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