
- Don't compare yourself to others. You can't compare yourself to married mothers, for obvious reasons. You also cannot compare yourself to other single moms. Jon Acuff puts it this way, "stop comparing your beginning with someone's middle." I've been a single mother for 7 years. Life is entirely different during the first few years. If you were married, stop comparing yourself to the woman in the review mirror. I struggled with this for a long time. The demands of meeting your absent spouse's role is too taxing.
- Eat sandwiches. Hot cooked meals are great, when you have the time and energy. Set a goal to cook "x" amount of meals. If that number is one, then great! Single moms cook from their own unique cookbook.
- Create traditions. Your family traditions are your own. I grew up in a family where traditional holidays weren't a big deal. I've carried that over into my role as a parent. I applaud parents who make holidays a big to-do. I've created different traditions for my children. The purpose is to create unity. Traditions reinforce the family bond and strengthen family chemistry.
- Take time for yourself. This can be very difficult. Parent's Day Out is a great idea, if you have the money. Many single parents do not. More than likely, you'll need to ask for help or get creative.
- Enjoy your children. It doesn't matter if you have one child or six, it's difficult to muster up a cheerful countenance when you feel crushed by a big boulder of responsibility. Learn to lay it down. Just long enough to take a stroll through the park, play a board game, play dress-up or my personal favorite...play Xbox. It may seem like a lot to ask but you'll find it's incredibly rewarding. Children inspire creativity. And don't forget to pick up your big miserable boulder when you're finished. Sorry.
- Find a support group. Misery loves (and needs) company. Why? Because you need to exchange sandwich recipes with someone! Single parents have rottenly hilarious stories to share and we are some of the most resourceful human beings on earth.
- Say, "I'm sorry." Simply accept you'll mess up; therefore, you'll need to apologize. You're going to blow up at your kids, daycare staff, family, vehicle when it leaves you stranded, etc. It's a natural response to stress. It's okay to be stressed and angry but it's not okay to be mean. Say you're sorry--like you mean it--and move on.
- Cut the ties that bind. People end up single for many reasons. If something from the past is holding you back, keeping you from becoming the mother you need to be, cut ties and move on. That involves forgiveness. You can't move on, if you're nurturing a grudge. It took me a long time to hone in on what was draining my emotional and mental reserves.
- Fight depression. The symptoms of depression starkly resemble the symptoms of single parenting. Recognizing it can be tricky. Symptoms may include fatigue, irritability, sleepless nights, change in eating habits, weeping and gnashing of teeth, etc. Listen to your closest friends if they suggest you may be depressed. Talk to your doctor or seek free counseling services in your area. Try to sneak in some exercise. This is so difficult if you cannot afford a gym membership, you're saddled with very young children, or working several jobs. Don't be ashamed to try an anti-depressant. It can make all the difference in the world.
- Be proud and confident. Chances are, you cannot offer your children everything they want or even need. But you're offering them your very best. You've sacrificed a huge chunk of your life and dreams. I believe in you.