The moms I work with through Mindful Return come from all over the place. All different industries and professions. Different states, countries, and even first languages. But not many have been doing this working parenthood thing solo. In the last session of the Mindful Return course, I was inspired by an amazing mama, Sheila Mensah, whose strong and brave voice in the course made me want to learn more about her. And more about the struggles single working moms face.
Today, I invited Sheila to tell her story for the Mindful Return blog. I ask all mamas – whether single or with a partner – to stand in solidarity in this motherhood thing. Feeling isolated is painful. And there’s so much we can all do to help all moms feel connected.
Ask any parent, and they will tell you that while it’s likely the most fulfilling job they’re doing, parenting is hard work! And doing it alone is even harder.
You may have the support of those around you but still feel alone. In the end, all family responsibilities are on your shoulders. Day-to-day duties for a single mother are no different than they are for a mother and partner. Coping with sleeplessness, finding child care, and paying bills can make you feel like you’re trapped underneath a mountain of tremendous responsibilities.
Yet while the issues may be the same, the isolation single parents feel can sometimes be overwhelming.
My child’s father chose not to be a part of our lives shortly after learning I was pregnant. His loss, not ours. I knew then that incredible responsibilities had been bestowed upon me. I learned to accept my responsibilities and forgive myself for the guilt I felt, believing that I wasn’t worthy enough for him to stay.
It was never my dream to raise a child alone. However, I’ve learned that in life, the best thing to do when given lemons is to learn to make sweet lemonade!
Single parents need to look for people in their lives whom they trust to step up and help fill the gap of the missing parent. I was blessed to have my son’s godfather become the prominent male role model in his life. He has supported my son and me in more ways than we can count. He attends doctor visits and has formed his own special bond with my son, and for that I am most grateful. Having his support has alleviated some of the anxiety I often feel concerning raising my son to become a man one day.
I felt a lot of loneliness and shame that my son’s father was not around, both pre-and-post birth. On top of that, single mothers rarely have “me time” – which can lead to feeling exhausted and drained. It’s hard to deal with the shame and loneliness when you are over-tired.
Single moms wonder about the conversations that we’ll have one day to explain to our kids the absence of their fathers. Also, we find ourselves isolating ourselves from our non-parent friends, because of our different priorities. And this only adds to the loneliness. Financially, it can be tough, too. Sometimes, we must decide between going out to eat or socialize, or paying for box of diapers!
Balancing time at work with duties at home, and mostly especially achieving financial stability, are constant weights on my shoulders. During my maternity leave, and more so since returning to work, I find myself constantly worrying about day care cost. I often wonder how I will be able to afford both day care and rent. Some of the worst anxiety I feel is when my son gets sick, and I need to leave work or stay home with him. Co-parents have the same worries, but they can alternate between partners to miss work.
Knowing I’m always the one on call is stressful. I hate having to choose between a pile of work that I’m constantly having to catch up on, and the anxiety of wondering if my employer is becoming fed up. The thought that I might lose my job without a partner to rely on is terrifying. Also, finding the energy to spend time with my son after a long day of work, while attempting to manage a load of household chores is mind-blowing.
An important lesson I’ve learned, as a single parent, is that you must look for organizations that can help. I found hope, for example, in Child Care Counts (CCC). CCC provides financial assistance for child care costs to working families who cannot afford quality child care centers and are not eligible for childcare subsidies. This amazing organization was the blessing I needed to be able to receive assistance for daycare expenses. Although I still have moments of feeling overwhelmed maintaining my other obligations, I now feel a little lighter knowing my son can continue to go to his daycare.
With all the challenges I have faced since becoming a single mother, I’ve gained a sense of hope and personal strength that’s helped me push forward. I realized my perspective had to change, so that I didn’t feel alone and overwhelm myself.
I had to choose to develop my own supportive network, broaden my horizons, and not isolate myself.
Here are the things I’ve done that have helped me the most:
- I learned who I can trust and who I can depend on.
- I gave myself permission to treat myself and take care of myself (e.g., take the time for a movie or pedicure).
- I joined a community of support. Participating in the Mindful Return online course helped me tremendously to understand that I was not alone. I felt a part of a community of great mothers who are all doing their very best. And it taught me not to be intimidated by activities where I might be one of the few single moms. As a single, working mom, you should be proud of yourself that you can achieve so much – all by yourself. You never know, you might end up being an inspiration to another single parent, or even wowing those parents who have their partners!
- I increased my spiritual strength. I find that when I’m spiritually stronger, I’m able to handle anything.
- I learned to forgive myself and let go of the past.
The last message I would like to impart to everyone reading this post is this: let’s encourage one another as mothers. Understand that trouble doesn’t last forever. There is always someone else going through something worse than you are. And if we support each other, there isn’t anything we cannot do.
Sheila Mensah lived for several years with relatives in Greensboro, NC. At the age of 24, she moved back to the Washington DC area and has been working and living on her own since then. She is a full-time mom to a beautiful 20-month-old son, Gabriel. In addition to raising Gabriel, she works full time as a Client Relations Coordinator at a bank in Bethesda, MD.
Want to feel connected – and not isolated – when you head back to work after maternity leave? Join the next session of Mindful Return and meet an amazing community of new working mamas.