What are the worries that keep you up at night? Do you lie awake thinking about your kid’s next birthday and how he’d love a great party, but you cannot make it happen? Or the console he wants and that’s not gonna happen either? Or his father not showing up? Again. You beat yourself over and over – I’m a lousy mother!
That’s all mom guilt – and you need to stop doing that to yourself, and more importantly stop doing that to your kid. All that guilt eating you up inside doesn’t destroy only you. It damages your child as well and the relationship you share.
Stop comparing yourself with other parents
The most important piece of advice I’ve ever read in a parenting book is never compare your baby with other babies. That was intended for new parents obsessing about their baby hitting all the developmental milestones on time, but it also applies to the parents themselves.
The root of all that guilt pent up inside stems from our obsession with keeping up with other mothers we know and being better than them. Your best friend has just bought her daughter a new doll or signed her up for a yoga for toddlers class. Well, good for her! If you don’t have the time or the money for that, that doesn’t make you a worse mother.
You’re not competing for any Mother of the Year award. It’s all in your head. It’s not about being the best mother in the world, but about being the best mother you can be. That’s all that matters to your child.
Accept yourself for who you are
You need to be honest with yourself. Instead of tossing and turning in bed and thinking about all the other mothers you know, focus on yourself, who you are and what you can do for your child. Maybe you’re not the best cook in the world (many of us aren’t!) and you cannot make delicious mini pastries filled with healthy veggies like your friend at work. Maybe your house doesn’t sparkle at all times like your friend’s next door. So what? Your kid will be just fine with mashed potatoes and won’t certainly be damaged by the forever pile of laundry on the armchair.
What will damage your kid is you being forever sad and depressed because you’re not the perfect mother.
By the way, there is no such thing as the perfect mother! Don’t believe in those articles pretending to teach you how to be the perfect mother. This is not a one size fits all kind of thing!
Be realistic about what you can offer your children and learn to live with that.
Focus on time, not money
Most of the times what keeps a mother awake at night are the things she wishes she could offer her kid. This is how us, humans, are built. We place too much value on material things instead of focusing on what really matters. Yes, maybe your baby daughter would love a new Peppa the Pig outfit for Halloween, but what she really needs is time with you. And you being there for her, instead of trying to figure out how to get the money for a Halloween costume and a new pair of shoes.
If you want to be a good mother, put all the worries aside when you are with your child. You worry that you cannot provide or provide enough for your kid, but the most important thing your child needs is your time and attention.
And, no, don’t think you can fool a child and just pretend to be playing with him while your mind is far away. A child can tell. Maybe not in as many words, but deep down your kid knows that your mind is somewhere else.
Forget about your worries, put everything aside and be there 100%.
Get your priorities straight
A single mother has to live with too many things to do in too little time. If there’s no one to share the burden of the countless household chores, that doesn’t mean that you must work yourself into exhaustion. Learn to prioritize! Forget about the things that are not important.
Say you’ve spent a pleasant evening playing with your kid and now it’s time to put him to bed. And, of course, pick up all the toys, clear the coffee table, do the dishes, sort the laundry, etc. Stop it right there! We were talking about putting the child to bed, remember? That’s what matters! Crawl up in bed with your kid, read a story together, share a few giggles, cuddle for a bit. Don’t just go through the motions! The kid will pick up on it! He’ll know you’re rushing through the story because you want to clean the house before your own bedtime. Maybe he’s too young to resent you for that, but he’ll know that you’d rather pick up the toys rather than spend time with him.
My best friend was obsessed with keeping a squeaky clean house for her kids, until she could not do this anymore. The next day she told me she just pushed the Lego pieces to the farthest corner of the room and went to bed. I laughed and told her I’ve been doing that for years now!
This is more than an anecdote. The more you worry about being the perfect mother, the more you will resent being a mother.
Focus on being happy
The one thing your child needs most is having a happy mother. If you’re not happy with yourself, you’re not happy with your life and with your child.
All the struggle to be perfect will end up making you miserable even if you don’t acknowledge that. When you push yourself too hard, you become resentful. As a single mother you cannot be the breadwinner in the house, the perfect housekeeper, the 5 star chef and the perfect playmate for your child.
You can try to be all that, but it will break you sooner or later. There’s only so much time in a day and you don’t have to be some kind of Wonder Woman. If you push yourself too hard, one day you’ll find yourself crying over the dishes in the sink, because you can’t do this anymore.
Find time for yourself
To be a good mother you need to take care of your own mental wellbeing. Find time for yourself if you want to stay sane. Wanting a bit of time for yourself is not being selfish, It’s you being smart and understanding that if you’re not happy, your child won’t be happy, either.
Remember that part about putting the child to bed? What do you do now that he’s sleeping? You know that you should clean the living room, but what you’d rather do is curl up on the couch with a glass of wine and watch your favorite TV series.
Go for that glass of wine, then! Just push the toys out of the way, throw the dishes in the dishwasher, sit back and relax!
Or maybe you feel like taking a long bath. That’s great! Get in there, read a silly magazine or put on some music and forget about everything else.
You deserve that and, more importantly, you need that! You need to put aside all your worries and take care of yourself
Find your own pace
The key to dealing with all the mom guilt is to do things your way. You’re not like any of your friends and you’re not some character in a reality show. You are unique and so is your child.
You need to figure out what works for the both of you and do that, and only that!
The answer to being a better mother is not in a parenting book or website. The answer is right there in your child’s eyes.
If your child’s eyes shine brightly when you head to the park instead of vacuuming the carpet to the threads, that means you’re doing it right.
One day I met a neighbor down the street and she blurted out in that kind of envy you cannot hold back – ‘Oh, lucky you, you’re always out with the kid and I have to hurry and make dinner for my husband!’
Well, yeah, I don’t have a husband and I’ll get a sandwich for dinner if I have to, but right now we’re off to the playground! And we’ll only get back when it gets dark and it’s time to put my daughter to bed!
That’s one of the perks of being a single parent! You decide what you do and when you do it!
That was a while ago. My daughter goes out by herself now, and not to the playground. But she still needs time with me. We don’t play with Legos anymore. We make coffee and talk about boys! And I drop everything the moment she wants to talk. Work can wait, we’ll have dinner later and I won’t have time to make anything special, and I’ll take care of the laundry tomorrow. Maybe!
This is a pattern that we have established over many years. The forever pile of clothes is still there on the chair and that’s OK. And we’ll do the dishes tomorrow. Right now we’ll have a talk and I’ll try to give her the best advice I have for her.
I’m there for her and, in her eyes, that makes me a good mother! And this is all that matters to me!