Minimalist Motherhood

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." ~ Hebrews 13:5

Happiness.png

That passage from Scripture is a foundational part of my life with my two girls. I’ll admit, it wasn’t always this way. 

After my divorce, I moved from a moderate suburban home to an urban apartment and was forced to downsize. At first, I panicked. Who would I be without a two-car garage? How would my kids exist without a giant trampoline next to their pool in the backyard? What kind of mother doesn’t have a designated playroom for her kids? But, it took less than 24 hours for me to realize that this downsizing was the most healing endeavor in which I’d engaged since my husband high-tailed it out of state and out of our lives. 

So, I purged again. And again. And again. I am now an enthusiastic purger of things.

I purge about three times a year. I have emptied closets. I have thrown out everything from nick-knacks to my entire bedroom set. Yes, you read that right. I sleep on a mattress on the floor. Why? Because it is more comfortable. Because I chose my own comfort over my concern for the expectations of others. After seeing me do it, my girls decided to ditch their bunk beds. I swapped my “grown up art” for a Wolverine decal that overlooks our dining room table. Oh my, goodness! Our lives are better for it!  Together, we have eliminated all of our extra furniture and have found our sparsely decorated space to ooze the peace we once thought we could purchase. 

Less stuff means fewer things to worry about when we could be investing energy into each other. Less space means less cleaning and more time to engage the world around us. Less focus on empty vessels means more energy to put into refilling the most important vessels – our souls. 

We don’t have much stuff, but we have a great life. For the most part. 

You see, it is impossible for inoculate our little den of peace from the rest of the world. And when you live a bit differently than society tells you that you should live, there is a need to be vigilant about not giving into the tension between true, lasting happiness and the momentary rush of social acceptance. 

I have experienced this tension first hand since moving my kids to a better school (read: school in a wealthier neighborhood). Please don’t get me wrong, I would not move my kids back to a floundering school to avoid this tension. My kids are flourishing socially and academically, and I am thankful every day that they are where they are, loving to learn. But, the tension is there.

I first noticed it in the after school programs. There are myriad “enrichment” programs (from robotics to tumbling), for a fee. So, there is the constant pressure to drop money into programs to help your children gain that extra edge. 

I’ll admit, I fell for it the first time. My older daughter really wanted to cheer. I wanted so badly to tell her no. You want me to pay for 8 weeks of chant-learning and smile practicing? You clearly don’t know your mother at all, I thought. But, I caved. I asked for a payment plan and committed myself to paying for the 8 week program. Then came the kicker…the kids were given the “option” to buy a uniform for another couple hundred dollars. I could probably stretch my budget to make it happen, but I didn’t want to. This wasn’t a competitive cheer team; this was an after school program. Why would I spend my money that way?  And I was honest with my daughter about it. No biggie, I thought, clearly some other parents, no matter their economic status, would make the calculation that these uniforms were not worth the investment. 

I was wrong. My daughter was the ONLY one without a uniform. Gulp.

Still no biggie, I thought. My girl is smart enough to recognize that standing out is not a bad thing and that joy does not come from conformity or an outfit; as well as reason through the economics of it. So, I talked to my daughter and I was right, everything was fine. Whew!

Unfortunately, I was not the only person in her ear. Later the same day, she came home and told me that she would be borrowing a uniform since everyone else had one. “What?” I questioned, “We were fine being different. We were going to put you in something fun and unique, and not worry about the expected ‘costume.’” “I know, Mom,” she said, “But everyone else has one.” Ugh.

With that one sentence, I saw three years of re-framing and intrapersonal focus drip out of her little head and slip through my fingers. Suddenly, it was more important to be like everyone else, to have what they have, than to make decisions that made sense for our lives. I was sad and angry. I wanted to call the coach and yell at her, but I didn’t. I knew that this woman was just trying to make my kid feel better and that, for so many of us, we fall prey to the lie that fitting into a crowd feels better (and is easier) than taking the time to find what makes us truly unique, and truly happy. So, I lost that battle. 

