By: Wendy Rhein
I was on the phone with a friend this week who I haven’t spoken to in a while and she asked me a terrifying question that sent me into a tailspin of doubt, anger and fear. The question that can send a shock wave of terrified indignation into the heart of single parents everywhere.
“So, what do you do for fun these days?”
Fun? FUN? I stuttered and stammered, I hemmed and hawed. My mind was reeling. Well, let’s see. I work. And I raise two little boys. And I’m the first grade room parent and a Cub Scout mom. Did I mention work? I do some care taking of my mother. I do the cooking, cleaning and laundry and oh! I recently decided to re-organize the boys’ closet by putting all the next two seasons of clothing into color coded and labeled Rubbermaid tubs. Does that count?
No, she said. The Rubbermaid tubs do not count.
Well, crap, I’ve got nothing.
Balance has never been my thing. I’ve never been good at the 9-5; take an hour for lunch, workout 4 days a week, balancing family dinners on Monday and cocktails with friends on Tuesdays. I have tended to gravitate to my comfort zones of work, and now, family. It’s understandable, and easy to justify, that my time is spent with my work and then with my children. Who couldn’t get that? What, you’d ask me to give up a night of preparing an organic and well balanced meal for my sons to go on a date? Or take a photography class? The selfishness! The gall! Taking a night or two away from my children and not having a fellow parent to leave them with, that’s bordering on abandonment! I am a single mother. This is what I signed up for. I knew full well going into this that my time and attention on my kids would be redoubled and I am living up to that commitment by not having a life outside of my work and my children.
Oh the martyrdom.
Qualifier #1: I am sure to get some flak from single parents right now but please, keep reading before you shut me down and go do the dishes or organize your spice rack. I promise. I’m going somewhere.
Qualifier #2: I fully recognize that this is not a single parent issue because plenty of coupled parents confront the lack of life balance as well. It seems amplified as a single parent though because I chose this route and I knew from the beginning that the parental balance was a no-go. Besides, I can’t write from your perspective having never had a co-parent so that’s got to be your blog.
The cold truth is that I struggle to justify to myself that I do in fact need more for myself. More time. More attention. More self care. Just more. I can rationally tell a tearful friend who can’t remember the last time she ate in a restaurant that didn’t have cups with straws that she deserves it, she needs it. That she will be a better parent if she takes time for herself. That her children need to see the example of a parent who prizes her own health and well being enough to take that time.
I can dish it out but I can’t take it.
And “take” is the optimal word here. No one is going to magically grant me the time to go off and take a kickboxing class three mornings a week. Who will get the kids ready for school and daycare? Who will win the battle over not wearing a Star Wars pajama shirt to school? Make sure they get on the bus and to daycare with their pants and shoes on? (This happened recently. My elder son decided it would be a hoot to pants my 2-year-old at the door of daycare. Child at daycare? CHECK. With pants on? FAIL.) No one is going to lean over and say “really honey, go out and get a mani pedi. I’ll make dinner and get the kids bathed and in bed. And why not do some shopping? Here’s the Amex.”
Taking means being proactive, it means scheduling and finding a sitter and telling my kids no. Taking means intention.
The taking is hard to do without some guilt and trepidation. And the longer the imbalance goes on, the easier it is to stay cloistered in my job and in my family and the less socially acceptable I fear I will be once I am out with people my own height who use multisyllabic words and don’t have spit up or food stains on the shoulder of every shirt they own. My own fears make a convenient excuse to stay just where I am. Even when I know that I need to do more for myself. I deserve it after all. And I need to set that example to my kids of a parent who prizes her own health and well being enough to leave them with someone else a few hours a week. They’d probably like it too. And that is the crux of it then. They might like it too much and then the whole cocooning sham of “I’m sacrificing for them” will come crashing down when I am confronted with the fact that they don’t need me as much as I need them to need me to justify not taking care of me.