A few nights ago I was up late working. When it was time to shut down my laptop I wasn’t quite tired enough to go to bed, so I decided to run the vacuum because I hadn’t done it yet that day. My three kids were sleeping and I figured they’d be out cold since it was almost midnight, but I was wrong.
The next morning my son asked why I was up so late cleaning and I told him it just made me feel better to have the house clean before I went to bed so I could start fresh in the morning – which is true. But what I didn’t say was I had no idea when I’d be able to get to it the next day with everything else we had going on. I didn’t point out the fact I was one person trying to take care of three kids, my home, and keep up with work and their schedules.
He responded by offering to do the vacuuming after school, and I said, “That would be great, honey.” His offer was heartfelt and I tried as hard as I could to hold back my tears, but after a few moments I let them flow and gave him a big hug.
I wanted to tell him not to worry about it, that I could handle it. (My kids have daily chores, but I’ve always done the vacuuming.) But he was offering something that was more than assisting me with housework, and I took him up on it because I knew it was helping both of us.
He’s old enough to know when his father lived here, he never heard me vacuuming late into the night. He knows I stay up later now making sure things are set for the next day. He also knows I don’t want that affecting his life too much, but it does. I can tell by the way he jumps up and holds the door for me when we are in public. I know by the way he hugs me goodbye every morning.
When my kids were younger I felt like I always had to have my game face on. I certainly didn’t though, we all know that’s impossible and I don’t know any parent who is able to hold in their sadness or frustrations in all the time to spare their kids’ feelings. We all fall apart, we all struggle, and sometimes, we can’t put our finger on why this happens other than we are human.
As they’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how hard I was trying to be brave for them, and realized being brave is really about letting the people you love see the real you and not always having to put on a mask. I was doing them a disservice by trying to smile when I was about to lose it, or thinking I should only cry when they weren’t around – so I stopped. Not only do they need to know their mother is human, they need to feel like they can express themselves in a healthy way, too.
Since my divorce, they’ve seen me cry more than usual and come in and out of highs and lows – and I’m okay with that. I’ve told them I know I don’t always do things right, especially lately. I make lots of mistakes. I struggle to find balance now that I am not just a working mom, but a single working mom. It’s a new role for me, and I know it’s new for them, too, and we will get into a groove, but I’ve had to ask them to bear with me in the meantime more than a few times.
I’ve been telling them for a few years now that working again has been one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself since becoming a mother. I loved staying home with them, every second I felt grateful because it was what I wanted to do. But then I wanted more, and I wanted them to see me as a mother who had a life outside of her children. I did it for me, but I also did it for them. And just like it took me some time to find balance and get comfortable with our new normal then, it will take some time now, too.
There are plenty of evenings when I’ve asked them for extra help. Sometimes it means making their own dinner. And there have been plenty of hectic days when I ask them to remind me of an important appointment or birthday party because I’m sure I’ll forget. And I’m not afraid to tell them I just need a hug because I had a bad day either.
There’s a lot they don’t know because I don’t share it with them. But they do know I want what’s best for our family, and single mom or not, they have always been what keeps me going. They know they are the reason I try so hard. They know they are loved. And they know I need them a little more these days, and that is what family is for.