I knew life was intense when on Thursday, the furnace repairman—who had to be summoned for the second time this season—looked at me and asked, “Are you okay?”
Even a stranger could sense that, no, nothing was okay. To be home for the “window of time” given by the heating company, I had to take an entire day off teaching—not an easy task. And the previous furnace repair had been costly. Why is it one unexpected event such as a vehicle failing to start or a furnace refusing to ignite makes us feel our world is crumbling down? In times like these, I pull out Iyanla Vanzant’s poem, Yesterday I Cried.
Without even a sliver of extra time in our busy schedules, modern American parents struggle to respond to unexpected chaos. I believe my situation as a single mom with a special needs child complicates matters even more. And I know I’m not alone.
Raising two children (one with special needs) while balancing my full-time career as a teacher often leads to frustration at not having more time to devote to both—let alone juggle an unexpected crisis. I lack the support of a spouse, so it’s up to me to manage schedules, provide transportation, organize backpacks, and prepare and clean up after meals.
During the week there are sessions with the autism behavior specialist, piano and violin practice and lessons, art class, Tae Kwon Do class, homework, cooking, laundry, and bills that need to be paid. During school hours, as a teacher, I must be dynamic and creative in presenting material for Math and Science a variety of ways for 60 students. It’s important that I differentiate for individuals and be there for every single one of them. Teaching is not a career in which you can leave your work at the office. There is a lot of planning and paperwork done outside of the school day. I enjoy both roles—parenting and teaching—but each is all-consuming. At times, I feel as I am not enough.
The Five Traits of a Supermom
Feeling desperate last week, I remembered a message given by our pastor that resonated with me—The Five Traits of a Supermom. I am a conscientious note-taker, so I was positive I had penned some of his poignant words and saved them. I knew I needed an attitude adjustment and thought the notes might be of benefit.
1. Prioritize Valuable Time
Prioritize means “to put in order of importance.” The first suggestion was to list my key priorities, then to record all my normal activities in a day. Next, I categorized each activity as to how it fit in with my priorities. Looking at the categories, I decided what activities needed to be decreased or stopped or how I could get some help accomplishing them. I resolved not to feel guilty for saying “no.” I also decided I wasn’t going to feel as though I wasn’t doing my part just because others were doing more. Spreading myself too thin was turning me into a grouchy robot going through the motions instead of a content, joy-filled woman appreciating the life in front of me. I’ve also decided not to be vested in how others believe I should be spending my time. It’s not their life. (More information on the prioritizing process can be found on The Confident Mom website.)
2. Place Family First
There is nothing more valuable on Earth than my children. They are the most important thing in my life. Their childhood and stability will not be compromised. Making sure they are fulfilled individuals and reach their highest potential is of the utmost importance. Their health, education, and well-being is my number one job. There also needs to be time for play—movie nights, numerous board and card games, reading chapter books together (hyper-literary mom), and visits to the park. I will always prioritize time serving my kids and time with my kids.
3. Utilize Helpful Supports
I am surrounded by good, caring family and friends that wouldn’t mind helping if they knew I was in need. In fact, many have already offered and helped. I need to turn to them more often instead of struggling alone and overwhelmed. No one earns a trophy for doing everything on their own—only exhaustion. People feel good when they give or help one another. It fills their cup. I have to stop seeing this as a sign of weakness and reach out.
4. Forgive Themselves
We are our own worst critics, aren’t we? As a teacher and mother, I scrutinize myself: How I could have done something better? What is another parent doing for their child that I’m not able to do for mine? We do what we believe is best with the time we are given and the money we have. We are human. On the day I stayed home with the broken furnace, my son missed his bus because he couldn’t find his shoes. He puts himself on the bus every day and had never missed it before. He knew he didn’t need to set his alarm because I was home. After I dropped him off at school, he texted that he had forgotten his library book. How could I also have forgotten this? It was Thursday (library day), and we had spent the last week reading The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. I went home, retrieved the book, and dropped it off in his school’s office. Bottom line, my son got to school and had his book. I forgave myself.
5. Don’t Believe They are Super
I gave up seeking the Mother-of-the-Year award a long time ago. Living up to a super standard is setting yourself up for failure and leaves us exhausted, depleted, and defeated. Moms need to be dependable. Dependable is super in itself. Our children also need to see us with strong passions and interests of our own, so if I have time and space to pursue something, that’s great. And I try to model humility, kindness, and support. But I have to be careful not to keep piling on expectations requiring superpowers I don’t have. If dependable is all I can manage on a day when the furnace shuts down in the middle of winter, I’ll settle for that.
I have always appreciated Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, “You must do the things you think you cannot do.” I never, ever believed I would be a single mom. Others have actually told me that divorce isn’t an option for them. Really? Well, it wasn’t for me, either, but I found I wasn’t given a choice. Having a child with special needs wasn’t in my family plan, either, but I wasn’t given a choice in that, either. However, I am so blessed that she was given to me. I wouldn’t know what to do if she was anything different than who she is, and being her mom—even having to parent her and her brother as a single mom—has been part of my story, part of how I’ve become the woman I am today.
Life as a single parent and special needs mom is a balancing act. When I stood next to the furnace and the repairman asked if I was okay, I felt completely out-of-balance and weak. Am I really enough for my kids, for my friends, for myself? After I reviewed my pastor’s notes, though, I realized I am enough. I am more than enough. I realized I am, in fact, a supermom. I’ll bet you are, too.
I welcome any questions and/or comments—just drop them in the comments below.