I tried not to overreact or map too many of my own feelings onto her situation, but it was a struggle. It was a small struggle in a war that I imagine I will be waging for years to come. It is a struggle for happiness, the kind you cannot buy, the kind that only comes from being at peace with yourself, with your situation on Earth, and with your relationship with God. For me, it has been easy, because I have already lived a life filled with unnecessary things, and in that thing-filled life, I was miserable. I know that happiness is not material and that freedom does not come from burying ourselves in things.

But I worry about this struggle with my girls. Frankly, I have seen too many young people suffer from the emptiness that comes from living a life full of things. I work at an institution populated by some of the wealthiest young people I’ve ever encountered. That same institution also boasts alarmingly high rates of “feelings of loneliness.” I have spent a lot of time with young adults who are searching for meaning, addicted to trying to buy it, and trapped in a cycle of superficial gratification that makes them miserable. I don’t want this for my kids. I want my kids to be fulfilled by their Creator, by their ability to recognize their uniqueness, and by their relationships. 

I am vigilant in prayer about this issue. I honestly pray that there is never an Earthly thing to which my girls tie emotion. I pray, constantly, that their emotions are only tied to the people they love and who love them, their appreciation for experiences; and gratitude for life, grace, and salvation. Because, as Jesus warned the greedy man: "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." ~ Luke 12:15

-A. Smith

How to Successfully Stay Sober While Being the Best Parent Possible

Photo Credit: Pexels,        Pixabay

Photo Credit: Pexels, Pixabay

Making the decision to be both sober and be the best parent you can be is the best gift that you can give your child. It is a great decision to make, and while it is certainly possible, it will not be easy. But you want to show your child that it is better to live a life that is happy, useful, and sober. You want to show your child that it is possible to cultivate coping skills outside of drugs or alcohol.

Addiction causes severe disruption in families, and usually it is the children of addicts who suffer the most. Whether you are an expecting parent looking to start parenthood with a clean slate or you have been a parent for awhile and you are ready to become sober, your child can only benefit from your sobriety.

Staying Sober

To be the best possible parent, you have to first tend to your own needs. Unfortunately, parents tend to overcompensate for this by putting their needs on the back burner. Preserving sobriety requires you to prioritize self-care, so be sure you maintain a healthy diet and exercise regimen. In addition, manage stress, get adequate sleep, and do not forget to have fun with your child.

Having a routine is an important part of staying sober, but having a child can mess up your old routine. Do not let that deter you. Just develop a new routine that incorporates caring for your child and yourself. It may take a bit to get into a rhythm, but that is normal for any parent.

Being a parent does not mean you cannot ask for help. In fact, most parents need support from their spouse, loved ones, friends, and coworkers. Although you may not have a spouse, you can ask a neighbor, friend, or family member to help you, even if it is just for 30 minutes so you can take a shower and eat a warm meal.

Child Care Woes

If you find it difficult to attend a mutual-help meeting because you lack sufficient child care, ask if you are able to bring your child. Some meetings are specifically tailored to recovering moms and/or dads. These programs not only understand if you need to bring your child, but they are great for helping you learn to integrate self-care into a daily lifestyle as a parent.

You can do several things to merge self-care and childcare. If you like to walk, use a stroller and take your child with you. Perform yoga stretches while your child plays on the floor with you, and some exercises use your baby as part of the routine. You can place your child in a playpen or special baby seat while you shower or clean.

Remember to be grateful. Stay focused on your sobriety by writing down five things you are grateful for every day. They can be the same things, or you can switch them up. Chances are, you will include “family” fairly often. Family means a great deal to people so spend as much time as you can with your family. This does not just mean those whom you are related to; friends count as family too. Surrounding yourself with people who love and support you is crucial.

Join an online recovery forum to help you stay sober. They offer live chats, online meetings, online resources, and more. Staying sober can be a daily battle, but your health and happiness, as well as your child’s, are worth the effort. By staying focused and remembering to care for yourself and ask for help, you can successfully stay sober and be a good parent.

- Michelle Peterson believes the journey to sobriety should not be one of shame but of pride. Her mission is aligned with that of Recoverypride.org, which is to celebrate sobriety and those who achieve it. 

The Benefits of Being a Divorced Single Mom (and Sharing Custody)

The Benefits of Being a Divorced Single Mom (and Sharing Custody)

Ok, we all know the down side.

