I had a long drive to Philly today for work, so I got my podcast situation straight and got to listening. I cued up a recent episode of The Longest Shortest Time which featured the host of another show I listen to, Reveal, with Al Letson. It was an interesting story, but what struck me was when Letson talked about moving after a divorce and having several kids move with him and having to parent alone. He shared that in the early days he felt that he was juggling a lot and at night he sometimes cried because it was so hard; it was great, but it was excruciatingly hard. He noted that he kept at it and built some muscle memory around parenting.
Ah, that resonated: Muscle memory around parenting.
I felt like crying so much those first few months of parenting Hope. Honestly, I don’t remember crying a lot, just feeling like I was constantly on the verge of tears. I was pulled in a lot of directions; there was so much to do and I was doing it alone. It was hard.
There was the day to day stuff. Making sure Hope got to and from school—she was pretty skittish so I had to take her to school; then I got her in an after school program that of course she hated . Then I had to feed her; we fought a bit over food. I didn’t keep much teen friendly food in the house at first and frankly didn’t want to bring it in either. There were rules that I needed to create and enforce while still figuring out what the eff ‘connected parenting’ was.
There were spoken and unspoken expectations of family and friends that just couldn’t be met, and that felt like failure because I just couldn’t figure out how to do that and parent.
Homework. Testing. Getting up, keeping a schedule, going to work, being productive. Coming home, caring for geriatric dog who was not to keen on the familial interloper.
Oh, yeah, finishing my dissertation.
Epic mental health crash, that was essentially a reset button a month into this new family thing.
Emergence of birth family.
Absurdly Hot Therapist who was nearly hard to look at (it’s like looking at the sun!), but an amazing therapist so I stuck it out.
Finding a psychiatrist and a dentist for Hope—Oh, wisdom teeth removal and braces? Check.
Glasses, lost/broken glasses. The brief, yet expensive, flirtation with contact lenses.
There was always something. ALWAYS. It never let up. None of it was gradual. I had to show I was doing all this stuff to a social worker ahead of finalization.
I was an effing zombie who wanted to cry, but had no time. I just had to keep going. I took a fair amount of Ativan during that period. It helped…immensely.
And as Letsen said, it got easier. It wasn’t that there were fewer things to do; I just found my rhythm. I got the hang of it and developed some Mom Muscle.
Parenting is a daily workout and I had to go from puny punk to being in a heavyweight boxer title fight practically overnight. It was excruciating. There is no way I really could have prepared for it. People ask parents-to-be that absurd question all the time, “Are you ready?”
Of course not. You think you are; you’re ready to jump in and figure it out, but skill set? Nah, this is an on the job situation.
I was chatting with someone recently who talked about her future parenting plans. I saw so much of myself 5 years ago in that conversation. I didn’t offer much commentary, and I tried not to say, You HAVE NO IDEA!!! I would’ve smirked and dismissed anyone who tried to tell me even a fraction of the stuff I now know to be true about parenting, especially parenting a child from a hard place.
I don’t think I’m a particularly good parent; I do ok. I’ve provided a safe, supportive environment for Hope with lots of love, support and hopefully great opportunities. I have kept her fed and clothed and progressing in school. I’ve read to and with her; defended her, talked with her, cooked with her, did homework with her. I’ve sat at her sick bedside and held my tongue at the bedside when she was seeking attention. I’ve attend awful, passable and actually decent band performances. Quality has vastly improved, but no lies: I still hate them.
As my and Hope’s experiences grew, I managed to remember some things that worked before and things that didn’t get us to the desired outcome. My decision trees became more defined, and I managed not to screw up nearly as much, much to my and Hope’s relief.
I finally feel like I have the hang of things, and of course, Hope and I are facing new challenges. I have a bigger back of tricks and skills now so I feel more prepared for the unknown than I did before. I don’t anticipate too many tears (from either of us), but who knows.
If you’re on the front end of this journey to instant parenthood, especially with an older kid, you aren’t alone. It’s ok. You’ll be ok; you’ll find your mojo. Just keep plugging away.
Also, it’s ok to sit in your shower with wine and snacks and cry. Totally normal. It’s part of you’re parenting workout—a rest day/moment—that is essential to your ability to build that parenting muscle. I can’t say that the individual challenges get easier, but your ability to face them will. I do think that there is a bit more social space for single parents to talk about how rough the transition to parenthood is; it’s assumed to be harder, lonelier. I’m guessing that it’s hard and sometimes lonely for most parents.
Just know that you got this. Give yourself some grace and dust yourself off and keep going.
Get your parent workout on.