Monday, September 30, 2013

Guest Blog: Single Mom Series, Ashlea's Story

Having so many single mom’s in my life, I was asked by a Twitter reader to do a highlight on the inspiring stories of single mom’s by my friend Ashela. The answers were so good and thorough that I decide each will get her own blog this week. I think we need to listen to them and try to help them all we can by giving support and encouragement.

How many kids do you have? How long have you been a single mom? I have boy /girl twins who are almost eight. I legally separated from their dad four years ago and have been legally divorced for three years.

What is the hardest thing you face as a single mom? Reconciling “single” and “mom”. I feel many times like these are two different lives that I lead and they each have their own set of rules and demands and responsibilities. Usually I’m not Single Ashlea and Mom Ashlea at the same time.

How do you make time for yourself ? I am very lucky in that their dad takes them at regular intervals. But during those times when we go long stretches, me time is found late in the evenings. And my kids are very used to me telling them that I need 30 minutes to myself. But yes, sometimes I just want to be able to take a shower alone.

What do you feel people could work on in their reaction to you being a single mom ? My favorite line is “oh, I wish I could do whatever I wanted all the time.” Really? The other one I frequently get is “Must be nice not having to deal with a man every day.” Again, really? It’s not all fun and games and many times having that extra set of hands or ears or the reassurance would be so nice.

Why do you think the world judges single mom’s instead of supporting them? I think, in my case, there is a societal stigma about divorce. In some cases this is religious in nature, but I think many people fear that divorce is something that can happen to them and instead of facing their insecurity in their own life, the choose to judge my decisions. Unfortunately, women are the absolute worst at bringing each other down instead of up and most of the judgment I get about my lifestyle comes from other women.

If there is one thing you wanted people to be aware of what would it be? How can others be a better support system and encouragement? I think we all need to let mothers off the hook. I think we all do what we can to simply get through. And no I didn’t nurse,didn't make my own baby food, but I do the best I can with the skills I have. I believe this to be the case with most moms. We need to support moms being moms in whatever why they are instead of saying “you should…”

What is your biggest discouragement in parenting solely? How do you encourage yourself to get through those times? Parenting is hard. Really hard. And sometimes yes, it gets overwhelming doing it on your own. We’re told by society that the best thing we can do is be a parent. And sometimes it’s the world’s most thankless job. I miss the other person to bounce things off of, the sanity check. But when things get really bad (like when I haven’t had an adult conversation in 5 days), I watch my kids sleep or listen to them talk to each other and I realize that I can’t mess them up that bad if I just try to do what I can and stop trying to do what I can’t. They need to see a competent, hard working mom, not a mom trying to be someone she isn’t.

What is the best thing about being a single mom? Share the positives you have experienced. Being a single mom has allowed me to add the words “why not?” into my vocabulary. I have had the opportunity to figure out who I am as a person, independently. And that’s something I otherwise would not have done. I have learned that I CAN do things I would have never tried before. And my kids can do them too. Recently, I have started rock climbing and stand up paddle boarding. And so have my kids. I would have never done that before and I would have never though my 7 year olds could do it either. But why not? It’s astounding to see what I can do and what they can achieve. And I think my kids seeing me grow and learn and try new things is the best thing I can do for them.

I would like to point out a couple of important things. First, I think a lot of this crosses into single parent, not just single mom. But as this blog is specifically about single moms I have used that.  In my case, I became a single mom because of a divorce but other reasons for being a single mom are being widowed or choosing to have a child out of wedlock. My divorce was an agonizing decision for me and part of that was the fear of the stigma that is attached to single moms. Women don’t support each other enough and I lost every single female friend I had during my divorce. Reconciling my single life with my mom life is very difficult for me. My kids are my center. I know every decision I make impacts them. And as I have primary custody of them, my routines center around them. I go to the gym or volunteer during their school hours, I choose not to work because I feel it is important to be home with them. But when they go to their dad’s that center is gone. I am then “free” to do whatever I want. What I notice is that because my routines are disrupted, I tend to feel extremely unsettled during those times. Advice I get is “oh, just go get a job.” Like it’s that easy.  Where am I going to find a job that is available just when their dad has them or just when they are at school? “just get married again”. Ok, I don’t even want to get into how stupid that one is. “Just find stuff to stay busy” When you’re used to having your day be taken up with carpool and kids, “finding stuff” isn’t that easy. “I’d love to be able to have a day to read a book.” Yes, that’s a great benefit, but I only need that so often.  People don’t get it and they don’t think about what they say to single parents. There is no easy solution to the feast or famine lifestyle of being a single person and a mom person.

Beyond the parenting issues I discussed above, the single piece is very complicated. I had to learn how to date again, how to do things alone, how to be alone without being lonely. It has been a long, emotional process. As I said, I lost every friend I had. Some of them I lost because they were only friends because of the life I led before. But losing my best friend was a really deep blow. She couldn’t walk in my shoes and I couldn’t live the same life I led before. My life is so vastly different that even my best friend and I couldn’t keep it together. I don’t blame her. I’ve changed as was dictated by my changing life and she didn’t need to make the same changes in hers.

I will say that being a single mom has been really great for me in terms of personal growth. I am able to show my kids an independent, strong, stable (most of the time) woman who faces the good times and the bad with an ever growing skill set. Sometimes I fail and many times it’s hard. But I get out of the bed every morning and face the day. And I do it on my own terms and on my own two feet. That is a great role model for my daughter because she learns that women really can do things alone. It’s a great role model for my son because he sees that women are to be respected, that women are strong, and that women can have fun. And for both of them I hope my life teaches them to embrace things outside social programming. I hope they are better able to evaluate what they want in their lives instead of only accepting what our society tells them they should want.

Thank you Ashlea for the idea and for writing a great piece. I appreciate your honest answers and insight.