Pushing Buttons

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My oldest son, now 26, was the product of divorce from about the time he was four months old. His father found someone new while I was still pregnant and filed for divorce when he was eight days old. I was 23 at the time. Being young and a first-time mother, I had no idea how to handle a divorce and a newborn. Someone wise once said, “You can’t control everything, only how you react to it.” At that time in my life, I reacted to every single thing! We were in court for any little disagreement or argument. Luckily, my parents were helping me with the legal bills. My ex’s father was a lawyer, so he didn’t have any legal costs and loved to go to court. The entire time my son grew up, we fought over any minute detail.

One time, in a meeting with my lawyer, she said to me, “You do realize that he knows how to push your buttons, and he is doing it every time he can?!” I ignored her thinking she had no idea what she was talking about and who I was having to deal with almost daily. We argued over where to meet for pickups, what my son was wearing, if the new girlfriend could pick him up, what he could take back and forth between homes…literally anything there was to argue over, we argued!

Fast forward to today. I am nearly 50 now, and my son is grown. I haven’t had to deal with his dad in several years. As I look back on the lawyer’s words, I realize that she was exactly right! He did know how to push any of my buttons that he could. He pushed me to the point of me arguing and getting upset every time. I now use those words in my life when dealing with others who might try to get to those hotpoint buttons. I take a deep breath and assess the situation. If I realize they are going that direction, I really try to control my reaction. I realized that at 23, I didn’t know how to do this!

I am writing this blog post in hopes that maybe some of you single moms will read this and take it to heart. You don’t have to react to everything the ex does! And realize that maybe he is trying hard to get a reaction so that he can use it against you, whether it be in court or in the presence of your child(ren).

Take a deep breath, look at the situation, and react or don’t. You are in control, not your ex!

-Julie Burr

What Works.

Alright, ladies! Over the last few months, my blog has been an outlet for the things that weigh heavy on my heart or put pressure on my sense of justice. In perusing my series of blog posts, I realized that an outsider would probably think me to be a fairly angry, sad, lost human being. They would not be wrong. I am ALL of those things. Aren’t we all?

But, I am also quite joyous, passionate, fulfilled, well-loved, productive, and quick to laugh. To honor a more complete picture of my life, I thought for this month, I would turn the tables a bit. Like most single moms, and parents in general, I do struggle and worry - and even suffer. But like others, I have found many patterns, approaches, and tools that work really well to bring peace to my life! So, this month, let’s continue the conversation and community-building by sharing some tools for surviving and thriving in parenthood. Here are my top 8 parenting moves (in my humble opinion):

  1. Meal prep. I spend hours on Sundays prepping ALL of our meals for the week. You heard that right! I prep breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. This may sound arduous, but we’ve gotten it down to quite a science. My girls and I turn on some music and get to work. It is some of our most enjoyable time together and, during the week, it makes life infinitely easier. As much as I’d love to be the family that always sits down to dinner together, we cannot always make room for that ritual. But, with prepped meals, I know I won’t have to run to fast food or lose my mind making last-minute store trips. It is a HUGE stress and time saver during the week.

  2. Early bedtimes. My girls are 9 and 11. I put them to bed by 8pm. Many of my mom friends scoff at this, but for us, it is essential. All 3 of us have busy days. Getting them in bed by 8 pm ensures that their bodies are at least at rest, even if they don’t knock out right at 8 pm, for 8-10 hours. This level of attention to their sleep makes for much smoother days for them and gives me some time at the end of the day to spend in much-needed solitude.

  3. Being active. Being a parent, let alone a single parent, is stressful by nature. Stress breeds sickness in the body, so we try to guard against that with healthy bodies (and minds). My girls play sports year-round, and I make it a point to be active with them. We are not gym rats, and we don’t ever talk about things like weight or physical appearance, we simply prioritize an active lifestyle. This facilitates better sleep, builds confidence, and creates an organic social network. More importantly, it keeps the kids interested in pursuits that do not require a screen.

  4. Open and honest conversations. This is the most controversial of my perspectives on parenting. But here’s the thing, I’ve only ever yelled at my kids twice in nearly 12 years (once when I had a concussion and once when my youngest drank the last of the milk I needed for my coffee – both totally ridiculous). I think a big part of why my kids are so well behaved is the fact that we talk so often and so openly that they know they will have a chance to productively plead their side of any disagreement. I’ve also never played the “because I said so” card. Being honest means explaining my own reasoning which makes them feel more respected and considered than like a cog in an authoritative machine. Honestly, I also think that my incessant talking is likely more tortuous than a few moments being yelled at would be.

  5. Healthy eating. Along with activity, expressing my love for my kids through the way that I nourish them has become a preventative regimen in our household. When I was married, there was much less emphasis on nutrition, and that made the entire schedule more difficult to stick to. Finding the right balance of nutrients for their individual needs (growth, sleep, digestion, activity type, and level) really has been life-changing. When they spend time away from me with a different diet, the change in them is visible. They come home with bags under their eyes, their fuses are a bit shorter, they are more inclined to gravitate towards television, and less inclined to fall asleep peacefully.

  6. Community. Parenting is exhausting in every way imaginable and in ways you never could have imagined. While it is important to know that we are capable of doing things alone, it is even more important to remember that we don’t always have to. Community is the tool that I struggle with the most. It is hard for me to ask for help. I still sometimes ask and then curl up into a little ball of shame. It is true that asking for help parenting can cost you some “friends.” But, the network that is built when you invite people into your vulnerability is worth losing the ones who only want to be around when it is easy. The nagging pain of an absent parent or a broken family will never truly go away, but it can be eased by new people who will love your kids in their own ways. I am working hard to build love where there is pain. So far, I have to say that it is a pretty beautiful thing to watch. The more people to love our kids, the better, right?

