Month: September 2017

The emotional pressures of parenting

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We’ve all been in that pre-kid era where we’re sure we know what kind of parent we’ll be. Admit it, you’ve taken a note or two in your past when seeing a parent with his or her kid in the store and raised an eyebrow or two. I know I have. The parent I was going to be looked awesome on paper, but I never took into account the emotional impact of having children until I was hit with the reality of my own life playing out.

My late husband and I weren’t “trying” and we weren’t “not trying,” but when we were told at our six-month gender-reveal ultrasound that we were having not one, but two baby boys, that “perfect parent” image in my head slowly dissipated. Truth is I hadn’t spent much time around children up to that point, and now we were going to have two of them right off the bat. Driving home from the hospital with two newborns, I kept thinking, “I’ve never been around babies and now they just send us home with two? We’re not equipped! We’re not prepared!” But deep down, I knew my heart would never be the same. I was introduced to a whole new set of emotions and discovered emotions I never even knew were there. Bringing home those babies (now first graders!) created a major a paradigm shift in me—albeit it wasn’t all roses and sunshine. Not only did I realize (much later) that I was struggling with post-partum depression after my twins were born, I was trying to handle the terminal diagnosis of my young husband. These emotions were real, raw and honest—sometimes more honest than I would have liked them to be.  These are the emotions of parenting that we don’t usually talk about amidst the pure joy, love, elation and “happily-ever-after” when baby(ies) comes home:

  • Self-doubt: There are so many times I lay awake wondering if I’m making the right choice for my three kids—especially since my older two just went to kindergarten. The mom-on-paper me was going to homeschool and do crafts every day. The real-life-mom me is faced with having to come up with a sole income for my three children and myself. We want the best for our kids, but in this society we are inundated with so many decisions and choices and information when it comes to “the perfect parenting way,” it’s sometimes difficult to sift out what we don’t need in order to find the nuggets of truth—truth that settles our hearts and souls when it comes to our parenting. They are there, the nuggets, and when self-doubt comes swirling around, remember, write them down if you have to, the truths you’ve settled on. They’re different for everyone.
  • Mental exhaustion: Pre-kids it was easy to make a space for dreaming about how we were going to parent and the kind of kids we were going to have. Now that they’re here, 99 percent of our brain space is devoted to keeping these people that we are in charge of alive, safe, nurtured and growing. Not only do we have to multi-task for our survival and theirs, to make it through the day, but once kids are in school, juggling our schedules and their activity schedules is downright exhausting—even if all you do is sit in a car and drive around all day or fill out a monthly…weekly…daily…sometimes hourly calendar. I’ve found that giving up an activity to make time for self-care (and sleep!) has been the best way to combat this.
  • Pressure to be like our parents—or not be like them: Having children of our own undoubtedly makes us look at our parents and our childhood in a whole new light. Either we are even more grateful for the sacrifices our parents made for us, or we recoil at how we were raised and vow to never raise our children the way we were brought up, and sometimes a mixture of both. All kinds of emotions relative to our parents or ourselves, can rear their ugly heads at the most inopportune times—resentment, comparison, anger. Bottom line is that we are the parents we choose to be. We cannot change the way our parents were, but we can take our experiences of our childhood, learn from them and apply them to the way we parent.
  • Not feeling joy 100 percent of the time: So many times after my twins were born I heard, “Oh twins! How much fun!” And so many times after my third child was born and my husband died, I heard about how blessed I was that “at least” I had three kids. But if I was honest, being with two, and then three children under three years old at the time and dealing with the whirlwind of emotions that come with post-partum depression and grief of the loss of my husband was anything but fun. Full-blown tantrums, crying throughout the night (sometimes x 3) and the incredible pressure of finding things to do to keep everybody’s minds and bodies busy when all I wanted to do was crawl in bed and sleep didn’t feel like much of a blessing at all. I didn’t feel the joy everyone talked about that comes with having kids and it wasn’t a barrel of fun. These emotions were completely counterintuitive to the fierce and intense love that I had for all of my children the moment I saw them. How could I not want to be around the people that bring me so much love and that I love in return. Bottom line is these feelings have NOTHING to do with your feelings about your children, but everything to do with your circumstance or mental state. Seeking professional help, accountability and someone to talk to honestly and openly can help tremendously.
  • Guilt: This is the top of the list of negative emotions I believe trouble parents. We have self-imposed or externally imposed guilt about so many things when it comes to parenting. Guilt about having the TV on too much, guilt about what and how you’re feeding them, guilt about which school they attend and which toys or sports activities you cannot afford to buy. Guilt about working and not being home enough, guilt about not working and not contributing to the home financially…the list goes on and on. Guilt is when you’ve done something wrong and you know it. Shame, on the other hand, is disguised by guilt, and is when you yourself or your feelings are wrong. Do I feel guilty about my parenting because I really could improve on some things or do I feel shame about the way I parent because I’m just not a good parent? That negative self-talk and putting shame on yourself about doing things that are the best you can do at the time is so detrimental. Change the things that you know need to be changed and that you have control to change. For example, if you yell and are impatient with your children that’s a behavior and response that can be changed and improved on. But don’t feel unnecessary shame and guilt if you had to feed your baby a bottle instead of breastfeed or put your child into public school instead of private because of circumstances beyond your control.