I could write a dozen of articles about the isolation, the loss of friends, the feeling of abandonment… and I have written a lot about those things. They are very real, very heart-wrenching, and just plain hard.

But what we all need to do right now, in this very moment — as you likely just googled and found this article, and are probably trying to find the bright side of all of this — WE, my ladies, need to stay positive.

For starters, remember: We got ourselves OUT of a bad situation, one that was not healthy for us, one that was not furthering our personal development. One that was sucking the life out of us.

So let’s take a moment to recognize that.

We are now free.

And now? We need to rally.

So I am here as your new best friend — your new-best-divorced-single-mama friend — to tell you these 10 things you can feel good about, right now, as you sip your wine or your La Croix or whatever it is you’re sipping, because I hope you’re all sipping something and have your feet up.

Note: I know there are many single moms that don’t share custody, and you don’t get some of of these benefits I write about below. I send a salute to you. I do feel grateful that my son’s father is a responsible guy that wants to be involved in our boy’s life. But there are also times I wish I could call all the shots and not have to split my sweet child’s time between two homes. We all make the best of what we have, I guess.

Here’s my take.

10 Benefits of Being a Divorced Single Mom (and Sharing Custody)

1. Nights off

Every Wednesday night, and every other weekend, is ALL MINE. No bedtime routine, no resistance to baths or brushing teeth or putting on pajamas. No, ma’am. My house is quiet, my breathing is deeper. I’m more relaxed. My Spotify is turned up. Sometimes I spend it quietly, sometimes I go out. Sometimes I write or draw or work. But being divorced, there is no negotiation about how I am going to spend my night off. I get to decide.

2. Sleep!

Oh yeah, baby. Every other weekend (and every Wednesday night) I get to catch up on blessed sleep. I get the entire bed. I often sprawl out and sigh deeply when I finally crawl in (usually after a hot bath). And I know I won’t be awakened by anyone, except perhaps my sweet old dog, huffing in my face. It is pure bliss. (Except the dog breath.)

If you’re new to being single, fear not. That “other side” of the bed that seems empty and abandoned will soon have a new feel. Creep your toe over there, dear. Soon your whole, unshaven leg will be over there. Shortly thereafter you find your new home: The middle of the bed.

3. Focusing on your needs.

At first it can seem overly quiet. And of course, there are weekends I feel lonely for my son. Or moments during the weekend. But after two years, I have found a rhythm on these solo weekends. I plan ahead more, so I have at least one social outing. But I like to keep a good portion of the weekend as ALL MINE. Maybe I want to watch a lot of Netflix. Or clean. Maybe I want to meet a friend for brunch and go for a long run. Maybe I need to spend 4 hours finding the perfect new pair of jeans. Or catch up on some work.

On my weeknight off I try to fit in something that feels like pampering. A hot bath. Painting my (short, stubby) nails. Making popcorn and binge watching a show.

4. Trying new things.

Last weekend, on the invitation of another single mom friend, I went to a blues dance party. It was preceded by a lesson. I’ve NEVER blues danced. I was terrified. But I went. And it was exhilarating to try something I’ve never done before. I was not good, but I met some nice people who also didn’t know what they were doing (and a lot who did) and I was glad I took the leap. I had fun, and I smiled and laughed a lot. Would I have done this if I was still unhappily married? Heck no.

Trying new things has been one of the biggest blessings of my divorce. I have now tried belly dancing, improv, taken a solo vacation, gone to more live music shows, became a fitness coach, and started a Meetup group for single parents and meeting more new people every week. I am living my life more fully than ever before. I’ve told fear to take a hike, and I am participating in life.

5. Redefining your life. Rebuilding yourself.

Divorce is the ultimate let down. We think — no, we KNOW — that we found our perfect partner for life, and we commit to that. And then something happens (or many somethings) that make us reconsider. And then, after much drama and difficult decision making and gross legal processes, you’re single— BOOM.

What now?

The identity that we had is partially gone. Which is, at first, difficult. To put it mildly.

But! You get to redefine what you want your life to be. Who you associate with. What you spend your time on. You get a second chance at designing your life. The way you spend your time. The way your treat your self, your body, your soul, your mind.