  7. Chucking it all out the window sometimes! Rules are great. Tools are helpful. But dealing with humans is not formulaic and sometimes approaches that have worked for years will fail us when we most need them. So, the most important thing is to remember that it is ok to make it up as you are going along. Forgive yourself and your kid for deviations from the charted course. Be flexible when it is needed without having a parental identity crisis. And remember, if you are leading with #8, grace is waiting to catch you when you stumble.

  8. Putting God first. I know, I know. This should obviously be number one. I chose to put it near the end because I thought it made sense to progress from the least important to the most. Life is brutal. Our kids will experience loss, disappointment, and pain. They will inhabit a world that prescribes many different sets of rules, from school to friend groups to jobs. It is so hard to make sense of it all. For me, giving my girls something as unfailing and never changing as the love of Jesus is the way to make sure that they always see their own value and the value of others.  I want them to make decisions based upon what is right, not what is cool. I want them to strive to be like Jesus, not some celebrity. I want them to treat others with love because we are all God’s children, not fear others because of the (mis)perceptions and prejudices surrounding earthly bodies. Proverbs 22:6 tell us to “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” This, for my family, is everything.

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I know that every family is unique and that what works for me may not work for others. I do, however, think it is important that we share with each other when we find tools that works for us. So often, out of necessity, conversations between single mothers are about the ways in which we are struggling. Those conversations are so important. But, what if we could be intentional about having more of the conversations about what is making our lives easier and more joy-filled? Maybe if we (really, I am looking at myself here) took the time to have these conversations more often, we would ward off just a little bit of the need for those heavier conversations. We are, truly, in this together. So, please share with me! What works in your life?

A. Smith

It Does Not Get Easier

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Today is Halloween. This morning, I threw my child out of the car with her costume tail in hand while other moms flocked to the schoolyard to watch the costume parade. It was as heartbreaking as the violin recital I missed last month.  I cried more than the first time I was traveling for work and missed my daughter’s first lost tooth. The lump in my throat was the same today as it has been for the last 4 years of doing this alone.

It doesn’t get easier, this single mom thing.

When you have babies, everyone will say how much easier it will be when the kids are old enough to help out.

Everyone is lying…or, at least, wrong.

When you have elementary-aged kids, everyone will say that your kids won’t want you around as much soon so it will get easier.




Babies turn into kids, whose emotions need as much attending to as the diapers once did. Kids turn into teenagers whose roller coaster of hormones deplete your soul more than infant sleep patterns and feeding schedules. Teenagers turn into young adults whose journey to self-realization will rob you of your savings, your time, and your peace.

There will always be budgeting. There will always be work or the struggle to find work. There will always be seemingly immediate needs. There will always be emotions. There will always be cleaning. There will always be cooking or meal planning. There will always be more things to do than there are hours in the day.

And, most pernicious to the potential peace of single parenthood, there will always be the hole that needs explaining but defies the lexicon of the most learned parent: Where is my dad? Why did he leave? Was it my fault? Is he ever coming back? Does he love me?

That never gets easier. That, above all, is the heaviest burden, and one that is grappled with at every stage of life.

Really, you can insert any scenario inherent in the struggle of single parenthood, and some “wise” soul will bestow upon you an unsolicited, platitudinous gem about how things will one day be easier. And, they will have no idea how wrong they are.

It never gets easier. If you are a single parent, you already know this. So, I am here to tell you that it is okay not to feel comforted by these well-intentioned promises of succeeding serenity.

That urge you feel to punch Susan in the face when she tells you that she knows what it is like to be a single parent because her husband works a lot - that never goes away. That’s ok.

To find yourself in the situation of being a single parent is always going to be overwhelming. It is normal for you to feel that way. To have the life of one (or more) of God’s precious children dependent upon you and only you, it is more than one person can grapple with in the rare moments of single-parent solitude.

You don’t need to accept the placating sentiments of others. Being a single parent IS hard. It is ridiculously, unfathomably, stiflingly difficult. It is alright for you to ignore the mistaken masses, and to indulge in your own assessment of your situation.

But hear me, single moms, your kids know you love them. They know that you wish you were at the parade. They know that you are hurting because you wanted to find the time to cook their favorite meal. They know (even if their boundary-testing behavior doesn’t always reveal it) that you try, day in and day out, to fill a void that someone else created in their lives. They see Susan with her husband and her platitudes, and they know that Susan could never understand how hard it is to do this truly alone. They see you. They love you. So, go ahead and love yourself.

It will never get easier. You will never figure it all out. And, that is ok. It is ok to recognize that you were dealt a crappy hand and that you can find joy in the rubbish without convincing yourself that someday this will all be less burdensome. In fact, perhaps recognizing that happiness does exist now, in this overwhelming mess, is more realistic, healthier, and attainable than making happiness dependent upon the changing and unpredictable future.

Being a single mom means being superhuman. Susan and her friends will never understand. So, accept it, even when it is overwhelming. Celebrate it, even when you feel like you are doing it all wrong.  Go ahead and love yourself for the freakin’ hero that you are.

No, it doesn’t get easier. But, the truth is, we can learn to take it easier on ourselves.

A. Smith