Parenting is hard work. This isn't news, really, and I'm not about to say that nobody ever told me that it would be this hard. Sure they did. People say it all the time and I'm just adding my voice to the choir. What I don't think is said enough is that we are, for the most part, doing a damn good job. This is true no matter what kind of parent you are but I want to say this in particular to the single parents like me who, I know from experience, take self-criticism to a whole new level.
All parents doubt their ability to parent, worry that they have screwed their kids up by making the slightest "wrong" move, and can point to a dozen small but potentially scarring mistakes on any given day. For many single parents, these doubts are underscored and amplified by the perception of one major fundamental failure: your failure to give your children an intact family, a happy childhood in one home. There are all sorts of truths that can be applied to soothe and counterbalance this feeling, the primary one being that the kids are better off this way. But no matter how true that is, no matter how much evidence you can compile to prove it, that one big thing that you were not capable of doing casts a large shadow over even the most amazing of triumphs.
I try to cast the light on what I'm capable of, to notice those triumphs and give myself credit for the things that I get right. To get out from under that shadow. But it's hard. It's so much easier for us all to see our mistakes, real or perceived. For that reason, I think it's important that we pay attention to and acknowledge our successes, no matter how small.
In case you need the reminder, here are just a few examples of what you are capable of. Although these are directed to single parents in particular, many of these apply across the board, and we all could do with applauding our victories and going a little easier on ourselves.
High fives for all the many things you can do:
- You can clean vomit off the carpet with one hand while rubbing your child's back with the other.
- You can calm down the kid who is convinced she sees tiny ghosts in her room, settle her back to sleep, then return to your own bed, alone.
- You can shovel the entire driveway while comforting the child who is crying because the snow is cold.
- You can broker a peace agreement between pint-size dictators while showering.
- You can find the bear at 2 a.m. and fix the covers at 3 a.m. and deal with the jammies that "feel weird" at 4 a.m.
- You can take your kids to a busy amusement park on one of the hottest days of the summer, by yourself, and not lose them or your sanity.
- You can read a bedtime story with silly voices and aching bones.
- You can put your daughter's hair in pigtails while you pee.
- You can give your kids a fun Christmas even if there's not much under the tree.
- You can weather the heartbreak of your child screaming that she doesn't want to live with you anymore.
- You can work all day, get dinner on the table, and help your kids with their homework before tucking them into bed and doing your own homework.
- You can dance your kids around the kitchen to make them laugh when all your legs really want to do is run away.
You know what else you can do?
- You can drink wine for dinner.
- You can serve pie for breakfast.
- You can eat the secret chocolate bar that you didn't tell your kids about, while watching Netflix in your bed.
- You can date. You can have sex. You can do those two things exclusively of each other, if you'd like.
- You can buy something for yourself.
- You can insist that it is bedtime in Ponyland because if you have to play My Little Pony one more minute you are going to lose your freaking mind.
- You can hide the Playdoh. You can just hide it and pretend you have no idea where it is simply because you don't want to deal with cleaning it up or even explaining about how you don't want to clean it up.
- You can LOSE YOUR SHIT. You can yell once in awhile and say the wrong thing and you can apologize.
- You can cry. A lot. You can cry in front of your kids. You can let them comfort you.
- You can forgive yourself.
- You can ask for help.
- You can show your kids what it is to be strong. You can show your kids what it is to be vulnerable. You can show them how to rise up and own their mistakes and their victories and their lives.
And another thing? You can make your own list of your triumphs and update it regularly, even slap it up on the finger-printed fridge that you can totally just not clean any time soon. You can toot your own horn and feel proud of yourself. You can redefine "intact" and "family" and what it means to have a happy childhood.
You can do so much more than you think you can do and you can also do so much less than you think you have to, and everything will be okay. You can count on it.