In our optimistic, positive, happy-shiny society, it’s hard to admit negative emotions as a parent and it’s doubly hard to address them and deal with them. I’ll never forget the line from the movie “Room,” when the mother apologizes to her son for not being a good mom and her son replies, “but you’re my mom.” We can’t choose the circumstances we find ourselves in and sometimes we can’t choose the feelings that come up with those circumstances, but we can acknowledge them, fight against them if necessary, and push through to the truth that we are to live out as parents: be the best parents we can be with what we’re given and what we know. We need to always be willing to learn more and recognize that, even though sometimes the circumstance cannot be changed, being willing to change our emotions and perspectives accordingly are the best things we can do for our children.

*Previously published in “Multiplicity Magazine”, by Nicole Hastings

Copyright 2017

So you wanna date a single mom? Consider this first.

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After a lot of ‘hemming’ and ‘hawing’ (and three years of deleting profiles after a day or so) I finally embarked on the journey into the world of online dating where every man is a world-traveler, outdoorsman and cute dog owner, and (I’m assuming) every woman is the down-to-earth, no drama kind of girl.

As a widowed parent (OK, fine, go ahead and say ‘single mom’ if it’s easier), but also an old fashioned, hopeless-romantic, head stuck in the clouds creative, the idea of online dating was not the first on my list of ways I’d meet him—the guy who’d come after my late husband, but after prodding from friends and listening to one too many stories of “well so-and-so met so-and-so online and they are so happy!” I finally gave in. I was ready to get out there, feeling myself come back to life after three years of living my own sad, widow-version of “The Walking Dead,” when I finally noticed myself noticing other men notice me.

So, I did it.

I made profiles on several different sites, I took that selfie that I swore I’d never do, I ripped the Band-aid off and then all there was left to do was wait and see. I got a lot of interest and requests to go out when that one tiny detail of me being a full-time-no-breaks-no-weekends-away or shared custody-no circle of friends or grandparents begging to watch my three children under 7 every week for free-single mom swept in. How in the world was I supposed to actually go and meet these people? Not to mention I noticed immediately how these guys had no idea how to even attempt to date a single mom. (I get it, NOT ALL GUYS are clueless and if you met yours online, awesome! But just humor me for a bit, will you?) I figured maybe I’d put out a kind of PSA if you will, for those of you who are actually considering dating a single mom:

1.) Realize the cost of childcare: It may just be a $5 coffee or drink out of your pocket, but for the single mom you’re asking out it’s SO much more. Not only is she having to book a sitter (going rate is $15 an hour), but she needs a week’s or more notice to book said sitter. Or if she’s getting help from a friend to watch the kids, she’s walking on egg-shells not to take advantage of this generous friend and putting out multiple feelers for other people who may be option B, C and D in case nice friend “forgets she made other plans.” This date you’ve asked her out on may be costing her not only actual currency, but her time, energy and efforts to find proper care for her kids. Acknowledge this on all fronts and remember it going forward to these other tips.

2.) Time is precious, don’t waste hers: I was recently asked out to a coffee shop date. Turns out the night we were supposed to meet Colorado decided to have a spring snowstorm and it took me an hour to get to this coffee shop. I was so close to just pulling off at the several exits I saw on my way down, but I had to give myself a pep-talk, “Don’t bail, that’s so rude. Just suck it up and get it over with.” I get it, maybe that’s not the right frame of mind to have when going into a date, “just get it over with,” but just being honest here.

