When I initially started this blog, it was my intention to upload a new post once a week. I absolutely love writing and I deeply enjoy sharing my thoughts and experiences with people. This is my creative outlet. However, reality promptly crushed my spirits last week when I simply couldn’t find the time or energy to write anything. So, this week, I am going to open myself up and be as raw as possible about what holds me back and what keeps me going. I want to be a voice for everyone who is struggling to balance all of the things going on in their lives right now.
I am a single mother, have a full-time job in the manufacturing industry, and am a recently nominated honor student getting a bachelor’s degree in business administration online at Southern New Hampshire University. The usual response when people learn all of this about me is something along the lines of, “Wow! I can’t believe how much you have going on, how do you do it?” and I almost never have an answer. What they don’t know is how at the end of each work week I feel completely drained of mental and emotional energy. They don’t know I am often overcome with guilt because I fear that I am not being an attentive enough mother to my daughter, and spend most nights just watching her sleep and running my fingers through her hair, internally apologizing for all the ways I have failed her. They don’t know how difficult it is for me to muster the energy to hold conversations with people, even people who I love and care about deeply, and how terrible I feel that I can’t be as good of a friend as I’d like to be. At least twice a month, I find myself texting or calling my mom to say, “I just don’t have the strength to keep going,” and wishing I could crawl into one of her hugs and stay there forever. My daughter will be four in October and these last four years have been some of the hardest I’ve ever experienced. But they have shaped me into the strong woman I am today and I wouldn’t change it for the world, no matter how painful or stressful the journey has been. There are an endless number of ways that being a single mom has changed me and I’d like to share just two of them with you today.
1. Confidence Level: 9000
The biggest way that being a single mom has changed me is that it has made me a more confident woman. I have always been a timid person; we moved a lot during my elementary school years because my dad was in the military and I had trouble making friends. After we settled down in South Carolina and I started the sixth grade, I was finally able to establish some longer lasting friendships. Even so, I never fit in quite right and experienced some bullying throughout high school. It got even worse after I came out about being raped by my boyfriend, whom everyone insisted was a “good guy” and decided that I had to be making it up. By the time I graduated, I was an anxious, depressed mess.
When I look back now, I don’t even recognize the person I was then. She’s a complete stranger to me. Simply becoming a mother struck something in me that I never knew existed; the immense responsibility of nurturing a new life can do that to a person. I couldn’t be afraid to make my own doctor’s appointments anymore, I couldn’t be afraid to speak up when I felt uncomfortable about a situation or ignore my gut feelings because it was the path of least resistance. I am no longer afraid to make big decisions on my own, because that is just a fact of my life. My brain was re-wired. I was faced with the realization that I am going to be one of the most influential people in my daughter’s life; she would look up to me and my actions would help mold her into the person she is going to be. My daughter is one of the most fearlessly extroverted children I have ever met and I am inspired by her to exude that same confidence in everything that I do, despite my extremely introverted nature. I am no longer afraid of whatever life holds in store for me because I am confident in my ability to provide a safe and healthy life for her, because there is no other option for me as her mother.
2. Stress Management Master
If you’d told me 6 years ago that one day I would be juggling single motherhood, a full-time career, and be an honor student in a business degree program, I would’ve laughed in your face and then promptly curled into a ball of denial on the couch and not moved for three days. When you’re a teenager, your scope of reality is minuscule. Your world is as big as the square footage of your high school. And my world was effectively tearing apart at the seams.
As you can probably imagine, becoming a single parent at 19 years old brought down more stress on my life than I was emotionally, mentally, or financially equipped to deal with at that point. I lived with my parents for the first two years of my daughter’s life until I was financially stable enough to move out on my own, right after the start of the New Year in January of 2017, and that first year on my own was the most stressful year of my life. By the end of the year, my mental and emotional well-being and my daughter’s behavior had deteriorated significantly. Her insane tantrums became a daily thing and I felt broken and like a failure as a mother. I would lash out at her and she would break down. Finally, at the end of the year during Christmas break, I had a heart-to-heart with myself. I decided that I would not spend another year this way because I was not going to allow stress to affect my well-being or my daughter’s development. I sat down with a coworker who had been a single mom as well before she met her husband and who also had an accounting degree and together we developed a workable budget to reduce my stress in 2018. I finally decided to see a doctor about my anxiety and inability to get a good night’s rest. I made a conscious effort every single day to be patient with my daughter and to carefully observe her triggers and the ways that she processed emotions so that I could figure out the healthiest way to help her cope when she gets upset. Her behavior changed almost overnight and I’ve watched her blossom into a brilliant, caring, and kind little girl who loves to help and feels deep empathy for others. My grades improved in my college courses and I became better able to manage my schoolwork (being an online student requires an insane amount of self-discipline that I did not have initially), my financial stress decreased substantially even though my financial situation is about the same, and I was finally able to overcome my emotional trauma to a point where I sleep soundly most nights. I still have my down days, and even weeks sometimes. But it took a strong dose of humility and a hard look in the mirror to get where I am today.