Tag Archives: positive thinking

Striking a Balance

It’s a delicate balancing act, especially as a single mom, to simultaneously take care of yourself and also be present and focused on your children. The two goals constantly come in conflict with one another—and yet experts often advise us to do one, or the other, or both, with little instructions on how to do so. For instance, earlier in the week, when working on a Lifechangers article for Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers show, I interviewed Rebecca E. Eberlin, Ph.D., a family psychologist who runs “Navigating Divorce For Your Children” workshops at the UCLA Commons in Santa Monica, Calif. She insisted, and I tend to agree, that when parents are in the process of getting a divorce, they need to focus 100% of their choices on how they will affect their kids. In fact, she listed focusing on yourself and not on your children as one of the top 5 mistakes that most divorcing parents make. After speaking with her for an hour, I could see her point completely.

Taking Care of Yourself

Photo by Jennifer Suarez

On the flip side, are you (like me) sometimes frustrated when someone says: “you need to take care of yourself”?

If you’re a single mom—especially those of us with small children, full-time care of those children, and little family support—the idea of taking a spa day seems nearly impossible. But taking care of yourself means very different things to different people. One of my favorite bloggers, Tracie Louise, eloquently explained some of the ways she takes care of herself in her latest post “Being Selfish”.

I know that I can’t always afford to get manicures, facials, massages, or go on shopping sprees, for instance. I do know, however, that it’s possible to squeeze in time during the week to go on a run (even if it requires a three-year-old in the stroller); take a bath (hopefully without a baby, but trust me, he’s snuck in before!); meditate; write; or take a community yoga class. Another selfish thing for me is to ignore the dinner mess and mounds of laundry and snuggle with my boys while watching a favorite show.

I think the biggest goal for me, and perhaps for some of you too, is to strike that delicate balance—when the pendulum finally rests at the center—between focussing on my children and their needs and exploring my own and having a bit of fun. During the first year of my separation I may have used the excuse of focussing on my kids to hibernate. Granted, my youngest was still a baby, but the only time I spent out was either pushing the stroller while he slept; cheering on the oldest on the soccer field; volunteering in the classroom; or writing an article at a coffee shop. It was quite hard for me to reach out to others, take exercise classes, or even sleep well—as I slept with the baby each night. I put on a good face, but I was literally getting by, moment by moment. Almost two years later, I try to ensure that I continue to cheer my oldest on at concerts or at soccer games; volunteer once a week at school; work; exercise; meditate; and find time for fun with the special person in my life. The effort is well worth it.

If you are where I was in my first year of separation—where you can barely muster up energy to do anything for yourself—I dare you to write down five things you’d like to incorporate into your life with a roadmap to make them happen. Even if it’s just sleeping in once a month. If this is too easy, I dare you to go even further: write down one thing you can do every day just for you. You’d be surprised how you can sneak some “me-time” in—even when you don’t have sitters or you have too much work piling on. Yesterday, with the baby sick at home, I thought it would be impossible to exercise or meditate. Well, a snuffly nose makes sleeping sitting up easier, so I put the little guy in the stroller and took off for an hour run while he slept soundly. In the evening, as the boys were watching a show after dinner, I snuck to my room and meditated for five minutes. I let myself focus on gratitude and putting a negative person’s actions and judgmental words out of my life. When the boys came down to find me, I was able to be present with them and even laughed when the youngest spilled juice on the floor. So, what I’m trying to say—in my characteristically verbose way—taking time out for yourself helps you spend more quality time with your kiddos. It’s hard to snap at the little ones after you mediate isn’t it?

(And, since I know how very different clinical depression is from mere exhaustion or sadness, please know that it’s not always possible to take care of yourself or pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Some of your friends and family members may not understand and can be creating more pressure for you. Read this information from the Mayo Clinic for information. If you think you are slipping into a clinical depression, please call your doctor. Here’s another article with online resources to help. )

For the rest of us…there are no more excuses. I’m adding one more item to my weekly for-me wish list. How about you?

