Category Archives: Single Parenting

Boys Raised by Moms

When I got to work this morning, Mr. W had left a book on my desk called “Assertive Discipline for Parents”. He had been reading it, and I expressed interest in it and asked to borrow it when he was done. It was still on my desk when one of my co-workers came over and saw it. At first my co-worker joked about it, but then he mentioned that it’s actually a good subject to read up on. He brought up a lady friend of his that had to cancel their lunch date because she needed to come home and fix her son lunch. Her son’s age? Oh, he’s 18.

Single parent households are much more prominent in this day and age. And in many cases, a boy is raised by a single mom. Single moms are tough. They are the ones that wear “the pants and the skirt”, as Mr. W’s single mother says often. They are the breadwinner and the homemaker. They are the ones who are stretching a penny to make a nickel, and making a full dinner out of what’s left in a bare cabinet.

But then there is the difference between mom’s and dad’s. I have heard often that single mom’s just can’t raise a man like a father can. And as my son tunes me out after I’ve repeated instructions to him 5 times, yet jumps the first time his grandfather barks an order, I wonder if it’s true. This was why I was borrowing the book from Mr. W. I wanted to learn more effective ways to guide my son without getting into a battle of wills, or giving up altogether. And when I hear of moms coddling their perfectly capable sons, and knowing there have been many times I’ve been guilty of such myself, I wonder how differently things would be if my son had been raised by a man rather than by a woman.

What do you think? Are boys raised by single mothers bound to be less of a man than a boy raised by his father? Should boys only be raised by their fathers, and girls by their mothers? What’s the answer for single parent families?

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Tweens and Privacy

A mom I know recently told me the story of her daughter and herself. As a single mom of just one girl, the two were incredibly close. My friend relied on her daughter to help out around the house and take care of her own responsibilities. And she was never disappointed. The two worked as a team to get dinner on the table, keep the house straight, and that all homework was done promptly and turned in on time. The two spent a lot of time together outside of school and work. The daughter talked often with her mom about problems she was having at school or with friends, when she thought a particular boy was cute – pretty much anything that crossed her mind. Jr. High came, which meant a new schedule at a new school, and new friends to meet. It’s interesting, things didn’t change overnight, as my friend remembers. But they did change rapidly. Her once sweet and kind daughter suddenly became sullen and angry. She stopped helping so much around the house. And the biggest change?

She stopped talking to her mother.

The daughter’s phone would buzz, and much like my own daughter recently, she would hunch over her phone so no one would see what she was typing to the mysterious receiver. My friend no longer had any idea who her daughter’s friends were, and if she asked she was dismissed by her daughter without any information given. Simple rules she was giving her daughter – from finishing household chores to being home right after school – were being broken right and left as her daughter stretched the boundaries to the limit.

My friend was at a loss. She didn’t know this girl anymore. As a working mom, she couldn’t be home to monitor everything that was going on in her own home, and she was starting to wonder if there might be things, now or in the near future, that she needed to be concerned about. So she did the only thing that she could think of. She took her daughter’s phone that night and read through every single one of her texts.  What she found only made her feel bad.

She found…nothing.

The texts back and forth were basically one word texts, obviously just their way of staying in touch even in a minimal way. Some were with girls, some were with boys. There was no talk about drugs, or sex, or sneaking out, or anything that might be cause for alarm. My friend even found out through one of the text conversations that her daughter hadn’t even experienced her first kiss. Basically, even though her daughter had experienced a major attitude adjustment in the past few months and was no longer her mom’s little buddy, she was still the good girl that her mother had raised. And she had just violated her daughter’s trust by snooping through her phone when her daughter wasn’t even guilty of anything wrong.

Yet.

What is your take on tween privacy? As the parent of a minor, is it ok to check up on them through their Facebook, cell phone, or some other means just to ensure that they aren’t doing anything illegal or dangerous? Or is this kind of snooping a total infringement on a tween’s rights to privacy? Do you “snoop”? Or is this a violation of your tween’s trust?

Take part in Santa Rosa Mom’s March Challenge!  See forum for details.

