All or nothing

All or nothing

I never really fully appreciated the struggles of being a single parent until I became one. And no, this is not a recent thing. Officially yes (2 years now), but figuratively speaking I have been a single parent for a large part of my children’s lives, as my (now ex) husband travelled for work and was only home on weekends, leaving me with bulk of the parenting. (I am not taking anything away from his own struggles at not being able to be home with us and having to work away, week in and week out – it was not an ideal situation for either of us.).

I am a single mother and I’m putting my hand up. Yes, the struggle is indeed real.

I can manage the mornings, the school run, the parent school commitments, the afternoon school pick-ups, the crazy hour, the crazy-crazy hour, the “I’ve lost my shit and crazy seems like a distant memory – hour”.  I can manage the weekends; the mammoth 48 hour stretch of 15min time slots to plan and fill for fear of us all ending up whiny and whingy and bored and in each other faces.

But what I cannot do is manage it ALL the time.

The responsibility of single parenting is exhausting and unrelenting. However, in order for me to have a break, I need to arrange for the nanny to stay, or get a sitter, or fly my mother to Cape Town for a long weekend. And then, because I have gone to that length and expense, I might as well make a meal of it. I make plans to go out all morning, or all night.

Or, I have situations like now, where the kids are having their annual summer break with their dad. Last year it was one week. This time for two weeks. Two weeks! No kids, no parenting at all, for 336 hours. While that sounds like bliss, and in the beginning, I’m not going to lie, it was, guilt pitches up unannounced and uninvited I might add. I miss being a mom. And I feel guilty for not being with them. I feel like a bad mom for going out, being carefree and having fun. I feel like I have abandoned them. I know I know, it sounds crazy, as they are with their dad and having a great time and are being loved and cared for. But still, I am sure these crazy irrational guilty mom thoughts are automatically invited to all events and occasions as standard.

Sometimes I don’t want to go out all day or all night long, or away from home for a week. Sometimes, what I actually want, every now and then, is to have; an uninterrupted bubble bath, (emphasis on the uninterrupted part) or read a book with a hot cup of tea that I haven’t had to reheat, or reread the same sentence all afternoon, or go for a run, do a workout session, or dare I even say it? A nap? I want to enjoy watching my kids play and not have to be the one getting the lunch, making the snacks, pouring the juice, and picking up the toys for them as well. It would be so nice to be able to put them to bed without playing ping pong between their bedrooms, promising one I will be back in 5 minutes and then promising the other the same thing, going back and forth, back and forth, tickling and cuddling, then pausing to tickle and cuddle the other.

I’m either a single parent for what feels like 336 consecutive days without reprieve or I am a single woman, footloose and fancy free for 336 hours, all the while trying to “bank” these carefree days filled with sleep and solitude so I can draw on them during the rest of the year. If only it worked like that.

It’s all or nothing.
And for me, therein lies the single parenting struggle.

Knowing that the responsibility of raising our beautiful children sits solely on my shoulders is a heavy burden, and one that gets heavier and heavier as each week passes where I don’t get any reprieve until it feels overwhelming, then crushing and sometimes, yes, I get to that point where I feel I can’t breathe.

I know that with some time off to fill up my cup, to have a moment, the breathing becomes easier, the load lighter. I just don’t always know when that will be. I know I need to be kind to myself but honestly, I struggle with this, as where is that balance of being the best mother I can be and being a selfish mom? When is it that I deserve that morning off to do Pilates, find a new breakfast spot with a new way of serving avo on artisanal rye bread, or sitting on the beach – pretending I am in some picturesque South Carolina spot – losing myself in a Nicholas Sparks novel? When is it deemed selfish, “abandoning my children” to steal some time for me, not related to parenthood? Were we given a contract to sign on the birth of our offspring where this was stipulated? Was feeling guilty about anything non-parent related mentioned in the fine print?

I don’t know the answers. Some days I feel like I’ve nailed It. It all seems smooth and seamless and just flows beautifully and I may even go so far as to pat myself on the back. Ok ok I admit being a single full-time working parent with two strong-willed children, that scenario almost never happens. But occasionally it does, and I bask in the blissful parenting glow. Other days – ok let’s get real here – most days, I feel I am treading mud and bed time can’t come fast enough, only to wake up and have to repeat it all over again.

What I do know is that when I feel the strain of single parenting taking its toll, there is no one around to tell me to rest, go out or to be kind to myself. That is all on me and if I don’t do something about it, the grumpy dragon mom rears its ugly head, and trust me, no one wants that. 