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Grab Your Zen

SO … I’m just going to start off this post saying that I haven’t always believed that you could just choose to be happy. I mean, when you’re dealt some crappy cards, maybe you can muster a poker face and “fake it till you make it”, but really, how can you just choose to be happy? Well, it might start with baby steps that involve taking care of ourselves. If you’re a single mom who doesn’t get much relief or family help, like I am, it can seem especially hard to do. But really, it can begin with one commitment. Even if you have to force fitting it into your day, do it. You’ll be on your way to seizing your happiness. Here’s what it looks like with me on an especially chaotic day, such as today. (And I’m sure many of you single moms know exactly what kind of day this is.)

6:10 a.m. Three-year-old wakes me up by hitting the cat when crawling in bed, then crying because “I don’t want the sun to come up!” To this I reply, “Ok, so go back to sleep. Pleeeassee.”  “NO!!”

6:20 a.m. – 7:45 a.m. Re-edit and then re-print oldest son’s biggest report of the year, while keeping boys from killing one another as they fight over who gets to pull paper out of the printer. Breakfast, feed cat, feed fish, etc.

7:50 a.m. – 8:15 a.m. Yell at boys to get dressed, brush teeth, change a huge poopy diaper (Is there a potty-training fairy out there??), rush to the car. At school, realize oldest son has report, but doesn’t have violin for practice.

8:15 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. Try to calm down 3-year-old who is now screaming because big brother didn’t kiss him goodbye. Race in to get violin. Get back to car (oh, still wearing jammy top with stretch pants) and smell more poop. Get baby out of car seat, change diaper, yet again, put him back in. More screaming over not being able to buckle the seat, then go to school to deliver violin. Then realize that I owe someone an edit of a big proposal, so we rush back home.

8:30 a.m. – 9:15 a.m. Edit proposal with bullets for changes, send emails to editors, cancel appointment with accountant, wash face, freshen up. As I start to go to the car, remember the f***ing valentines! Go back up with the youngest to put together 15 Buzz Lightyear valentines for his party.

9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Mommy and Me class with youngest. Dance, sing, make valentines crafts, give away valentines … and almost go postal on a special needs child from a different class who hits my son over and over again on the playground. Not one teacher intervened, so after he tried to bang my son’s head into a play structure, I lean in and say, “NO. You don’t hit. You’ve lost your playtime” and walk my son over to the other side of the playground. As I play with Jamesy, I see this kid hit at least 5 more kids and no one stopped him. I’m starting to wonder about their discipline strategies. Go back in for circle time, listen to some younger moms babble about botox and leave early….For me.

11:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. I race to take Jamesy to daycare and run like mad to make a community yoga class. While I’m racing to get there, I actually feel a twinge of guilt for taking the time out. But the minute I put my mat down and see my smiling instructor, I instantly know I’ve done the right thing. (Insert wind chime, Hindi music here.) The topic for the class: Choosing Happiness. How marvelous. We smiled through the difficult poses and it seemed a metaphor for my life. Instead of ruminating about a proposal from an attorney, or the surmounting work with demands from the kiddos and my own deadlines, or the fact I haven’t slept-in or had a break in a loong time … I took a time out. For one hour, I sweat, I breathed deeply and tried to hold insane poses. During meditation I focussed on lightness, happiness, and letting anger, stress, anxiety, jealousy and other ego-centric issues holding me down, lift up in a balloon and sail away. Leaving that class I was at peace and ready to race on with the rest of my madness:

1:30 p.m. Pick up oldest from school. Race to the high school for his honors strings performance rehearsal that I’m helping to coordinate.

2 p.m. – 4 p.m. – Assist the strings teacher with all the children, which included kids from five elementary schools, one middle school and the high school. The music is overwhelming. (I’m so proud of my son for making this honor’s orchestra. I found myself in tears at the back of the performance hall—overwhelmed with pride and gratitude.)

4 p.m. – Race with son to find white shoes for his orchestra performance uniform. (It’s harder than you’d think!) Buy more Sudafed for the nagging allergies.

