How to Divide and Conquer as a Single Mom

Larry Jones Illustration

Larry Jones Illustration

The past two months have been a blur. In one respect, they can be described as a struggle. If I flip this way of thinking, however, the two months have been filled with teaching moments.  I’ve been relatively absent from this blog. At one point, I wrote this post: Finding Forgiveness in Parenting, which will give you an inkling of how many of my moments have been filled. For two months I’ve been drowning in a sea of temper tantrums, kicking, hitting, spitting and other tyrannical behavior from my four-year-old—while also trying my hardest to be present for my 11-year-old’s important events:  soccer tournaments, violin concerts, open house, graduation, etc. (School ends in Calif. in late June!) As the child of a single mom whose dad is in Europe, I constantly worry about how hard it is for my older son to go to all of  these events: soccer weekend tournaments, graduation, open house nights at school, concerts, etc. where he is usually the only child without a dad present. I worry.

All the time.

But, of course, that worrying doesn’t do anything effective. At the same time, his little brother is behaving badly.

Very badly.

He seems to take out his aggression, however, only on me. So, while I’m trying to cheer on his big brother at a soccer game, or even during his graduation ceremony, there is screaming. “No!” Or his new favorite: “I hate You!” Or, his most effective tactic: he just starts kicking and hitting me with the occasional hair pull or spit in the face. I tend to leave wherever we are with the little brother, put him in time out—sometimes holding down his arms and legs when necessary to make him stay in time out. Some days I also take away the ice cream, or the playdate or the fun later in the day, etc. Meanwhile, the big brother doesn’t get any attention during his big moments. How many violin concerts have I left before his solo? How many times did I have to leave the soccer field before he made a goal or assisted with a goal? How embarrassing was it during graduation to hear his little brother scream? Clearly, garnering attention—any kind of attention—is exactly what the little brother wants. I’d love to leave him at home every time there is a big event. But I can’t always do that, as I can’t always afford the sitter costs for the many events I’d need them for.

Sigh …

Sometimes I just get defeated. Managing these two boys, as well as my burgeoning book and freelance writing, is about all I can do. And I don’t always do that well. Just this week, I took a break from a very important relationship. I need to right now. I barely have energy every day to tread water. And, it doesn’t help that my little guy doesn’t fall asleep until 10 p.m. every night as he’s filled with kinetic energy. (No he doesn’t get sugar or juice after 5p.m. … This is just his anxious, nervous energy state of being.)

So, it would be very easy for me to be filled with pity or exhaustion or just bitterness. It would be very easy to get jealous of the married couples, or divorced, but still in the same town, parents who can “divide and conquer”. You know, the mom who can take Johnny to soccer, while the dad takes Lilly to ballet. Kids sometimes need individualized attention. Mine certainly do. Clearly, my youngest will demand attention via a gut-wrenchingly loud decibel or with an equally painful kick, hit, bite, punch or thrown object. It’s not okay. I will stop it. But in the meantime, I’ve decided to accept and embrace this life. It’s just the way it is and I have to find ways to still have fun with my little guy and keep him from demanding all the attention from his big brother’s big moments.

I have worked with many people and teachers to create charts for good behavior with fun rewards. I’ve also come up with consistent discipline tactics. Nothing is working really well with the dynamic that currently is: both needing my attention now.

So, I’ve decided, to just divide an conquer as a single mom. Which is trickier than it seems—but I am becoming adept at finding ways to do this. While I don’t have any family here in California, I do have great friends, a good daycare and a wonderful babysitter. While it’s not always ideal, I am finding ways to make it work. The older son is often away for playdates and when he is, I find time to focus on my little guy. When we go to the park or the beach, he becomes a very different little boy. He thrives. He is sweet. He is loving.


When he is at daycare, I have fun with my older son. I relish our talks and I’m so lucky we are close and he trusts me.


When we are all together and the little guy is screaming or throwing items in a restaurant or anywhere else, I try my hardest to stay calm and take him out. He doesn’t get desert. Yesterday, after multiple temper tantrums, I sent him to his daycare. I was trying to have a fun, family day. It didn’t work, so off he went. It’s a small daycare where he has 3 very good friends. Plus, he is an angel there. (His tyranny is only directed at me.) But since he was kicking and hitting me, he didn’t get to go out for ice cream with me and his big brother. Sounds a bit sad, but last week the little guy picked up a broom and tried to hit me over the head with it. NOT OKAY.