Creating joint custody with or without the other parent

Before I left my husband, back when I knew I was actually going to leave him, I was scared of divorce. What would that mean for me? How would I make it on my own? Could I really care for the kids without another adult as a back-up? It was a scary step to actually leave and venture out into the world alone. Even though I had been raising the kids anyway with very little help from him, it was a very different feeling to know that there was no one there. Thank God I had my family to lean on in this time as they took me in for the first few years. But eventually I did move out. There was no child support, no joint custody, nothing. There was just me and the kids, facing the world boldly with hopes that we wouldn’t be swallowed up too badly.

So before I continue, I want to put out there that I know what it feels like to not have the kids’ father around. I know what it’s like to not have that break, that you are mommy 24/7, no ifs, ands, or buts. If I wanted to go out, I had to beg my parents. And their schedule wasn’t exactly the most open. So that meant getting a sitter. And with my income, that really wasn’t an option. So it was either go to family friendly events, or stay home. And that was okay most of the time. But sometimes I felt like I would crawl out of my skin if I didn’t get a few hours to myself, or that I would die of jealousy as my friends went out to yet another function that I couldn’t attend.

That is why I am now eternally grateful for a thing called “joint custody”.

The Ex got his act together a few years back and has been taking the kids on the weekend. At first it was weird. I missed the kids. But eventually it became more normal. It allowed me to have that down time to get things done, or to just have time when I didn’t have to do anything. And it allowed Mr. W and me to have more quality time. We even get to go away on occasional weekends, as if we have no kids at all. And when I come back, I miss my kids and can’t wait to see them. I’m refreshed and rejuvenated, and kind of forget why my kids were stressing me out in the first place.

I have realized that being a single parent and sharing the kids even just 20% of the time with my ex, I have more free time now than I did when I was married.

I know there are single parents out there that are shooting daggers at me through these words. I get it. I really am fortunate that the kids’ dad is there to take them for a few days so I can regain my sanity. When you have rescued your kid one too many times from drinking the water out of the dog’s dish, stopped your kids from jumping on the couches, stepped on Lego landmines after you have just finished cleaning the living room, decided what’s for dinner when you’re too tired to think, cut gum out of your toddlers hair – again… I know you would give anything for a break. So I want to offer this advice to you. Make friends with other single parents in the same situation as you. And create a schedule between the two of you to take each other’s kids so that the other can enjoy a few hours (maybe even an overnight) of kid-free time. Before the Ex was on track, this is what saved me. One night a week I’d take my friend’s toddler, and one night a weekend, she’d take my two kids. It gave us both that freedom to know what it felt like to be kidless for a couple hours – to go to the store unchained, to sit and read a book, to go out to the bar with friends, or even just to clean the house and keep it clean. I cannot rave enough about creating a babysitting co-op with other parents to save money on babysitting and be able to have some time to unwind and be a good parent again.

Single or married, what do you do to create kid free time for yourself?
What do you do during your kid free time?

The difference between moms and dads

Growing up, I was fortunate to have both my parents in the home. My dad is a real estate appraiser, and though he worked a lot, we were often able to accompany him on local road trips when he went to look at houses. Sometimes we’d ride along with him, fascinated by the beauty of some areas that we never would have seen otherwise. Other times he would drop my mom and us three girls off at the park so we could have a picnic. He’d join us when his appointment was done.

Dad was the one who had the ideas for fun places to go and things to see. Who knew that sitting in the lobby of a fancy hotel, as if we were guests, enjoying hot chocolate by the fire could be so much fun. But with Dad, it was his way of instilling make-believe in us. It wasn’t because we were poor, mind you. But because my dad was so busy all the time, he was sharing with us his way of coping – a one hour vacation from reality. Our favorite place to go was to the Sonoma Mission Inn (now the Fairmont) in Sonoma. The waitresses knew him by name, he visited so often. “Go wash your hands in the bathroom,” he’d whisper to us. “The soap is amazing!” And we would. (note: he’d offer us vacations in a bottle every year for Christmas by presenting us with our very own Sonoma Mission Inn Soap to use in our bathroom. It was one of our favorite gifts) Without fail, we’d all order hot chocolate and Crème Brule, taking the smallest bites possible after breaking through the caramelized crust of the pudding, mulling it over our tongues as we tried to make it last as long as possible.

