Just a few (like 10) of the Challenges of Single Parenting

I read a headline the other day about a single woman adopting a set of 6 sisters,zoo boys and I thought, wow, what an amazing thing to do. She fostered them and wanted to keep the sisters together (you know, it’s National Foster Care Awareness Month). It’s a great thing to do. It’s also a very difficult thing to do.

There’s a growing number of women parenting “by choice,” with rates rising in particular for women over the age of 35 (you know, like me 🙂 ). There is no accident or illness or divorce that left us with our hands full of kids. Instead, we decided for a whole host of reasons that we could and should become a parent.

My decision was more a natural flow from having fostered a child for 18 months and being given the option of adopting. I can’t say it required much decision-making. I already felt like his mother. I already acted like his mother. It was the choice that I wanted. I could not have foretold eight years later when I’m now parenting three young boys, that I would spend so much time contemplating my choice.

So here are a few thoughts on the challenges of single parenting.

  1. You are it. The final word. The absolute decision maker. Whether that’s sitting in your kid’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting and deciding what is the “best classroom” option for your 7-year-old, or deciding whether or not you will move ahead with eye surgery for the 5-year-old who’s eye wanders on oblique gaze, you are it. Figuring out what school district would best meet the needs of the kids. Which toothbrush to buy. What to make for dinner. Do we start karate or not? Replace the TV or leave it broken? Everything. Sure, I have a lot of support. I have many friends and family to bounce ideas off and get advice. But the final decision is mine. Sometimes that’s nice and sometimes that’s scary.
  2. When you are way beyond tired, have hit your limit, or are otherwise just “done” with the day….there’s still three little boys. They still need dinner. They still have sports activities or homework to get to. They still need a bath. They still want you to read them a bedtime story even if your eyes sting with exhaustion. They’re really not concerned about how you’re feeling. No, they’re not.
  3. If you want to get away, you have to line up a babysitter. For anything. A night out. The grocery store. A work meeting. Getting some exercise. And finding a sitter can take time and make you much less spontaneous than you’d like to be sometimes. And sitters make every activity or event more expensive as you count up the number of hours you’ve entrusted someone to care for the kids! I used to be a night-owl, now I dash home as quickly as I can.
  4. Your phone is always on you. Always.running with phone If the school calls or the daycare center number shows up on your “silenced” screen, you answer it. Always. If you’re running the marathon relay, you answer it. Always. You never know when one of the boys is heading to the emergency room.
  5. You worry about getting seriously ill or in an accident yourself and who would take care of the boys. On days when you’re not well, you set your alarm every 15 minutes to get out of bed to make sure they haven’t broken a bone or a lamp. You let them fall asleep with their Kindles in hand as long as they’re giving you some peace and quiet. And, you actually make your doctor appointments and think about your health a little bit (see, there is a benefit!).
  6. You get to be the “Bad Guy” every….single….time. You get good guy times too, but you are always the Bad Guy. Always the Meanest Mommy in the Whole World. There is no “wait till your father gets home” or “go ask your Mom.” You have to decide in the moment and have your yeses be yeses, and your noes be noes. Constant discipline, constant evaluation of your discipline technique, constant enforcement….it’s pretty draining.
  7. When you are stressed or tired or happy or sad, there’s no buffer for your emotions. There’s no one to assist with a little “honey, why don’t I take the kids for a bit?” And the kids have started to figure this out. “Hey, Little Guy, you probably want to listen to Mom before she gets really mad at you,” I overheard Super Tall Guy recently advise his little brother. Yeah, think about it little dude, we’re this close….this close…
  8. You have such pressure to be there at all the kids’ events and activities, because there’s no other parent to make it to the games or the concert, or the school play. I altered my first job as a physician because I was expected to be rounding in the hospital on Christmas morning and that wasn’t going to work for me when I was the only parent the boys had for Christmas morning. There are a lot of sacrifices, a lot of guilt and a lot of trying hard to make it all work, but it doesn’t always.
  9. You worry about job security even when you’re a well-educated, “marketable” person. You realize that your income alone is spread among you and the kids and mostly your income is for the kids. I can’t remember the last thing I bought for myself other than socks (and paying that “babysitter” to get away for a few hours).
  10. You have to maintain everything about the lives of three other individuals in your head at all times (this on top of work responsibilities, friends, your own junk, etc). What do they need for school (“a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke, Mom, for the experiment”) and what homework is due when. When was the last doctor’s appointment? Is the prescription ready to pick up? What’s their birth date? Who has soccer, baseball, Tumbling & Trampoline, gymnastics, flag football and karate when? Did they eat any fruit today? Did I RSVP to that party for Super Tall Guy? What’s their shoe sizes for when you come upon a sale? And the hardest thing of all – what “consequence” did I tell which kid that he had after school today?!?!
  11. Oh, and a “Bonus” one: You are eternally grateful for your family and friends who jump in when you need help. You realize the importance of living in and being in community and the need to nourish and tend to those relationships. Despite being a strong introvert and wanting more “quiet time,” I’m grateful that there’s people nearby just in case….

ducksAnd lastly, when you’re single-parenting, you just want people to understand how complicated it is. That even if this situation was and is my “choice,” it doesn’t make it any “easier.”  Like most parents, I’m doing my best at the moment. Some days can get pretty dark and draining and tiring and you’re just putting one foot in front of the other and making it through. But you do make it through. So know that I sure appreciate everyone’s encouragement and support and patience when I’m not as available as I used to be or as fun as I used to be.