We will survive all of this. And I refuse to give up on this little guy. And somehow, I’m managing to stay calm, and to still focus on writing my book for an hour or two almost every day. This journey is a hard one, but it’s forcing me to become a better person. I’m finding that even when I’m at my limit, I can push through with kindness, while still being strong. It’s amazing to me that I am grateful for this life. Isn’t that bizarre? I am so grateful to be these boys mom and I will find a way to make it work. Right now, it’s taking some personal sacrifices, but I have to. And you know what? In between the crazy tantrums and the exhaustion, I have plenty of silly moments to be grateful for. Yesterday, after a lengthy time out, I picked up my little guy and went to the pool. While he made a ‘cake for mommy’ out of pool toys, he screamed: “I LOVE YOU!!”

And I thought, “Ok. We are getting there,” as I tickled him.

Here’s hoping the summer will be strewn with small moments of silliness and peace.

5 responses to “How to Divide and Conquer as a Single Mom

  1. Thank you for doing all you can for your kids! I’ve been told “this time will pass”, but that doesn’t really help when in the thick of it. My prayers and admiration for you.

  2. Hi Laura,
    I originally wanted to drop you a note re: the HuffPost article and video today about the alcoholic nanny situation….which I find you absolutely did the correct thing with screening and then dismissing her immediately.

    However, after reading the blog above, I’m sickened to read about any parent allowing a child of theirs to treat them as you described your little one does you. Hitting you or others (you don’t define that), spitting on you, public temper tantrums, telling his mother he hates her. Good golly-if I EVER did that as a child I may not be here today !! Certainly he’s “acting out”….but for what reason.? Is it because of the single-parent household.? Does he hold you responsible for the absence of his father.? Is his father an active figure in his young life.?
    It sounds as if you’re doing your absolute best to show him you love him, but how much abuse (mental, emotional, and physical) are you to endure at his hand.? Based on the “consequences” you lay down, I simply do not understand this type of parenting. No spanking or other corporal punishment is allowed for such behavior.?
    I grew up in a house where my father was military and very much an authoritarian, therefore, corporal punishment came often,. and even though there are mental scars from those days, I’m respectful of all, aware that it’s wise to consider the feelings others before acting, unwavering in my morals and values, etc.

    Lastly, I was pleasantly surprised to read you’re in Cali. If it’s NorCal maybe we could discuss over a coffee or cocktail one day…

    Good luck in all your endeavors (especially the book – I, too, start one a few years back….it’s tougher than imagined)!!

    • Hi Jim,
      Thanks for stopping by. I welcome your comments. It’s a tough situation. I have definitely tried just about everything. His father has lived in London since he was 8 months old…so no, he isn’t involved too much. Being southern, I’m very aware of corporal discipline, but spanking doesn’t work with this little guy. (I have tried.) It worked for you and it worked for me. But all of us are different. This little guy could have oppositional defiant disorder, and I’ve contacted experts to help with that. In the meantime, I’m trying a gentle approach of sleeptalk…you can read about it if you google sleep talk and Lois Haddad, who I interviewed a few years ago. My son only acts out to me-not to his preschool teachers, friends or other family. Also with his big brother, but mainly me. We’re working on it. And, I’m happy to say, it is getting better. I’m going to write about it with a follow-up interview with Lois soon. Thanks again for stopping by. Take care, Laura


        Thanks for getting back to me Laura. I suppose if the corporal approach hasn’t worked in the past, it won’t work at his age again now. I’m quite sure you’re a good mother and are trying many different approaches…I “could” surmise that taking those things away from him, which you mentioned in the blog, is worthwhile….but (my opinion) should be followed with an explanation of “why” along with sternly letting him know the behavior is unacceptable. If I remember the blog correctly, you mentioned his actions are “attention getters”…..which I can sympathize with. Therefore, this is just his way of going about it. Perhaps it’ll be a short order phase and it’ll turn out OK…however unpleasant for you and his brother in this term. Poor little guy…..I think it must stem from a trauma he’s endured….and no father around is quite possibly the issue (I’ve read extensively on this matter as I’m sure you have too).

        Having been through divorce with two girls, I know it can be a very difficult time in their young lives. Thankfully, although almost virtually impossible due to Mom, I made it a point to fight for my time with them and remained a constant source of love, understanding, and affection… opposed to abandonment.

        Looking back on it now, that was likely the most important decision I’ve ever made….and I’m grateful to my Lord for giving me the strength to endure the harsh times I did, as it was not easy.

        Having said this much, I wish you all the best with your boys…..they will grow to be fine men one day because of the Mom they have…so take heart in that much.

        I saw on your Linkedin page that you’re in LA and not NorCal, so perhaps the offer I made wouldn’t work out (unless I was in the area for some reason).

        Only the Best to you and your little guys Laura…you take care too!

        Drop me a line if you want to continue bantering…


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