In the winter we’d take weekend trips up to the Sierras. The 4 hour drive was broken up in two parts, always a stop in Lodi. We were creatures of habit. We had our favorite Carl’s Jr. that we stopped at in the evening. And whenever we hit the town in the morning, we had our favorite little diner, ordering our breakfasts by the number. And thanks to my dad, I can’t even think of the town of Lodi without humming a few bars from “Stuck in Lodi Again”. The drive was also peppered with us girls taking turns singing our favorite songs in the backseat as if no one were listening, then making each other giggle uncontrollably, and my dad yelling to keep it down – every 5 minutes. We’d argue with him, thinking that he was being ridiculous since we were having a good time and not fighting. Now with my own kids giggling in the backseat of a small vehicle, I think I understand. Once up on the mountain, it was dad who went skiing with us, putting us in a ski class while he ventured out to the more experienced slopes, and then joining us later to take a few easy runs with us. When we graduated to snowboarding, he stayed with his skis. But he took pictures with us and our snowboards just to be a part of the fad.

But there was more to Dad than just offering us a fun time. He was also the heavy hand in the family. If we got in trouble, sooner or later we were going to have to face Dad. And there is nothing worse than being the brunt of Dad’s anger. And let me tell you, as the oldest, I was there quite often. If I stepped out of line, my Dad was right there to pull me back in. “We didn’t raise you this way,” he’d glower, as I suffered the repercussions of sneaking out at night, or being caught with a cigarette, or when I’d “borrow” the car and not return until the wee hours of the morning. Wash my mouth out with soap? Time outs in the corner? Bah! Dad wouldn’t bother with that. In my younger years, every infraction was met with a couple hard swats on the bottom. And it was worse to be spanked by my dad than by my mom because Dad made sure we remembered it. “Wait till your father gets home,” is all my mom would have to say for us girls to stop in our tracks. And even though our infractions were committed hours earlier, Dad would stop by our rooms and let us know that our misbehavior was not going to be ignored. As I got older, there were times when he’d be so angry that he’d offer up the silent treatment. There was nothing worse than knowing I had stepped out of my dad’s graces, that he was so disappointed in me that he couldn’t even speak to me. Every morning we had a ritual of waking up early and reading the paper over coffee while everyone else still slept. During the silent treatment, he’d be in his office, avoiding me at all costs. But inevitably, one morning he’d just be there. We’d sit for an eternity of minutes in silence, both mulling over what we want to say in our minds, but afraid to speak first. At least I was. But the silence would eventually be too much to bear, and I was most likely the one who would offer up my apology first for being such an ass. And he’d accept my apology graciously, and would then talk about why it was so upsetting when I acted a certain way. There would be tears and frustration on my part and a level emotion on his as we worked it out. And then he’d invite me over for a big hug that he knew I needed more than anything. Once again I was Dad’s girl.