And so, I am trying hard and learning to embrace the time off, as and when I do get it, be it 36 or 336 hours. I am also making myself a promise to schedule in a few hour’s break when required.

And most importantly, the mom guilt is no longer invited to my little restorative soirées.

Breaking Point

“I have reached a point where I feel I can no longer cope…”

Two months ago I wrote this.

As I am sure all parents know, you feel terrible to even allow yourself to think something like that. To put it in writing to your son’s teacher, OT teacher, family therapist and his father, was utterly devastating for me and I felt like a failure. It was true. Not the failure part. That was my ego taking a well deserved knock. I was referring to the fact that I could no longer cope. I had reached breaking point. And it was necessary for my son’s sake, his well being, and for the well being of our family. There is no big prestigious award at the end of the day for congratulating parents for doing it all on their own without help from anyone.

15th September 2019

Just when I think I’m making progress with Aiden, we have a meltdown of epic proportions. 

I needed help. I felt I had no one I could call. I suppose I could have phoned a handful of people but I didn’t know what kind of help I actually needed. To take Aiden away for a bit? Or maybe Ava, hell maybe me?  I didn’t know how to stop him from bullying me. The shouting. The screaming. The ranting. The blaming. The horrible words. If I engaged in the fight it made it worse. If I walked away in silence (like therapists advise, don’t add fuel to the fire) it made it even worse. I tried speaking in a soft, slow, calm tone. I tried not retaliating. I really did.

Then I didn’t.

I should behave better. I’m the adult. But in that moment I lowered myself to his level. I yelled and screamed and then threatened punishment. Once, twice, a third. I called it – No screens for a week. 

[Queue, epic meltdown. Yup, the above was just the run of the mill, daily defiance dance. The main event was still to come.]

Here we go again! OMG. He follows me around the house shouting at me in his condescending snotty arssey sarcastic tone, accusing me of everything from hating him and loving Ava more, to wanting to be mean and nasty, to ruining his life and being the devil and of course it’s all my fault and I never do anything for him EVER. He has the worst childhood ever. His life is a nightmare and it all began with me. I’m mean and nasty and ugly an a butt-face. A stupid, stupid butt-face. I ignore him so he stands outside my room and yells mommy repeatedly. No breaks. Like a siren. Forever. Sometimes he changes it up and yells my name. Sometimes there is door or wall banging that accompanies it, just to ensure maximum irritation factor. 

I try to comfort him. To hold him. 
He shoves me. 
He yells at me to go away.
I go. 
He cries out loud that I don’t care and won’t help him. (maybe for the benefit of the neighbours?)
I go back and try again. 
He shoves me. 
He yells at me to go away.
I go. 
He shouts and screams at the top of his lungs “Help me. I need help. Mommy help me. Someone help me.”
I try again. 
“No not YOU” he snarls. 

Eventually at some point the tide turns but not before the obligatory “I hate you” handwritten note scratched angrily onto a page. And this time a nice little “F u Mom” was added for dramatic effect. I assumed the F was not short for fantastic.

The next phase is the – “I don’t belong in this family. I don’t belong on this earth. I’m stupid” phase which quickly slips into the – “It’s not my fault. I have anger issues. I can’t control my anger. I’m a rager It’s your fault. You didn’t get me a pill to help. You never get me a pill to help. You never help me. It’s not my fault. It’s all your fault.” phase.

During meltdowns, I have no concept of time. It feels like an eternity. Eventually we find ourselves on the floor. At this point I’m usually in a state of tears-running-down-my-face, too-exhausted-to-stand, too-emotionally bullied-to-utter-anything-more-than-monosyllable-whispers, as he tries to make amends. Apologies are spoken. Apologies are accepted. A moment of connection and closeness. 

When everything feels calm again, the “rager” boy is gone and my son is back, he looks at me with his big brown beautiful eyes, more apologies uttered, and then asks if we are good?

And if so can I please not do the no screens punishment. 

Sorry what’s done is done. No. 
And off we go again. 

“Mean, ugly, nasty evil mom. Why do I live with you. Why did you want us. You don’t want us. I can see you hate me. Do you know how hard my life is. Do you know what’s it like to be me? I have a difficult childhood, don’t you get it? Don’t you understand? I get bumped and pushed and shoved and hurt every day. No one wants to play with me. Kids at break time never let me play with them. My life is a nightmare. I get shocks through my body, going up my legs and into my hands. What is to come in 2020? What if I end up in detention all the time? What if I get moaned at? What is to become of me? What if the school work is hard? What if the maths is too hard? What if I can’t finish my work on time?” 

