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Successful single parenting strategies

March 12, 2015
Cheryl Stahle , MOV Parent

My son wasn't the only one tossing a mortar board last June. We both had so much to celebrate. He graduated from high school and I survived Motherhood: The Opening Act. With no intermissions in our chaotic world, we moved on to Motherhood: The College Years just weeks after finishing off the graduation cake. Did I mention, Single Mom? As in, one parental unit, no extra pair of hands? And both my son and I were thriving?

Don't fret friends, life was not all happy hours, meticulously cleaned houses and perfectly balanced meals. We laughed (and cried) a lot. I wore exhaustion on every inch of my body. In the beginning, until I got the hang of child wrangling without a rope, I was a frazzled knot.

After several years of making us both crazy trying to do it all perfectly, my epiphany arrived. I had a Redbox night: One of those rare occasions when I was able to watch a movie with a rating other than G. I grabbed "Mom's Night Out" because it truly sounded like the escapist adventure I was desperately seeking. Nope! The main character, Allyson, was a stressed out mom trying to turn herself into a modern day June Cleaver/Carol Brady/ totally Leaned In Mega-mom. She tried to have it all but realized after too many misadventures that she just couldn't. And more importantly, her efforts for perfection stressed out her kids too. Sound familiar? It did to me.

How do people manage work, life's curveballs, parenting or simply, getting out of bed some days without a bonus parent?

Let me share what I learned.

When working multiple jobs to keep food on the table and pennies in the bank at the end of each month became too much, something had to give before I cracked.

Solution 2: Outsourcing. I started outsourcing some routine tasks. To him!

My son watched me cook, clean, repair, sew (ok, maybe that one not so much), food shop, work up to 3 jobs at once and start my own business. I mastered plumbing, auto mechanics, lawn and garden care and even some carpentryslap an orange vest on and drop me off at the Home Depot, I'm going in to be with my people became the war cry. Someone taught me how to do all of this: Mom, Dad and the real vested clad magicians.

Well, guess who is Mom and Dad in a single parent household? Umyou. You have the answers; you have the grasshopper; time to share your knowledge.

So I outsourced to my son. I taught him how to flip the perfect omelet, how to complete laundry without all of the clothes turning pink and how to hang a cabinet while standing on a ladder. I taught him self-sufficiency. And selfishly, I found a few minutes each day to take a breath or conquer another chore while he emptied the dish washer, laundered his own clothes or took his once a week turn at fixing our evening meal.

"Won't he hate you?" my married friends asked when I suggested they too consider the outsourcing option every once in a while.

"He's a teenager so he's supposed to hate me." Of course there were some early grumblings but they stopped and we moved forward.

No allowance either. Squeezed in another life lesson while teaching him how to sew on button: Sometimes you need to work together for the common good. I now see that lesson playing out in his daily life as he serves others in the community. So underneath the teenage muttering, he actually listened and that lesson took hold.

Today my son's 19, and a sophomore in college with not a pink item of clothes in his closet or drawers. I blame that totally on myself because I took the time to teach him skills for a lifetime while we worked together in a single parent household.

He watched me try to create a perfect world for us, crash, then re-envision an awfully wonderful life for us both. Perfection is an ideal in one's mind. When the reality doesn't meet your standard, you can adapt. I did and the results included less stress, less tears, less chaos and frankly, more joy. I've watched him try, crash and readjust on the fly now. He learned that from me. And he learned the skills to be so flexible from my outsourcing to him.

Solution 2: Find a tribe and hang on. Some days you are just going to need that extra pair of hands or a big hug. As a single parent, you don't have someone with you to share the first word, defuse the latest tantrum, or hold the fort down while you take a bath. Surround yourself with people who will celebrate, cheer, encourage and laugh. It isn't easy asking for help when you are incredibly independent, but put the pride in a box because it just drags you down. People will help if you ask.

My tribe rocks and I never would have made it through without them. They made me get out of the house and away from the computer for adult conversation. I became more connected with others than when I was married. On those rare nights when I was child-free, my dance card filled quickly. I didn't have time to date, I was too busy hanging out with my friends enjoying life and feeling a part of something bigger than what happened every day under my roof.

That connection made the challenges of being both Mom and Dad so much easier, and less lonely. And a little tip: I didn't know how to hang cabinets until one of the tribe showed me so that when my son and I did it, I was already an experienced pro and he was none the wiser that I had just learned myself (retaining my perfect parent star status).

To tie this up in a little package so you can get back to your life: Stop making yourself crazy. You can't do it all, none of us can. Parenthood is the biggest adventure you will ever begin so pace yourself for the journey. Conquer one challenge at a time. Ask your child to help you then teach them. They won't hate you, although they may complain. Find your tribe and nestle in.

Cheryl Stahle's most recent publication, "Slices of Life: The Art and Craft of Memoir Writing" is available at Amazon. She is a frequent guest speaker on memoir writing and story telling at workshops, book clubs and college campuses. Read more of her writing at Adoptions Today, WE Magazine, Examiner or Montgomery Times Herald. To schedule an author talk or visit to your book group, contact her at



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