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Challenge: Stretched Too Thin

Mom guilt and single parenting: the perfect storm

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Photo by Sarah Whitmeyer Photography

When I started my parenting blog in 2012, all the chess pieces were in place.

I had two healthy little boys, ages three and four-months. My husband was an assistant principal at a local high school. I'd just taken time off from teaching to work part-time at home as a freelance writer. My parents lived nearby, and my mom was available at the drop of a hat to watch my kids whenever I needed. As a young mother, determined wife, and budding mom blogger, I had plenty of traditional fodder for my online space.

Fast-forward four years to August 2016. I stared at a blank screen with shaky hands unable to craft a single sentence. The previous month my statistics on Google Analytics were at an all-time high due to a post on bullet journaling going viral. Brands were reaching out left and right to work with me, and I was slated to speak at BlogHer.

And then my mom died suddenly. She'd been battling cancer, but it was pneumonia turned sepsis turned cardiac arrest that ultimately took her life. The chemo had weakened her heart, so I guess it was still the cancer's fault. Nonetheless, she was gone. My heart was broken and the blank screen mocked me.

No longer did I want to write about bento box lunches or holiday crafts or ten tips for an amazing Disney vacation. I wanted to kick and scream and punch things. I wanted to sleep all day. I wanted to drink a bottle of wine all by myself.

My husband watched me grieve from afar, not truly understanding. He continued focusing on work, hoping things would eventually get back to “normal.”

Meanwhile, I imploded.

Routine got me out of bed each day. I didn’t want my boys impacted by my grief, so I combed their hair, drove them to swim practice, served on the PTA and did all the other things that offered an outward appearance things were okay.

But with little energy to write or blog, my income struggled and a disconnected marriage deteriorated even further. The following year, my husband and I formally separated, and I bought my own home, a place detached from the broken memories.

It’s been almost two years since then. My new house has become a haven, a place for happy memories. Hummingbirds, my mom's favorite, adorn all types of shelves and walls and her memory is fully alive. Daily, I wish I could call or text her, but I can’t. The finality of death has been very challenging to overcome.

I've found love again. He’s an amazing man who brings much joy to my life. And while I’m slowly adjusting to single parenting, I constantly feel stretched so thin that if one thing goes awry the entire taut string may snap completely in two. I hold my life together by planning far in advance, setting reminders, staying connected and making numerous lists.

I'm working at a publishing house and writing two books. I love my work and being a parent, but I struggle daily with mom guilt. Living in a small town, perfect families are in our face constantly. Dads and moms stand together at soccer games and cheer for their children while I stand one side and the boys’ dad stands on the other. When we eat out or ride a roller coaster, a party of three doesn’t work as neatly as a party of four. These are things you don't notice when comfortably inside a family unit.

It’s hard to juggle work, anxiety and parenting all at the same time. I no longer live in a marriage nor is my mom around to help. It’s all on me to make sure my children are where they should be and have what they need. Most importantly, it’s all on me for my boys to know I’m okay, they’re okay and that our future will be okay.

Over the past several years, I’ve learned how to better handle the anguish and exhaustion. I’ve learned that to tackle each day as a single mom, I have to heavily focus on taking care of myself. Sleep, laughter, healthy eating, essential oils, exercise, books, empowering friends, my faith and love combine to offer armor against the darkness.

I had the “perfect” life once, the life that made for great mom blog posts. I don’t have that anymore, but the life I have now is raw and real and other than having my mother back on earth, I wouldn’t change anything.

The daily grind taxes me to my core, but when I finally crawl in bed at night, I feel utter gratitude for the people and experiences that make me smile. My senses are heightened and simple experiences I once took for granted are now gently held in the palms of my hands.

Mary Oliver, one of my favorite poets, recently passed away. She once said, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I'm finally discovering my answer. Are you?

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