Three things I learned in three years as a single parent.
Three and a half years ago, when I was pregnant with our second child, my husband informed me that he no longer wanted to “do this.” By the time my son was two months old I was living on my own with two children. I dove deep into my life, my children and my practice.
In the past three years I have learned many things about myself and the way I choose to live life; I struggle with the three headed beast that constantly turns on itself and me: my ego, my personal forbearance and my compassion.
It is harder to forgive myself than other people.
The reaction I got from most people upon hearing that I was about to be a single mother with two young children was, “What an ass!” I can’t say I agreed with that assessment. I wasn’t happy about it, but I also can’t say that it was a surprise—the storm had been brewing for quite some time. To be certain, the way the cards had fallen was not how I had envisioned my life, but I recognized that a change needed to take place.
He expressed remorse and I forgave him.
Yes, there have been times when my anger has flared up, but typically when that happens, it is the situation which angers me, not him. I felt it was important for the two of us to have a working amicable relationship, important for the mental and emotional well-being of our children.
I was angry, but I forgave and I feel better for it.
It has been far harder for me to forgive myself.
I find flaw in nearly every choice and decision I make in the upbringing of my children. I blame myself for working too much and spending too little time with them. I chastise myself for enjoying quiet time I have when no one is around. I criticize myself for allowing them to stay up too late, for waking them too early, for running late in the mornings, for not cooking as healthy as I’d always like, for forcing them to eat what they don’t want, for not being more knowledgeable about the parks we play in, for yelling too often, for being too permissive. You name it, I’ve blamed myself for it.
The blame is not what hurts me most; it is my inability to forgive… myself.
Surely, I have made mistakes; every parent does. Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual—we do the best we can and keep moving forward. It is in the action of advancing that I get stuck.
I have made mistakes, but I’ve also done plenty right.
That is my work: to find for myself the peace and forgiveness I’m willing to offer to others.
Patience comes with time.
The hassles and frustrations that come with being the sole support system for small children are time and energy consuming. There were days when I felt I just couldn’t handle it any longer; there were days when I wished I were anywhere else. There are days when I still think these things, but, let’s be honest. Who doesn’t feel that from time to time?
In the beginning, I would wake up with my newborn son multiple times a night for feedings and diaper changes—and complications with his asthma—with an overwhelming post-partum depression amplified by a lack of sleep and a pronounced sense of loneliness.
Pulling myself out of bed on those nights I would feel that sense of I can’t do this anymore engulf me. My resentment would flare up and I’d feel myself getting angry, but I would remind myself that it is what it is and that “it” wouldn’t last forever.
Did I really want to live my life clinging to the past, wishing for what simply wasn’t and fostering anger? I did not. I’d remind myself that to be patient I had to practice patience, particularly when it was hardest.
And that’s the secret. Patience—like any other skill—requires practice.
It is a constant internal conflict. I breathe deeply and remind myself that the way I do anything is the way I do everything. I will not live my life in a state of riled up frustration and anger. I will be patient. I will not let the angry beast within vanquish me.
As the poet says, “Patience is the best remedy for every trouble.”
I practice patience at every opportunity: I practice patience when my toddler son and elementary-aged daughter fight over who gets to put in the last puzzle piece; I practice patience when I have to deal with difficult people who clearly wish to engage me in arguments; I practice patience when I’m stuck in traffic and running behind on time; I practice patience when my focus wanes and I realize I’ve spent the last 10 minutes reading the same paragraph; I practice patience when I fall out of that arm balance I could do just last week.
I practice patience with myself when I feel the self-doubt and criticism descend upon my shoulders. Patience and forgiveness go hand in hand.
I practice patience and will forgive myself for not being perfect.
Perfection is not only unnecessary, but also impossible.
I am a perfectionist and the twin heads of impatience and intolerance feed upon that truth, constantly howling: Not good enough! Could have done better!
Like my struggles with patience and perfection, the unceasing attack of my inner perfectionist has its jaws mainly clenched around me; I never expect perfection from anyone else.
When I make mistakes I find myself truly offended by my inability to complete the task at hand to the specifications I’ve created in my mind. The end result of any task is never quite what I want it to be, so I look back on any and every finished project and hear that inner voice critiquing my efforts: “Meh.”
I’m working on that: my position as sole caregiver to two children has taught me that perfection will never be possible. I can strive my hardest yet the outcome will never been the idealized version; it is and can only ever be the shadow on the wall of my abstract idea of perfection.
I do my best and I have to be satisfied with that effort. I will not be attached to the outcome actions.
This is, by far, the hardest task I have ever set for myself as these three adversaries are intimately and intricately intertwined.
I strive not to be distressed by my lack of perfection and yet when I do feel disappointment at my self-evaluations, I have imperfectly satisfied the demands of my quest to accept imperfection. Self-doubt and internal recriminations poke their hydra heads up out of the dark depths of my psyche and remind me that my work is cyclical.
I must forgive myself for not being patient with my imperfections.
Simply knowing which aspects of my thought patterns I struggle with most does not lessen these struggles. I work through them each and every day in a multitude of circumstances.
These last three years have opened my eyes to many aspects of myself.
I will spend the next working through the realizations.
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Ed: Sara Crolick