There are so many times a day where I think to myself what am I doing as a parent? Being a single mom has put my parenting into sharp perspective. I can’t help but examine, question, and judge my parenting because I have my sons most of the time so it feels like everything about them is a direct result of me.
There are studies (because obviously I have poured through academic journals searching for data on single mom families) that show children of single parents- specifically sons- have higher emotional intelligence than sons of married parents. I’ve wondered about this finding before being a single parent but now I get it. Let’s take a few weeks ago, for example. It’s sucked. It started sucky and ended worse. Crisis after crisis with my clients. Significant illnesses and life events occurring.
I was in contact with seven therapists about seven different clients before Tuesday end of day. It didn’t get better on Wednesday or Thursday. Hospitalizations and other high acuity referrals. I spent karate class on Thursday outside on the phone with yet another therapist about another client and had to make a rather gut wrenching decision in that moment.
Then I had to bring my kids home, chart some more, make more phone calls, then also make dinner and sit with them at the table. When they came into the kitchen they asked if I was okay. And honestly I wasn’t. I was sad, defeated, and if I had a partner it would have been my tap out moment. I would have tapped out and gone to the store or a yoga class or anywhere but staring into my kids eyes as their only source of everything.
I felt my eyes well up and I blinked back tears and said, “I’m actually having a really hard week baby, and I’m really sorry if I’m sad right now I just treat a lot of patients and sometimes they can be more sick and need more of my energy. And that’s how this week has been.” They looked at me and then murmured some I love you’s and then one of them offered to bring the dog out for me and I said sure and thank you.
I put dinner together under their watching eyes and they set the table, and when I asked who would feed the cats they didn’t fight about it…like they do every other time. And when I went to sit down one of them came and hugged me and said he loves me and he’s sorry I’m having a bad week. I smiled and told him I was having a great week with my sons. It’s just work this week that’s been bad.
You see there is no way sons and daughters of single Moms can avoid seeing their parent be emotionally vulnerable. We do not get to hide it. We do not have a tap out option. We still have to be present and if we are going to be present and stressed I have to explain that it’s not them I’m stressed with; that it’s something else. Being a single mom is really shitty in those moments but it’s also very powerful. I am incredibly private, in my line of work especially it’s legally required to keep it private, but I have been forced to open up about some of the emotional toll it takes on me to my sons because they spend so much time with me and only me.
I’ve had to explain that I need to do a yoga on IFit tonight because I just need to clear my head because I’m having a hard day. I’ve had to explain why I’m still working after 6 some nights because one of my patients is sick and I have to help them. I’ve had to apologize some times for maybe an irritable reply and go and tell them that was not about you that was about me being overwhelmed right now and you busting into my home office asking me to settle a fight between you and your brother which was poor timing and a poor response by me.
Being a single mom has forced me to do better at apologizing. It’s forced me to do better at taking space and taking even five minutes for self care. It’s forced me to set better boundaries around my working hours and around my clients expectations of my availability. But it’s mental health and I own the practice. Sometimes there are crises and I have to deal with them during family time. I do keep dinner time sacred. No phone, no laptop, no distractions. Sometimes that means we eat late.
Recently one of my clients was telling me how they wanted to stop caring about their work because then it wouldn’t hurt so much. I told them that’s what makes them good at what they do- their compassion. I try and tell myself that. It’s because I care about my clients that weeks like this with this level of illness and crises and decisions guts me. But that’s why I still love what I do. Because I do care. That’s why clients have stuck with me now for close to ten years. Because they know I care. Deeply.
If I’m teaching my sons anything I’m hoping it’s that it’s okay to let others know how you are feeling. It’s okay to feel sad and hurt because of external stressors. It’s also okay to take responsibility for your actions and link them to feelings. I’m hoping they learn what it feels like to be nurtured and then to also nurture in return. The only way to teach emotional intelligence is through example. I’m hoping my example is enough. I’m hoping I don’t lean on them to hold my emotions. And I hope they are learning a solid work ethic and approaching work with passion and compassion.
But if I tried to read this to them or discuss this in any way they would probably both fart and laugh. Which I guess is also reflective of normal 7 year old behavior which is a good thing. And last night when I had banned screens for some behavior we played Trouble and laughed and after the 45 minute game…yes 45 minutes…one of them looked at me and said, “I had so much fun tonight Mama. I love you.”