Dear Single Mom Struggling With Depression, Be Kind to Yourself
All the time we hear entertainers and professional athletes wax poetic about their single moms — the moms who worked double shifts alone to keep them fed and warm.
It seems like single moms are always heroes in the past tense. But in the present, we’re messy. We’re disorganized and late and sometimes even angry. We aren’t always good parents. We overcompensate. We’re judged and sometimes talked about. We get snappy about team moms asking for money for what feels like every other minute. We get told, daily, to CTFD. We do our best and sometimes feel like our best wouldn’t even be missed if we died tomorrow. Some of us have depression and perhaps have wished we could die tomorrow. It’s hard to feel worthy of celebration when “motherhood” is a complicated beast that compounds the best and worst parts of you and your life every single day.
I don’t know why I’ve never seen this negative frame I put around myself until now. Maybe because I’m worried about one of my sons’ mental health. Maybe because I feel very far from my own mom right now. Or maybe because I’ve never really just stopped and sat with the fact that I’m alone. I don’t say this with a longing to be partnered up. I say this because I’m worried that alone, I won’t be enough for these beautiful sons of mine; that they’ll always see me as stressed and rushed and distracted and frantic. That they’ll never have that moment, 40 years from now, of saying, “My mom was so beautiful” and causing the 2058 version of Facebook to blow up with likes and assurances. Instead, their memories of me could be, “Ugh. What a hot f*cking mess.” And yes, they will have learned the f-word from me.
At the heart of it, I know:as moms we have so many shared experiences. Some of us have fed our kids cereal for dinner at some point. Some of us loved and lost. Some of us had dreams come true, and dreams we’ve abandoned. Some of us lifted our kids up and let them down. Some of us have prioritized badly and self-corrected. Some of us looked at our kids once or twice and thought, “It would be so much easier if I hadn’t,” only to slap ourselves back into reality to recognize being a parent is the most giant blessing we could ever get. I don’t believe this story is unique to any one of us. And 40 years from now, all these stupid things I stress about: drop-off and pick-up and diets and deadlines and hair extensions and feeling guilty over causing a scene at the animal shelter and planning a half-ass birthday party for my 7-year-old — my kids won’t remember any of it (well, maybe the animal shelter incident.) They will just know I loved them. I was there. I tried.
As part of my son’s PCIT training, our doctor said I need to re-frame how he sees me. What I’m learning is that I need to reframe how I see myself. This single mama life. This tired and crazy and sad and frustrated life of feeling never good enough. This is my life. I am this mom. I am this woman. There is nothing else but right here and now. There is no one coming to save me. I am the hero I’ve been waiting for. Settling into our new house has made me realize this. It made me realize that up until now, I’ve been waiting for a partner to come around so I could “start” my good life back up again. The past four years, I’ve been giving the power of my happiness to someone I may never even meet.
I’m realizing now: I’m allowed to change the rules to this game we’re playing. I’m allowed to be my own ref. I’m allowed to call bullshit when people aren’t there for me — for us. I’m allowed to push back when people walk over me/us. I’m allowed to show my kids how to advocate for themselves and to choose a life that makes them happy — even if it isn’t the one everybody else seems to be living.
When I told a friend at the Y I had bought a house for us, she looked at me straight out and said, “You’re winning.” I had never even thought of it that way. I am realizing now I am one of the lucky ones. I am enough. I am strong and worthy and deserving of the good life, even when I’m a hot mess daily. I’m realizing the good life isn’t reserved for perfect people, and it doesn’t look the same for everybody. For me, it looks like saying, “God, this is all I got. Make it something beautiful.” And to trust with all my heart and soul, he always will.
A version of this story first appeared on Humble-Warrior.org.