I had a different relationship with my mom than I had with my dad. With Dad, I was able to share things at face value – favorite songs on the radio, places I’d like to go one day, how much fun we had doing something or other, how I was doing with my studies, needing $20 for the movies with my friends… With my mom, I was able to confess the contents of my heart. A boy at school likes me, and I’m nervous about going to the school dance with him. A different boy, who I had liked for 3 years, kissed another girl in front of me and I am heartbroken. My friend just had to go through something really traumatic, and I don’t know how to be there for her. All the kids are wearing this certain kind of style, and I don’t think I’ll look good in it. There’s something wrong with my body and I don’t know what’s going on. It was mom who talked to us about the birds and the bees, and who told us that we could come to her if we became sexually active so that she could get us on some birth control. And when we did, she kept our confidences, much to my father’s disappointment in later years, never telling him what was going on. With her, the things that we couldn’t speak out loud to many people could be told to her. And she made it safe to do so, even bringing up certain things that might be too embarrassing for us to talk about first. If we just couldn’t talk about it, Mom always knew the right book we could look through to answer our questions, and maybe spur some dialogue once we became more comfortable. When I experienced the first dealings of mortality after a childhood friend died of brain cancer in 7th grade, it was Mom who held me when I could finally cry three days later. And she was the one who went with me to the wake so I could say my goodbyes. When my own infant son died of a stillbirth, my mom held my other hand as I gave birth, not leaving my side once even as scary as the situation was. And it was my mom who taught me how to attack the ground and make 6 inch holes in rock hard dirt so I could plant a daffodil garden in his honor. She knew I needed to get the aggression out on a life that is so full of things that aren’t fair. She knew I needed to do something for him since to everyone else he never even existed. And she knew that I needed to get some sunshine and fresh air instead of laying on the couch day in and day out, as I would have rather done. She got me to open up to grieving, and to eventually be able to see the day as something new, rather than just life after my baby died.

Growing up, it was a lot easier to get into fights with my mom. My mom was a yeller. That was her main punishment. And we’d yell back. It would be World War 3 in our house as we fought back and forth at the top of our lungs. To this day, I wonder what the neighbors were thinking. Getting our mouth washed out with soap was her favorite way to discipline. And secretly, it was ours too. It tasted awful, but it was over in a moment. And it was nothing that a little toothpaste couldn’t fix. But sometimes she’d get so angry that she’d bring out the wooden spoon and paddle our behinds. We learned not to put our hands in the way to cushion the blow. A wooden spoon coming down hard hurts a lot more on the knuckles than it does on the soft cushion of our derrieres. But the thing with Mom, if she had to resort to a spanking she would feel awful about it later. A screaming and yelling match happened because Mom was so angry she could think of nothing else to do. If she got so angry that she had to take out the wooden spoon, the incident would be followed up an hour later with an apology.

Dads and moms are very different when it comes to raising kids. In general terms, dads are the ones who initiate all the fun things. They are the ones who come down hard, and teach us to mind our steps if we don’t want to suffer the consequences. And they are the ones who will be there if you need help. Moms are the ones who nurture us by making sure we are fed and bathed. They make sure we have the skills to take care of ourselves when we are older – teaching us the right way to wash a dish and load it in the dish rack so it dries, how to create buttermilk using only milk and vinegar, and how to fold the towels correctly so that they all fit in the cabinet. They get to our hearts by talking about the things we hold close to us. They are a lot gentler in their approach, and not as intimidating when they are screaming at us than our dads are when they throw down the gauntlet. Kids growing up in two parent homes get the benefit of both parents’ personalities. And where each parent is lacking, the other is able to pick up and be the strong suit.

So what does that mean for single parents who only have one side or the other?

I got an email today from a man who is in his own single parent household, raising an 11 year old boy. And because I have been having so much focus on my son lately as I deal with his behavioral issues, he offered to supply me with his own wisdom about raising boys from a male perspective. He hasn’t been the first male to offer such wisdom.  And it got me thinking about my role as a mother, and my lacking role as a father.

I have two kids – my almost 12 year old daughter, and my almost 9 year old son. If you’ve been reading along, you’ll notice that not much is written about my daughter. Partly that is due to the fact that as a pre-teen, any mention about her would embarrass the living daylights out of her. But also it’s because I get her. A long time ago (no, not that long…), I WAS her. So when she gets mouth and sullen, or when she had a hard time saying anything without a heavy dose of attitude, I get it. And we give it back and forth to each other until we reach a “White Flag” moment, hug, and move on. But my son? I don’t get him. I am not a boy. I didn’t have brothers. The things and feelings he’s going through, I just don’t understand them. When he looks me in the eye and tells me that I obviously don’t care for him because he isn’t getting his way, and he tells me this after I’ve just spent the whole day working, doing errands on my lunch, grocery shopping, making sure his homework is done, fixing him his favorite food, making sure that his pajamas are clean by throwing in a quick wash, balancing my checkbook to find that I have nothing left after paying all of the bills and signing him up for baseball…. When he claims that I don’t care about him, after everything I do, because I’ve told him that it’s bedtime and he can’t play video games, I see RED. When he tells me that I’ve ruined his day, or that he wishes he had another family, or something else that he knows will go straight to my heart and leave a black hole, I am at a loss. And the way I deal with it when my emotion is on my sleeve does not strike fear in his heart. It only leaves him with more of a reason to insist that I don’t care about him. And being a single mom, it makes me wonder how I can do things differently so that he is raised up to be an extraordinary man – as if he had both parents in the house.

