As a single mom to two kids, it’s hard to find much balance in my life. But the truth is, the problem isn’t specific to single moms.
I know that because it’s always been a struggle, even before I was alone with my children. When I was married, I never felt like I was getting enough help around the house, or with the kids, and it led to years of resentment. The “mental load” arguments were constant and draining.
When I started parenting on my own, I felt a tiny bit free from all of those nagging, pent-up feelings. I was determined to get my ducks in a row — to finally nail the balance thing once and for all.
Now that what went on under my own roof was up to me, I could design my life the way I wanted to. I genuinely liked how that felt.
I worked harder than ever to strive for balance. I made it my biggest priority. I exercised daily, which is pretty nonnegotiable for me, and at this point, my kids are very aware of that (not always respectful of it, though). I went to bed early and got more sleep than I had in ages. I saw friends, went on dates, and enjoyed quiet nights in with wine and Netflix when my kids were at their dad’s house. And I settled into a new job that provided a sense of financial stability that I’d never really had. Ever.
My life began to feel more like my own than it had in years. But balance? That was still a struggle, so much that it almost felt like a myth. Even though I’d claimed more of what was mine in my own life (time, financial independence, happiness!), I felt overwhelmed fairly often. From always rushing out the door to get to school on time, getting irritable with my kids, and being the person who did absolutely everything around the house — from snaking the drain and unclogging the toilet to making sure all the bills were paid on time — to kissing scrapes and tucking tiny people back in bed when they had bad dreams, it was still all on me.
I started to feel like I’d really never get a real handle on doing it all. Being a parent, taking care of my mental and physical health, and having some semblance of a social life was just too much to do at the same time.
Then the health crisis struck, and life completely changed.
Instantly, I was worried about so many things — big things, like how I’d find time to work with my kids in the house. I feared for my parents, who were in their mid-60s. However, for every worry I had, there were things that also seemed to get surprisingly easier. That part was unexpected.
When schools closed, the morning rush stopped, and the afternoon scramble came to an instantaneous halt. We opted out of school Zoom calls — my daughter’s school wasn’t doing much of it anyway, and my son was still in preschool. In terms of schooling, we focused on the basics. Each day I wrote, “body, mind, spirit” on a dry-erase board, and my kids chose an activity for each. It was far from perfect, but simple enough, and it made me feel like they were doing something in the way of school.
Oh, and I pretty much let go of restrictions on screen time.
As for my work, I found myself overcome with gratitude that while so many people were losing their jobs, I still had one that I could do from home. I condensed my schedule to a few days a week. That meant that the rest of the time, I could focus solely on my kids. That was huge. On my days off from work, even if I was just watching TV with my kids or taking a walk, I felt present and at ease.
I lucked out in a lot of ways — most people don’t have jobs that are so flexible. But I also realized that I was simply doing less in other aspects of my life. It was out of pure necessity, but having permission to do less was a game-changer.
For example, I didn’t go to the grocery store anymore unless I really needed one or two emergency items. Ordering groceries is something I had only ever done when I was sick or postpartum. Now I was doing it on the regular, and it made my life so much easier. Not taking cranky kids into a packed store several times a week after school may be a small thing, but it’s one that relieved quite a bit of stress. I definitely gave myself permission not to make dinner every night, too. We ordered in a bit more than usual. The kids loved it, but I think not having to cook made me happier than anyone.
Socially, I was keeping to myself, too, like everyone. And I realized that with everyone being home all the time, I didn’t feel the pressure to really have an active social life. Maybe that sounds strange — a social life is a positive thing, yes. But when you’re a single mom, it’s easy to get caught up in feeling alone when you don’t have plans. Being alone in my house could sometimes feel excruciatingly lonely when my kids weren’t home. Those feelings were immensely eased by the fact that, well, everyone was home.
There are so many things about modern life and motherhood that are practically impossible to change. But the fact that it takes a global health crisis for us to feel like it’s OK to simply do a little bit less is pretty telling. If there’s any lesson to be learned from abandoning the commute, staying home more often, and ordering groceries, it’s how much the constantness of all those small things adds up and up and, eventually, weighs us down.
No, we can’t get rid of all the mundane, draining, stressful little activities that make up our lives — not as single moms or parents in general. But we can remember that the pace of life we’ve become accustomed to is not totally healthy or normal — that’s why it’s so hard to find balance. Whatever we can do to alleviate those struggles, from ordering groceries once in a while to staying in for a week or two when having a social life feels like more of a burden than a release to giving our kids a rest day (or letting them be a darn hour late for school), we should do it.
Because health crisis or not, feeling that balance seep into our lives is a beautiful thing. And it’s worth throwing out the schedule for.