But hang around, I’m still here. I’m learning, I’m growing, I’m parenting. It’s a good thing (and these little guys better appreciate it some day!). Because I love them enough to do this.

Stress fracture = boot = big adjustment

A local community advocate that I know from running the non-profit circles suggested that I embellish my story a bit rather than my version – “I was wrestling around with Super Tall Guy trying a little stuffed-animal soccer when my foot hit the bed frame.” It seemed mild enough. In fact, I was shocked to find a little bruise in the morning and it took a minute to figure out why it was there. But when the foot was still hurting 2 weeks later, I visited a very friendly sports medicine doc (and might have talked her into becoming a foster parent! I mean, why not? I’m always encouraging!).

She looked at the x-ray. She looked at my foot. She pushed on the bones – “does this hurt?” – “well, yes!” She looked at me. “Uh, what were you planning to be doing for the next few weeks?” Well….I was planning to run the JP5K for the crisis nursery we just opened up (and I wrote a little piece for)! Ahhh!the boot

Instead, I now hear:

“Mommy, you got a boot?”

“Mommy, why you got a boot?”

“Mommy, why you not carrying me down the steps?”

“Mommy, where’s my boot?”

“Mommy, you got a boot?”


Pain-free, functional use of both my feet is certainly something I’ve taken for granted for, well, my whole life. And the ability to run after my boys is something that I’ve just assumed for the past almost 8 years….which means I’ve had to learn a few lessons this week.

1. Slow down – actually, it’s okay to sit on the couch a moment longer and put your foot up.

2. Do not kick immobile large metal objects.

3. Be patient – and try to answer the 2-year-old’s same questions over and over.

4. Take care of yourself – such an age-old mothering challenge and a huge struggle for me, despite how often I’ve heard the advice given. By day 4 of the boot, I was ready to kick it off and move on. Then I reminded myself how important it is to make sure that I heal as much as possible so that I would be healthy again for my boys.

Even if the 5-year-old does want to win against Mommy....might still not be the best idea!

Even if the 5-year-old does want to win against Mommy….might still not be the best idea!

So, how to “Take care of yourself”….

1. Exercise – keep the body healthy and limber and strong and has excellent benefits for mental health as well (but running to the point of stress fracture is not necessary).

2. Eat a varied and balanced diet – food intake affects more than weight, it affects mood and health.

3. Sleep – it’s okay to nap and get to bed shortly after the kids do (rather than stay up into the wee hours blogging …).

4. Schedule and go to appointments for your own health – not just those of the kids.

5. Let people help you, especially if they offer….and use the kids if no one has (“hey, Mr. Ornery, can you please run upstairs and get…”).

6. Keep up with a hobby or something you enjoy.

7. Smile often, laugh more.

8. Be present in as many moments as you can and enjoy them.

9. Love matters – so don’t just give it, receive it as well.

10. And before you fall asleep each night, tell yourself “You did good!” (and if necessary, stop worrying….. for tomorrow is another day).


Sick Mommy

Sick Mommy = Grumpy Mommy.  It’s pretty guaranteed.  The problem is, the boys haven’t figured this out yet.  As in, “you know, Mom doesn’t seem to be feeling well….perhaps we should just be really nice little angels for a couple days.”  Nope, instead it seems to be, “hmmm, funny how Mommy can’t talk much right now and definitely can’t yell at us, so….”

So….it’s been a long week….from my perspective.  Mostly, the problem is the energy level.  When I first get a cold, I don’t feel like doing anything…including entertain kids for a few hours and argue with them about going to bed.  I’ve been trying to be very low maintenance this week.  So when I picked up the boys after a late meeting on Thursday evening and Micah said “let’s go to McDonalds; I want a hamburger,” I didn’t even question it.  No cooking? Perfect.  And you want to watch a short TV show afterwards – even better.  Okay, now get to bed.

Finally by this afternoon, I was noticing a return of my energy.  By 6 o’clock when I looked over at the couch, and saw Noah sitting upright completely asleep, I was thrilled. I could get an early run in.  Usually I can get the other two to sleep and then I try to find a way to entertain Noah while I run on the treadmill. (Sometimes this involves his favorite treat of sitting on the floor and watching a video on the iPad, but usually it involves telling him to find some toys and then yelling at him every few minutes to “get away” and “don’t touch the treadmill.”  Definitely not a peaceful way to exercise!)