[Then back to the chorus]

“You never ever do anything for me. You are the worst mom. I wish I could live with Dad. He’s there for me. He cares about me. He loves me. You don’t. Do you know what it’s like to be the only boy in the house? (No. The only adult yes) Do you know what it’s like to be lonely. (Yes, actually I do). Do you know what it’s like to be me? (No. I’m trying really hard though). You never help me.”

I am not sure how this song and dance ended on that particular day. Things return to normal, life carries on, but lately it is taking me longer and longer to get back up in the ring after each blow.

I sat in silence a few days, suffering the hangover of guilt, shame, blame, sadness and hopelessness of how to stop these meltdown cycles. I decided to write Aiden a letter. One day, I hope he reads it with the love it was written in.

Dear Aiden, 

I do care. It’s in every little action. Every day.

When I wake you up early in the morning so you can lie in and still be on time for school as I know you hate to be late or rushed or nagged. 
When I run your shower, warm your towel. 
When I make your sandwich without the butter when you have Nutella but with butter if you having toast.
When I turn the internet off for you. Not for me, but to encourage you to go out in the real world and have real life experiences. I ignore the abusive attacking stance you take every time I plan a family outing or activity that purposefully takes you away from the online vortex you constantly find yourself sucked into.  And I try not gloat when you inevitably end up enjoying the experience

I see therapists to learn coping skills to deal with your anger and mood issues. I’ve taken you to therapists and play therapists, and psychologists, and even empaths – where you were equipped with magic stones and protective red dragons. I have tried medication for you. You hated it. (Albeit that was a few years ago.)

Every single night when I say bedtime which is the same time every single night for the last 2 years, and you scream at me “Why? Why are you doing this to me? It’s because I try to keep a routine as best as possible. I know disruptive sleep patterns make your mood worse.  

I try make sure you eat something substantial.  Anything other than sugar as it makes you go crazy. I try steer away from red colourants as I was told that is a trigger for you. When you yell at me to stop nagging you to come downstairs and eat, I’m not trying to be mean. I try make sure you eat often as you get angry when you are hungry. 

I encourage sports at school and watch all your weekend games and even your week games if I can.  I try desperately to drag you out on weekends to play outside. I beg you to do exercises in the morning with me, or to box with me in the evening, or to go for a walk. When you sulk with me and yell at me why, why do I want to be mean and force you to do stuff you don’t want to do? It’s because I know exercise helps tremendously with lifting your mood, dealing with anger and helps you focus.  

I try limit the screen time because it make your anger flare up and you get crankyand become isolated and sad. I know this. 

I know all this because I read up on everything all the time. Anything I can add, remove, change or tweak to help you. I ask if I can play Lego with you. I ask if we can draw together. Read together. I try steer you towards other hobbies in case you find your passion there hence the atlas, the Minecraft dictionary, the books, the magic tricks kit, the playing cards, the 3 tennis rackets, soccer ball, rugby ball, bike, skateboard, scooter, roller blades – all lying in a corner, unloved. Unused. I suggest things for you to look up on YouTube besides Fortnite such as how are tornadoes formed or which snake is the deadliest? When I see how passionate you are about Fortnite and Tiktok I read up on it. I find out things. I go to workshops. I watch from a distance giving you space to do your thing. I try be understanding that this is your creative outlet. I let you play during the week as I know you are the only boy in the house and perhaps, like me, you also need your down time to fill up your cup. I encourage you. I sign up. I follow. I like. I comment. I suggest tips on how to practise your spelling before you post videos. I monitor the comments (of which there are thousands). I check who is following you. If I hear you shouting unkind words or anything that could become bullying I stop you. I explain why. I am trying to help you be the man I know deep inside you are.

Your miserable childhood is only so because that’s what you think. It doesn’t haveto be. I am trying to make sure you have a healthy body, a healthy mind, a healthy self esteem and a happy heart. But I can’t do it alone. I need your help. I need you to jump in and do this together with me. I need you to realise I am with you not against you.

I am trying to raise you to be someone YOU are proud of.
I want you to understand that your happiness is yours to own. 
I want you to also understand that your anger issues are also yours to own.

And most of all I need you to know that I love you no matter what. Always and forever. 
I will always love you more.


Difficult Days

I am grateful for frustrating difficult days, after a bout of complaining that is.

They push me out my comfort zone, engage passionate debate, intentional action and motivates change, in order create pockets of excellence and growth. Or maturation as my mother likes to say.

I allow the frustrating moments to happen once, then I need to do something about it or stop complaining.

Complaining without action is clutter resulting in complacency.

Frustration without focus is stagnation resulting in disengagement.

Turn the Negative ranting energy into motivation for improvement or turn away.