5 p.m. – 8 p.m. Pick up youngest from school. Race home to start dinner and oversee math homework with oldest, while trying to keep youngest entertained. (Oi! Math is getting harder.) Struggle to get meatballs finished before both boys nosh their appetite away. Take picture of 3-year-old eating a huge meatball and send it to my godsend of a friend. Email a Syrian friend and former London classmate of my oldest son’s to see how his family is doing. (Long discussion ensues about Syria, The Middle East, democracy, etc. with oldest son.)

8 p.m. – 9 p.m. Bath, (resulting in water fight soaking all towels and bathroom floor with youngest peeing on oldest…I know…) books, teeth brushed, thankful lists said, and more water, before bed. (Why do kids have to have more water just after they get under their covers??)

9 p.m. – 10 p.m. Gently try to get youngest to fall asleep. (STILL having sleep issues.)

10:15 p.m. – 11:30 p.m. Clean up kitchen, do two loads of laundry, send an editor two pitches as promised, wash face … and … write this.

Why, you might ask, am I venturing to write this when I’m obviously sleep-deprived?? Because it’s a reminder to me (and perhaps to some of you too) that even when you are overwhelmed with responsibilities—take a moment for yourself. Doing so allows you to continue with this lovely chaos that remarkably means the world to your children. It’s essential for our health and mental sanity. It helps us be better parents.

And, over time, it might just help you to believe that you can, in fact, choose happiness. What do you think? Is happiness a choice? Maybe it is something you have to seize. Perhaps happiness is something that us single moms have to realize involves putting ourselves on the mounting To-Do list. We deserve a moment to take care of ourselves because our work is never, really done. I challenge all of you single parents out there to force yourself to take one hour a day, three days a week, for some exercise such as yoga. Get back to me and let me know how it goes. And, for those on a tight budget, check out community classes at your local studio as they’re much cheaper and usually for beginners.

Nameste, y’all.

Adjusting My Attitude

 It’s about Survival. Keeping a positive outlook is important for us all, but especially for us single moms. And who knew that there are now 9.9 million of us in America? Robert Bernstein of the U.S. Census Bureau gave me this figure for 2010 and said single moms had risen at a staggering pace since 1973 when there were only 3 million of us. There are now more single mothers than the entire population of New York City. Wow. At least we have each other for support, right? And, more thankfully, at least some of us have gotten out of bad marriages in search of a better life. Experts agree that divorce was less socially acceptable in the 70s, so perhaps a few million women from the 1970s wished they were single moms!

But seriously, even if this single mom gig is by your choice, it’s still a hard job. If you don’t have family nearby to help and your ex isn’t, or is rarely around, to assist with the childrearing, it’s especially critical to not let your thoughts sink into self pity or doubt. Trust me. I have been battling with my conflicting thoughts every week for two years now. Sunday, or family day, can be especially lonely for us, but I tell myself that this is our time—my opportunity to create a better life for myself and my boys and just get on with it. Otherwise, I’ll likely sink into a funk that my children will get exposed to. I really don’t have the time or the luxury to crawl under the covers and not come out right now. And this might be a good thing. Raising two children alone is exhausting, wonderful and challenging—especially when the two-year-old temper tantrums heat up to mach speed—but this is my choice. When it comes right down to it, I could have taken my ex back, but after multiple betrayals, I decided that I wanted a better life for myself. I’m grateful for this opportunity and if that means that I have to endure some lonely days to get there, than so be it.

All things in due time. I choose to focus on the fact that I get to live with two adorable boys (even when they’re naughty!) and it’s my chance to do something amazing: to help raise two wonderful men. (Nevermind that last night I gave myself a timeout from my two-year-old!) So, with that in mind, I’ve come up with a list of tips and some positive spins on some negative thoughts—you know the ones that can become your reality if you let them. I’ve been thinking a  lot about this lately. It all boils down to attitude and I’m working on adjusting mine every day. Thank God we get a new day, a new beginning, to try to get this stuff right. It’s sure not easy though. Here are some positive spins and tips that I’m currently incorporating into my life, that I hope will inspire you too:

Think of your divorce as a springboard for positive change.
A friend said to me the other day (after I called venting …), “He abandoned you guys. That’s the reality.” Well, that’s not entirely true, and even if it was, I don’t need to focus on it. Instead of thinking of myself as a victim, I have to think of myself as a champion for change. This is our opportunity to live a better life. I thank God every day that I have this chance to build a better life and a better self for my children.

