Technically, I am a single parent. As my 14 year old son would say, it sounds "cringey." I am neither single nor my children's only living parent. I get a lot of support from my partner who lives with and loves my two kids full-time. He helps with homework, is a great listener to them and me, and factors the three of us into every important decision he makes. The kids' dad sees them according to our parenting schedule. Nevertheless, when it comes to making important decisions about their education and medical care, to the mundane, like, whose turn it is to sit up front or who should be responsible for picking up the dog poop in the backyard, those decisions all come down to me. I arrange for the after school childcare and pay for the endless Starbucks runs that keep a very privileged (and hungry!) teenage son from starving to death after school while he waits for me to get finished with work and pick him up. Oh, yes, I also do the after school picks. And the before school drop offs. And as I write these words, I am grateful, GRATEFUL, for the opportunities and the flexibility I have to pay for and be a part of these lovely, young humans' lives. So it sounds cringey to throw around phrases like "single-parent" when I know it can be so, so much harder, so much worse.
As a therapist, my work requires me to not just listen to my clients. For me, therapy is about pouring myself out when I am present with a client to make space for all they might need to pour in. The work is hard, mentally exhausting and involves a lot of ugly (I'm not crying, you're) crying. I love Glennon Doyle's (Momastery) term for these kinds of days: brutiful, equal parts brutal and beautiful. Some days I can pull it together between my drive from the office to where my people are (some call it home, we often call it the soccer field). Other days I don't want my family to talk to me, need anything from me, nor dare to look at me. If you are a parent, I know you understand this. Whether your job is dealing with the general public (I apologize for all of us), sitting in a cubicle with your computer screen for company, or chasing your own screaming, but adorable, toddler around all day, by the end of an 8-15 hour shift, a reprieve from all living creatures (yes, this includes even Lucky the dog) is sometimes just so necessary.
A big part of my work is offering parenting support to parent's who are are at wits end with their child's behavior. I calmly show up with my computer and take copious notes of all the things the child is doing, and, more importantly, all the things the parent's are doing. Notice I did not say 'wrong.' As a parent myself, I would never come into a family's home and suppose I know what is best for their household. There are days I would be mortified to have an outside observer see me on my worst parenting day (or even a mediocre one which happens regularly). There is no perfect parent or parenting style. Just like any other relationship, parenting takes work, patience and intention. Yet, parents often expect me to either "fix their kid" or glare at my skeptically as they wonder how this stranger who doesn't even know their child is going to "fix their kid." But parenting support doesn't start with changing anything about the child's behavior; it is all about changing the parent's behavior. How parents react proactively and re actively to behaviors with their child is where true and lasting change starts. And no matter who my client is or what behaviors the child is exhibiting, I always give this one piece of advice across the board to parents: Take care of yourself.
I'm sure this advice is not life-changing, new information for anyone. For primary caregivers, though, even those who already know this, especially for those who already know this, following this directive can change your life. In order to be a good anything, you have to take the necessary steps to give yourself the tools and resources necessary to execute a job well done. Parents often believe they are doing their kids a service by sacrificing their own well-being and letting their adult needs go unmet. Kids learn about balance and taking time-outs (the good kind, not the disciplinary ones) by watching their parents. For me, balance is taking a long weekend trip (sometimes with the kids, sometimes not) or taking time to exercise (more endorphins, please). Its a battery re-charge and gives me the guts and the patience I need to look up into my 14 year old's eyes and tell him his cell phone is taking some time for self-care on the top shelf in my closet.
We spend so much love and energy parenting the people we love most in the world that sometimes we forget we are also parenting ourselves. Giving back a little bit of the dedication you give to your children will pay dividends to them down the road when you make the time for yourself just like you, do for those you love. Adulthood brings about an ever-growing list of responsibilities, but we must not forget our responsibility to ourselves. And this idea of self-parenting is so important whether you have children or not,
you can be sure a future blog post is forthcoming on the topic.