I parked and found my way to the coffee shop all the while thinking “this better be darn good coffee or the most amazing man ever for all this effort.” I met my date and he was polite and bought my coffee and conversation ensued, if you want to call it conversation at all, he really just talked about himself the whole time. During his monologue, he let it be known that he only lived a block from the coffee shop we were chatting in. Red flag #1 of many in that date came up and I thought to myself, hold up, I drove an hour through a snowstorm to have coffee with this guy and he only walked a block to get here? Sorry, call me a princess or entitled or whatever, but I prefer to think of myself as a practical, considerate person who would suggest to meet halfway, or, the fact he knew I had to get a sitter, drive down near me.

Red flag #2 was when the good old “you wanna get out of here” phrase was followed up by “do you want to walk to my house to see how big my porch is” (truth, can’t make this up folks). Seriously dude? I just told you I’m paying for a sitter here and you’re asking me over to “see your porch.” Maybe he had totally well-meaning intentions and did indeed have an awesome porch, but even if he told me that there was a unicorn residing on his amazing porch, this momma wouldn’t have budged. When I explained that I have three kids (again) and I just don’t go to strangers’ homes (even though he bought me a coffee, he was still technically a stranger, remember that ladies!) and I only had a sitter until 9 p.m. He looked at me like I was talking in another language. He just didn’t get it. “Well, do you just want to walk around then?” he asked. “Yeah, sure, a walk in wet, sloppy snow would be great… to my car,” I replied.

3.) Yes, her kids are her priority (and seriously question dating her if they’re not): I’ve witnessed or heard of a lot of different dating scenarios when it comes to single moms. I’ve seen those who will leave their kids with just about anyone to go out with the first guy who gives them attention. I’ve heard stories from friends in the childcare business of the moms who won’t pick their kids up until 3 a.m. if they pick them up at all that night. The ones who will bring home a first date with kids in the house (I’m not judging…OK I kinda am, sorry). And then there’s the gun-shy moms (I’d fall into this category probably) who cancel sitters at the first sign of a sniffle or cry to those who never even consider ever going out on a date again and shut themselves in their rooms with their cats (I love cats!).

But in all seriousness, like it or not, her kids (should!) come first. I totally get that she should still be allowed to be a woman and go out and have fun, but at the end of the day she is a mom and has little people depending on her. I was on a lunch date with someone and I brought up my kids and he said something like, “Well, they’re just kids, after all, how hard can it be?” After that statement, the whole date was just sort of a wash. Kids are hard, kids are really hard when you’re a single parent, but they’re also my everything. They’re also a part of the package. You don’t have interest in her kids? Or kids in general? Don’t even bother asking her out. Seriously.

4.) Be straightforward about your intentions: Women generally don’t have time for games, but pull some round-about shenanigans with a single mom, well that’s just a whole other low. Look, she’s got to not only protect herself, but her children. People are people and they do what they’re going to do, but really, don’t look to single moms for irresponsible hook-ups or think you could maybe sweep her away and rescue her from her kids: newsflash she doesn’t need to be rescued from her kids, from the mess, but someone who is man enough to jump into the “mess” with her. If you can’t stand up to the fact that she’s surveying your every move for any signs of “dad-like” characteristics, or you wouldn’t even consider going to help her if she texts you last minute to cancel a date because her kids are all taking turns throwing up on her, then don’t ask her out. Plain and simple.

5.) Honor the “baggage:” Look, as humans, we’ve all got baggage, but single parents seem to have a couple extra bags. Understand there was someone before, either an ex- and parent of her child, or in a widow’s case, a husband and father will never be forgotten and who will always be loved, always. Not only are you entering into a relationship with the woman, but also the one who came before. If she’s honest with where she’s at, she’ll treat you separately with no comparison, but don’t expect her to erase those who have come before you. It’s a tall order, I get it, but if you can do that or at least try to find out, go for it and kudos to you.

I’m certainly no expert in the field of dating, to be honest, my attempt at dating is really just clumsily feeling my way through the awkwardness, and I really, really dislike the whole process. Dating can be so stressful and overwhelming, but if you look at it with the right perspective, it’s also a huge opportunity to learn about yourself and others. I’ve learned what to look for and what I’m OK with and what I’m definitely NOT OK with. And through the strange encounters I’ve had, I’ve learned the most valuable lesson. I’d rather be alone, than settle for a man who doesn’t honor my situation and all that comes with it just because I’m lonely.

*Previously posted on www.herviewfromhome.com, by Nicole Hastings

Copyright 2017