The weight on the shoulders of a single parent seems heaviest when there is something “wrong” with your child(ren). This is just one of the times when the load that should be shouldered by two rests solidly upon one set of shoulders - YOURS.
Recently, my youngest daughter came down with pneumonia. Luckily we caught it early enough that she did not have to be hospitalized. She was out of school for a week and is on her second round of oral antibiotics. She has been “benched” for this softball season. Also, my oldest daughter is experiencing fluctuating hormone levels causing very irregular menstrual cycles and erratic mood swings. Both of these situations came to rest firmly on my shoulders over the past week and I began to realize that while the load of a single parent is indeed heavier than “regular” parents, we also have options to save our sanity.
1) Be thankful for what you do have. I know that can be difficult in the face of certain situations, but regardless of how hard it is to focus on finding the positive, DO IT. There is almost instant relief involved in the task. For example, while my youngest still has pneumonia and is benched, this is the first “major” illness she has experienced. For a two-and-one-half-month preemie, this is an exceptional track record! As I realized this, the load became instantly lighter. I imagined how I would feel had I been through this many times, wearing my resolve down a bit with each event. I have a greater reserve of strength than that for which I gave myself credit! And much for which to be thankful!
2) Use situations to teach life lessons. Your children are going to face disappointment in life regardless of how hard you work to spare them. That is the very nature of life. So, when my daughter was benched, I blew it off and took it in stride. What did I tell my disappointed girl? “Honey, be thankful that you have been able to play all the times before and all the times you will in the future? What is one season? This season will allow you the time to explore another area of interest that you haven’t had time for before.” Sure enough - she is considering taking a creative writing course or an extra art class. And she is trying out for Master Orchestra.
3) Be flexible. As parents, we set the example, establish expectations, and set forth our ideas of appropriate morals and judgment. Early on, when I first started my sex education talks with my daughters, I informed them that I did not approve of the use of birth control pills to regulate menstrual cycles. I felt that it was a “cop-out” to make life easier for mother and daughter and that it gave the daughter a better chance of making the poor decision of having sex at an immature age. However, with my oldest, I have had to face the fact that sometimes it is better to take a small risk than a larger one. My daughter’s cycles are such that the intense shifts in hormones drastically affect her mental and emotional health. The hope is that the birth control pills will level out her hormones so that not only will her physical cycles become better regulated, but that her emotional and mental cycles will become more “normal” and life will become easier for her to handle. In looking at her overall health, this is an issue I have chosen to change my view upon.
4) Never make the mistake of thinking that you “know more” because you are the parent. We are only human; despite the title of “parent”, none of us are gods (or even demi-gods, for that matter). We made mistakes during our lives and will continue to make them until the day we die. It is much easier to live with the conscience that has been able to apologize for its wrong-doings and move forward than it is to live with the conscience that is hiding the knowledge of wrong-doing behind the façade that parents are perfect. Set a good example: Apologize and move on.
5) Find a good friend who understands your unique issues and/or find a single parent support group. It is crucial that you have someone to whom you can talk that will understand your viewpoints and your issues as a parent. Often, being that single parents spend much of their time alone or with their children, we carry our burdens close to ourselves. This is not healthy for a variety of reasons. Give yourself the opportunity to vent, to cry, and to laugh with others who share the same responsibilities as you. You deserve to take care of yourself, too. And since our children learn by example, if we want them to get the message that they must take care of themselves as well as their families, we have to do the same.
So the next time you feel as if you are Atlas with the weight of the world on your shoulders, remember…There are millions of other single parents out there who are carrying it, too. You are not alone!