This last week, things came to a head between my son and me. And I want to get to that soon. But for now, I have several questions for you:

Were you raised in a single parent home, or a home with two parents?
What does your own family look like now?
Do you see differences in the way moms and dads raise their kids?
Is it possible for a single parent to be both the mom and the dad?

Someday….

I moved into my own apartment a couple years after my divorce. It was a liberating move on my part, one I could barely afford. But I was determined to do so nonetheless. I had never had my own place before. The day after I graduated high school, I moved in with my future ex-husband. I was sure that living at my parents’ house another day would surely kill me, convinced that I had it so bad. I was sure that living on my own would free me from their domineering clutches and would allow me to finally be my own person.

Little did I know just how opposite from the truth that was.

For the next 2 years we lived in absolute poverty. When I had my daughter, my then husband and I changed the way we were living so that we were working as a team rather than against each other. It worked for a short time. But when two people aren’t right for each other, time has a funny way of disintegrating even the best intentions. Just before we were about to self destruct and bring our two children down with us, we finally parted ways and went through the rocky road of reassembling the pieces of our lives that lay shattered all around us. For me, that meant moving in with my parents and lying in a depressed heap on their couch for a year, letting them take over as mom and dad while I wallowed in my incomplete shell of self. Then it took building myself up for another year and a half, building up the realization that yes, I could make it on my own and take care of my kids as a single mother.

The move to my own place was a risky one. I was only working minimal hours at a job I loved too much to leave in pursuance for one that offered more hours and pay. But the pay I was receiving each week, by my calculations, would only allow me the barest of necessities. But with strategic planning, I figured that there were plenty of luxuries I could live without to be able to afford a home of our own. It was a fresh start, the move I needed to make to transform from a dependant child to a self-sufficient adult. And so we did it, eyes wide open, and we refused to look back.

I couldn’t have done it without help, however. We moved into our apartment with only the clothes on our backs. I had bought a kitchen table with some money I had saved, and besides our beds, that was the only furniture we owned. The living room stayed bare, besides the few boxes we still needed to unpack. There was no couch, no TV, just a table to eat our humble dinners. Some dear friends surprised me soon after moving in by furnishing my apartment with gently used items such as a couch set, a TV, a washer and dryer, a bookcase, a coffee table, and pictures and shelves for my wall. There were even lights adorning the railing outside to reveal a patio bench and table to sit and enjoy in the quiet evenings after the kids went to bed. For $2, I found a dish set of plates and bowls so we could eat dinners like a normal family. My empty apartment suddenly had the feeling of home wrapped inside and out.

Early on in my adventure as a single mom doing it on her own, I came across some plates at Cost Plus that I fell in love with. They were a deep blue with cherry blossoms splayed across them. They were fancier than the sky blue plates I owned with daisies decorating the center. I didn’t begrudge the plates I already had. But to me, these cherry blossom plates symbolized the life that I hoped to achieve. They were the plates of a woman who had succeeded in life, who had jumped the hurdles that everyone else said she couldn’t overcome. There was even a set of silverware there that would match them perfectly, a shiny metal with handles cut like bamboo. They were much nicer than the faded and scratched up metal set I had received from the hand-me-downs of my parents. These dishes and silverware were placed on my mental list of “someday”. Someday I’ll have a larger place to live. Someday I’ll write that book that has been playing on repeat in my mind for years. Someday I’ll travel the world and see sights I’ve only seen on TV. Someday I’ll find that one man who loves me and my children for who we are and who is everything I’ve hoped for all my life. Someday I’ll have enough money to not have to budget everything to a fault. Someday I’ll buy my own dishes at cost, the ones that I choose for myself and not because they are at an affordable price on a table of castaways from someone else’s garage.