Your family is complete if you are.
Another well-meaning friend came over for dinner one night. I made a roast chicken, roasted vegetables and a salad. As we sat at the table with my two boys she seemed really sad. Later after the kiddos were asleep (which was a miracle!), she admitted to me, “I feel so sad for your boys. The family just doesn’t seem complete” (meaning without their father.) I know she meant well, but I told her that it has almost always been just me and the boys or just me and William, my oldest, as my ex hardly ever made it home before dinner time. I still think it’s important to have dinner and sit around a table and chat. She apologized profusely, but I still had her thought in my head.  To clear it out, I remind myself that we are complete. I take an even more concerted effort to plan dinner. As we sit around the table and chat, giggle or make fun of the two-year-old who wears more food than he eats, I say a silent thanks for my complete family as I watch them eat healthy food. (See my Cooking section for more inspiration.)

Be thankful.
Every night for the past 8 years I have made William, my oldest, say a list of what he is thankful for. Because he’s nine, he says the nine things he’s thankful for. Jamesy says the two that he’s “tinkful” for. It’s a great way to remind us to focus on what’s good and what’s working in our lives. Since I’m a bit in denial of my increasing age … cough … just know that I now have a long list to come up with each evening of what I’m thankful for—and what a great way to end the evening!

Become a planner.

I’m trying hard on this one as it’s not my strong suit. Every weekend seems to spring upon me and I end up a bit lonely as I shuffle to find things for me and the boys to do. (Most of our married friends are enjoying family time and there are few playdates to be had for my little ones on the weekend, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t stay busy!) If I don’t plan something ahead of time, I end up a bit blue with bored kids on my hands. Now, I plan day-trips and museum outings and am reaching out to other single moms who may want to get together for dinner, brunch etc, in order to stay busy and survive the weekend!

Continue with or make family rituals. 

Who says I have to have a husband to have family night with the kids? I love long dinners and board games. There, I said it. I am definitely not very hip. I love playing games of monopoly, charades, trivial pursuit, checkers, scrabble, etc. My oldest does too. Since I’ve been separated, I barely manage to do these things as the then baby, now two-year-old, usually grabs game pieces or makes it a bit tricky. I’ve decided to re-institute family game night slowly this time. It may be hard at first, but we’re going to try to do games the youngest can master too: big puzzles, for instance. We’ll see. It may end up as family movie night until Jamesy is at least four. But we’ll get there!

Stop talking about the divorce.

This is difficult, but I’ve learned the hard way over the past two years that it’s better not to talk about the impending divorce with anyone other than your therapist, trusted friend or sister who remains positive, or your support group. I find that when I do respond to well-intentioned questions from neighbors or friends, that I end up feeling badly when I might have been feeling great before I started talking with them. It’s weird isn’t it? Maybe it’s just that I start to see their pity. Or maybe they may say things like “He’s such a jerk!” or “How the Hell do you do it? If I were you I’d have slit my wrists by now. Your two-year-old is such a handful!” These are just two comments I’ve received from well-meaning friends over the past few months. Ok, they aren’t helping. So what I can do in response to a well-meaning question is just smile and say, “I’m really doing well. Do you mind if we talk about something else right now?” It’s a better way to go. Even on my bad days when I’m actually not doing well. Fake it till you make it, isn’t such a bad way to go sometimes!

Limit Drinking.

I’ve never really drank much. But I find that when I do have a glass of vino with friends on the rare occasions that I go out now, I start to feel worse, rather than better.   And, I still have to get up at 6:30 a.m. every morning. Enough said.

Work out!

Think of this time in your life as parenting boot camp. I take out all of my frustrations with the impending divorce and parenting solo on the strand. I’m lucky enough to live near the beach, so I run, walk or bike every day during the week. It’s the best way to clear my head and get the endorphins soaring!

Did any of these tips help you? What ideas do you have? Please chime in!