As a single parent, you know the drill: rush through the morning with a quickie breakfast and hopefully matched socks, drop the kid(s) off at daycare or school, make it to the job – just in time, pick the kids up on the way home, fix dinner, go over homework, throw a load of laundry in the washer, get bathes and bedtime behind you, and collapse yourself. Where in that schedule is there time for you to go back to school?
But you decide that going back to school, furthering your education, working on a degree is exactly what you need to do to get you on the path to making life better for you and your child(ren). Now you have to “make” the time.
If you have an employer that is supportive of employees furthering their education, perhaps you can take a class or two during work hours. Your employer might allow you to take work home with you or to work a few hours on the weekends in order to make up the time at the office. You may opt to take classes in the evening so that you don’t have to worry about dealing with your employer. Either way, you must also find time to read textbooks in addition to bed time stories and to do your own homework in addition to supervising that of your child. Sooner or later you are going to come to a point in time where you are going to feel guilty – whether it is because of the words of your child, your daycare provider, or your boss – that you are spending time on your education rather than on your “top priority” of being a parent. How will you deal?
Remember Jodi? She is the single mom by choice of an eleven-year old son. Recently she told me, “Having been in school as long as Charlie, I’ve had plenty of time to learn to cope with the guilt. I started college when he started kindergarten. In the beginning, we did our homework together at night. He thought that was cool. The only guilt I had to deal with was my own, but I knew that we were working to higher goal – a better way of life.” Sounds almost too simple, but it really hasn’t been that simple for Jodi.
Her parent have been a great help to her in raising her son and being supportive of her career and her choice to return to college. “When I was taking two classes a semester, I made sure that both classes I took were on the same night back-to-back. My parents kept him overnight and I would pick him up the next morning and take him to school. Charlie and my parents are very close so they both enjoyed the extra time together. He’s their only grandchild and they love being with each other. (By the way, there is an additional plus here being the single parent. Charlie spends so much time with my parents that they don’t spoil him ridiculously. They don’t want to deal with a spoiled child!)” Jodi is very grateful for all her parents have done to help. “I have to give my parents credit for the support system they have provided for me. When they offered to keep Charlie so I could go to school 8 years ago, they had no idea they’d still be keeping Charlie after 8 years and no end in sight! They don’t complain and happily haul him to soccer or band. I try very hard not to take advantage of their willingness to keep him.”
But how has Charlie felt about the situation? Jodi states, “Charlie is eleven now and he has never made me feel guilty for not being there. I personally have had way more trouble dealing with the “away from my baby” issue. His behavior is typical of the age and he doesn’t really get into trouble. I feel we are well adjusted. I don’t have to over-compensate by giving him things he doesn’t need or letting him get away with things he shouldn’t do.”
Dealing with the guilt on a personal level is always harder than dealing with the guilt that anyone else tries to lay on your shoulder. After all, most parents are their own worst critic. Jodi is no different than the rest of us. She has had to deal with her guilt issues, too. When I asked her about this, she said, “Until the last year or so, most of the time I sought solace in food. Normally I would eat high fat foods late at night while doing homework. I’m only taking one class now instead of two so the homework load has gotten lighter and I’m not up as late. I do have moments where I think I’m making a mistake being gone so much and chow down, but I try to keep the final goal in mind.” For the single, stressed-out parent, food is an easy and convenient trap. But the fact is that most parents have an “outlet” of some sort that is not healthy. The solution is the same as with any other “vice” – we have to change our behavior patterns to those that are healthier and more productive. Snack on fruit or raw veggies; take a quick walk or stand up and do some stretches to get the circulation moving again. Give yourself 15 minutes to enjoy the company of your child. You will feel refreshed and ready to move forward when you get back to the task at hand.
While Jodi has an excellent support team in her parents and she wouldn’t trade them for the world, she does confess that there is one downside to using them so much as her outside source of help. “The downside to my parents being my babysitters is that I trust very few people with my son and if my parents take a trip I don’t have a babysitter. They do occasionally travel and I have had to make alternate arrangements. I have missed classes, taken Charlie to class with me, and let people I wasn’t sure about keep him at night. I’ve learned to trust people more and have learned that some people are very trustworthy despite what I thought. I can say though, that after 8 years, my support system is bigger than I ever could have imagined. Not only do I have a Plan A and a Plan B, I even have a Plan C!”
Next week Amy will talk about how she deals with her four-year old daughter’s separation anxiety and her own guilt over the tears when she is swamped with school work.