I always take my kids out to eat on Saturday afternoons. These past six months, that ritual has involved getting takeout and sitting in the car. It’s something I look forward to like Christmas morning because it means I have my kids all to myself and can eat greasy things before dropping them off with their father for the next twenty-four hours or so—something that has not gotten any easier for me.
Last Saturday as I was driving, I realized on my way I’d forgotten to put in our online order and was trying to instruct my son on how to do it. This didn’t go well, to say the least.
My mind had been caught up in running the vacuum and gathering a load to take to Goodwill on the way. I was also trying to mentally prepare a grocery list because I’d left ours sitting on the table near our doorway—which is ironically the place I always put things I need when I’m leaving because I’m sure I won’t forget them.
He couldn’t figure it out and was overwhelmed trying to put in our orders (without messing them up) into an app so I told him to dial the number and I would just call it in. The woman on the other end of the phone was having trouble hearing me and I started to lose my patience.
Why is everything so hard?
Why can’t it just go smoothly?
Why do I have to manage everything?
Why the hell am I so damn tired?
I was doing it again—that thing I do when I pull on my martyr pants and think that just because I am the only parent in the house, things have to be done and taken care of as soon as they come up or things will blow the fuck up. I had to physically and mentally pull myself out of this state, and it wasn’t easy.
It was okay if I forgot something at the grocery store. If we screwed up our order, so what. If I didn’t make it to Goodwill before it closed, oh fucking well.
It’s been over three years since my ex-husband has moved out, and I am just now learning something: Just because something needs to be done, it doesn’t mean it needs to be checked off the to-do list that moment, or even that day. Also, it doesn’t need to be done perfectly.
When you become a single mother, you feel like you can’t stop. There’s no one to ask to bring home toilet paper. There’s no one to sit down and pay the bills with. There is no one to ask to help your kids with homework while you have a big work project or are trying to make dinner.
When the floors get dirty, they call your name.
When the dog needs food, it’s all you.
If the kids need a lice treatment or a doctor’s appointment or they are having friendship troubles, you come in and take care of it because you are the only parent there. There’s no passing the buck. You are the banker, always.
Even if you have a good co-parenting relationship with your ex; even if you have help, you still somehow train yourself to cross the t’s and dot the i’s because you know how it feels when you let things slide and realize it’s your job to pick it all up.
That’s it. Just you.
So, you keep plugging away. You keep going with no joy, no battery, no hope for a rest—because you just won’t allow yourself that, for fear you won’t be able to catch up.
But let me tell you something, single mother to single mother: when you need your rest and to press the pause button, you should. Things will not fall apart, I promise.
Believe me, for a very long time every time I thought about watching a show, or calling a friend, or just skipping the damn dishes, the alarms went off and all I could hear were all the things I “should” be doing.
I’m here to tell you that is the number one reason why you will burn out, feel agitated, and be pissy.
I still drive myself to a point where I feel like I have to keep all the plates spinning or things will crash all around me, but I now know better.
I know if I simply stop and do what I need—whether it’s to plop on the sofa and nap, or leave the bed unmade, or ignore the laundry for a while—it’s an investment in myself. And when I do that and take the rest I need, my energy always comes back organically and I’m able to tackle my life in a way I just cannot when I’m running around acting like there is a siren waiting to go off if I don’t get things done in a timely manner.
No one cares when the clothes get folded except for me.
No one cares what I feed my kids for dinner except for me.
No one cares if I nap three days in a row instead of cleaning out the closet that’s overflowing except for me.
So, my message to you is let yourself rest if that’s what you need. This shit is hard, and you’re doing it on your own. Let yourself take a breather if you start to feel like you are losing it on everyone who talks to you. Let yourself sit for a moment instead of telling yourself you can rest when it all gets done because the truth is, it’s never going to be done.
And if you don’t get the nourishment you need from taking a break when you need it, you are never going to get the fuel you need to feel energized.
Everything can wait, except for you. Remember that the next time you think you have to drag yourself around just to “get it all done.”