Someday.

The thing about “someday” is that, if not put into action, it becomes never. Every time I walked into Cost Plus, those plates called to me. I would pick them up, run my hand over the smooth enamel, imagining them on my table, and then place them back on the shelf. I’d have some money in my pocket, but I just couldn’t believe that it was time to buy them yet. Someday was not today. I told myself to be patient, but my patience was starting to tell me that maybe it was better just to say “never”. My plates at home were good enough. They held food. Only a couple had chips. They all matched. Why did I want plates like these when what they really weren’t a necessity, when we had costs such as daycare, groceries, braces, and rent – all bills that were way more important than making our table prettier for meals? I went into Cost Plus less and less, and stopped looking at those plates as something that might be mine – someday. Where I was at was good. If I never got any farther, I would still be just fine. I had already overcome so much, I should just be proud of where I was rather than looking at where I want to be.

Christmas came this year in a flurry of blessings wrapped with little red bows. Even after telling my family and Mr. Wonderful that we don’t need much, there were dozens of presents to open with gifts that we could definitely use. A new pair of tongs for my kitchen. A set of bath towels to replace the threadbare ones I’d been using for years. A new pair of running shoes so I could finally throw out the ones I’d been running in for 10 years now. And when all was said and done, Mr. Wonderful placed a large, heavy box in front of me. I jokingly guessed what it was, holding it up and judging by the weight.

“A breadbox!” I exclaimed without a clue as to what lay beneath the cardboard and beautiful wrapping. I finally pulled the wrapping away from the box, and opened the lid. Whatever was in there was hidden beneath white tissue paper. I pulled it away and saw more tissue wrapped around what was apparently a plate.

He had bought me the dishes.

I unwrapped one of the 6 plates that were in the box, running my hand over the smooth enamel as I had so many times in the store. It was mine.

“I couldn’t get you the whole set,” he apologized. “But I also know that you have wanted to get these for yourself. I figured I’d offer you a start.”

I threw my arms around his neck, tears in my eyes, thanking him for a gift that was so much more than dishes. What he had given me in between those dark blue plates with cherry blossoms splayed across them was my “someday”. Someday was today. Today I had my new plates. And for the past year I have had the love of a man who cares for me and the kids for everything we already are. Tomorrow it could be my book, the home, traveling the world….. Anything was possible. And someday didn’t need to be some far off fantasy place where I wanted to be but knew I’d never even visit.

Once home, I went through my cabinet and pulled out the old dinner plates. I placed them in the back of a cupboard I rarely used, promising that someday the rest of the plates would be there to join them so that someday my own children could benefit from my hand-me-downs. I left on vacation right after Christmas, and then came home to the plates that were gracing my cabinets. In my pocket was some leftover Christmas money that I had decided to spend on boring things like bills and groceries. But still, I knew that there was a little extra money in that amount.

Someday is today.

I went to Cost Plus and picked out 6 matching dessert plates. And then I pulled 4 sets of the coveted silverware from the bins. Surprisingly, it was a lot less than I expected to piece together the beginnings of my set. I didn’t need the whole lot at once – there was time enough for that. My kids laughed at me as I urged them each to go open the silverware drawer and check out their reflection in the knives, and to open the cabinets and look at the neatly stacked plates of dark blue.

On a final note, it is amazing what one new coveted item can do to your home. Seeing the richness that exists in my cabinets, the urge to simplify my home and create it how I want has manifested. Little by little I have been pulling apart my closets and placing unused items in bags meant for donation. I am eyeing the gently used items and thinking of ways I could replace them, giving the older items to others who are starting out for their first time on their own adventure. That new home I am dreaming about might even exist in this old faithful one. I just need to unbury it first and then make it my own.