I decided four months ago to get into wicked shape. I had been feeling frustrated and mopey, and had just had a horrible date with a guy I had gotten my hopes up for. (He turned out to be a drug addict. Buh-bye!)

The empowerment I have found in the act of taking better care of my body through better nutrition and more regular exercise has been profound. I am in the best shape I have been in since college (and definitely eating better than I did in my cheap-ramen-or-fries-at-the-cafeteria days). I have loved it so much I decided to become a coach. And as a fitness coach I am also helping others feel their best and reach their goals. It’s been life-changing.

6. Time off for dating (yourself or others).

When (or if) you get to the point of dating, or just want to get out for fun by yourself, when you share custody — you have the time.

I have enjoyed dating. Yes, I’ve had some bad dates, but some fun ones, too. When I was newly single I accidentally got on Tinder (Seriously, I only wanted to see how it worked) and ended up getting sucked into it and then dating various guys for about 6 months.

I’ve since stopped, and I’m not at the point where I want something serious now, but having men show interest in me was uplifting and made me feel sexy and wanted.

But through the process of dating I learned how much I needed to simply care for myself. That before anyone else could show me love, I needed to show myself compassion and caring — first.

So since I’ve stopped dating I’ve had more nights out with myself. A delicious burger. Or wine and pizza. I call it dating myself. I choose my favorite restaurant and just go. I treat myself. Sometimes I read, or doodle, or look at Facebook or people-watch. It’s freeing to get comfortable being alone in a room full of other people. You realize nobody cares. Nobody is watching you. You can just exist, and observe!

7. Being a better parent

When I do have my son, I am a better parent. I’m more rested. When I get him back, I’ve missed him, so I’m really focused on him. I plan events or outings for us, or sometimes just have a nice, quiet day at home with him doing art projects or showing him how the washing machine works. (Three-year-olds are the best. So easily entertained.) Our time spent apart makes us both appreciate each other more.

8. Owning your strength

In my opinion, divorced women are some of the strongest people alive. We have decided to NOT accept bad behavior. We have decided we are strong enough to get by on our own. We have broken out of the “married with children” template, the mold that society has created, because we KNOW we deserve better. We endure the unspoken (or spoken) judgement of people, of friends and family. We have decided our kids don’t deserve to grow up witnessing an unhealthy relationship. And all of this? It is HARD.

But when you finally get through the drama, things get quiet. You may question your decision. Your circle of friends is more distant. You don’t know where you fit.

This is when you need to remember your strength. No, you don’t need to hold onto anger, you don’t need to rehash all of the drama. (Okay, sometimes you may need to remind yourself, but don’t dwell too long — it’s over).

You need to remember this: YOU are strong. And that you made this decision because you knew — YOU KNOW — it is best.

Owning that strength, that decision, is a practice — you get better at it. It eventually becomes a part of who you are, and you embody it. It bolsters you as you take steps into your new life.

9. Your closet. Your messes.

I may, at some point, share a house and a closet again with a partner. But I’ll be totally honest. I love love LOVE not sharing. I love knowing that if a mess is made, I don’t have anyone to blame except myself.

I have a tendency toward anxiety, so when things get cluttered I tend to start getting irritable. And it was worse when there was another body creating more clutter with more clothes and more dishes. It may be one of the smaller benefits, but it really is peaceful. I enjoy the simplicity of knowing it’s just my stuff (and my son’s).

10. A second chance at real love.

We have learned. Yes — I have fear of getting into another “bad” relationship. But I am also excited. I get to try again.

I’ve also learned more about love as a broader concept. Being a mother. The love my son has for me is so unconditional. As a mom, I now know the feeling of that kind of love. My marriage wasn’t that free, easy kind of love. It felt very conditional. I was always walking on eggshells.

If I get into a relationship again and it doesn’t feel like a pure, unconditional love, I feel more equipped to recognize that. And move on.

I also know that should I get into a relationship with a man that isn’t quite right, that I have greater love in my life already with my son, my friends, and my family.

New love will be icing on the cake of my already delicious life.

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What other perks have you found in your single mom lifestyle? I’d love to hear from you. basementqueens@gmail.com

Check out Liina at www.basementqueens.com