I called off the war, but I still cared. To keep my sanity I stayed clear of their rooms. It was the "what I don't see can't bother me" approach. For the most part we had a truce. Stuart was the worst — every square inch of his floor was covered — parts with several layers. When I needed to put clothes away, I made him give me a path to the dresser. He always obliged by moving his arm in a sweeping motion back and forth across the floor. I took Lamaze-like-breaths as I entered the room and kept my focus on the dresser. This lasted for years. One day I will have to apologize to his wife.
If truth be known, I became a better mom when I became a single parent. I no longer put unnecessary pressure on my kids or myself. I stopped caring what other families had or other people thought. My circumstances were different from theirs, and I had to make decisions according to what worked for us. I didn't need anyone else's approval — and I didn't seek it.
But when someone looked askance or made a comment, I turned into the Mama Bear.
In our Virginia home we had a self-designated Neighborhood Dad who was determined to get into my boys' business. He would catch them doing something he thought wrong, like throwing rocks through the windows of the partially built new homes in the neighborhood, and haul them home to me. Then he would ask what I was going to do to punish them. Well, that was information he was never going to get. It was a family matter, between my kids and me. I would assure him I'd get to the bottom of the problem, and then turn to the boys — and their friends — and tell them to go into the house. Once out of earshot of the nosy neighbor I'd get their side of the story and take whatever action I deemed appropriate. My first impulse was to have the boys egg the man's house. (And, by the way, the kids explained they were only throwing rocks at the already broken windows. It is possible, you know.)
This man believed my kids were juvenile delinquents, and that I was the permissive, clueless single mom. He underestimated us all, but I decided he could think what he wanted. The boys were my responsibility, and I wasn't sharing that job with the likes of him. My family was in order — I knew that — no matter how it looked from the outside.
No justification, no explanation, no rationalization — not to anyone. I only cared about the kids. Were they healthy and happy? Did they feel secure and confident? Were they respectful? Did they feel loved? And were they at least moving in the direction of well behaved? That is what mattered. And I could do that. I could make certain my kids had a solid foundation for a good life.
I had to pick what was important for my family, and you have to do the same for yours. No one else can do it for you. There are lots of good and commendable standards, but they're not all essential. Don't be afraid to toss some overboard — no matter if it's what your mom did or your best friend does or what your former self planned on doing. You can't do it all — and if you want to succeed as a single parent, you best not try.
The first step is to examine your expectations and then start chopping. Eliminate all thoughts of perfection — and while you're at it toss out "nearly perfect" as well. It doesn't exist in our world. You need a new game plan, an updated, streamlined version, one that works realistically for you and your kids. Keep only what matters most, and get rid of the rest. After a few months repeat this step, and keep cutting until you have found the right balance for your family.
For me it came down to a simple choice: time with my boys or racing around trying to keep up with the Joneses. Unrealistic standards were downright stupid when put into this context. Time with the kids was too short as it was; I needed to make what little I had work for us as best I could.
Good parenting is all about eliminating extraneous demands on your time and energy so you can give your kids what they need the most — security, a sense of belonging, a good family and a life full of love and fun. Don't worry if your home isn't as tidy as your sister's or if your kids aren't enjoying homemade meals like your mom's. This is your family — you have to make tough decisions for your kids' sake. It's what parenting demands.
And remember: being smart doesn't have guilt as a side effect. So forget about carrying any of that poisonous stuff along with you for this ride.
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