Tonight though was golden – I’d have all my boys to bed by 7:15 and get to running early.  And I did…it’s just that Noah then woke up at 7:24 crying that his eye was still hurting him.  The boys are big fans of “playing” football at the same time that the Steelers play.  This usually involves their aunt throwing around the ball and all of them screaming and yelling and diving for the ball…. and me yelling “hey, I’m trying to watch the game here!”  Well, at one point in the chaos, Stephen’s hand hit Noah’s eye.  He cried, I comforted him, the game continued.

But now, two hours later, he was crying again about his eye – definitely not a good sign.  I gave him some advil…and looked up the hours for the express medical center on my phone as I rocked him.  Hmmm, open until 8….time now 7:35….off we go.

Mind you, I am a doctor.  And the last thing a doctor wants 5 minutes before the end of their shift as they set their eyes on home is a new patient.  But here we are.  And I’m feeling really bad about it (and hoping they are not thinking that I’m a really callous mother who kept telling her boy – oh you’re fine – until the end of the Steeler game and then, whoosh, into the car and off to the doctor’s!!  Just because the timing is suspiciously similar, doesn’t mean that’s what I was doing).

Noah was a brave boy and turns out he does have a pretty nasty corneal abrasion (small tear to the cornea).  So, I felt justified for having to keep the doctors and nurses late and felt terrible for Noah in all that pain and with a mother telling him, “shhhh, you’re fine.”

I got him tucked back to sleep around 9 and headed down to the only 24 pharmacy

Tucked between Mawzi and the beloved "Blue Blankie"

Tucked between Mawzi and the beloved “Blue Blankie”

around.  It’s a pretty unique experience in the heart of Oakland on a Sunday evening.  A homeless man sits at the edge of the parking lot asking you to bring something on your way out.  I pass by a woman in her pajamas picking up her medications, the college student sitting in the magazine aisle leaning against her backpack and reading an assortment of magazines spread upon the floor.  I get in line right before a tattoo-clad, earlobe-drooping young man and stand behind a very distressed woman trying to get a prescription for birth control.  She’s having trouble making sense of the fact that her prescription is at another pharmacy and they’re closed and the pharmacist can’t do anything for her and even if he called the doctor, they probably wouldn’t care.  She’s spiraling into irrational frustration when I step in to say “sorry to bother you, but I am a doctor, and yes, he’s telling the truth.”  I somehow say the right words, she leaves, the pharmacist thanks me, the tattoo man concurs that the emergency room is way too busy tonight and she wouldn’t want to go there but he had to get his seizure meds which ran out and he wants to get his drivers’ license so he needs his meds so he doesn’t have a seizure…..and I am just thrilled when they call my name and I can take some drops home to my son and pray that they will guard his eye against an infection.

And I sit here now thinking about how thankful I am.  That I could jump in my car and take my son for medical care and my sister doesn’t even flinch when I yell upstairs that I’m leaving.  That I do know where the 24-hour pharmacy is and can get to it even if it is a strange place at night.  That Noah is safe and back in bed (and I’m praying will sleep through the night).  And that despite my stuffy nose, I am not too sick anymore and shall try not to be grumpy with any of the boys tomorrow.  But it certainly is always something.

The Pediatrician in Me

Sometimes it really pays to be a pediatrician as well as a mother.  Take yesterday afternoon for example.  At precisely 3:51pm, Micah looked at me and said “this ear really hurts.” (“Darn!” was my first thought – “oh, honey” were my first words.)  Now, there are very few lessons from my residency training program that I remember verbatim, but I do remember a senior doctor telling me, “If a child older than 4 says their ear hurts, it’s likely to mean something real.”  So I went to the “medicine bag” and pulled out my otoscope (very handy to be a pediatrician), smiled happily that the battery was charged enough that the light turned on, and looked in Micah’s ear.  Yep, that eardrum was screaming red.  So, I thought through the options….see a doc?  Hmm, pediatrician’s office is closed…could go to the hospital’s urgicare satellite clinic….seems like a pain because it would take the rest of the afternoon (and I’m planning on cooking up some yummy Thai food!)….hmmm, Target pharmacy is open until 5…. Picked up the phone ….. “Hi, this is Dr. Lynne…”

And that is pretty much where the limit of me treating my own kids ends (my sister will vouch for that – I don’t even treat her kids…..and no one else in the family either!).  I will do ear infections on the weekend.  That’s it.  Anything else – “go see a doctor.”

You see, I can’t be objective when it comes to my kids.  This winter Micah fell in basketball and naturally cried for a bit afterwards…but was soon back in the game.  The next day (yes, after paying no attention to his hand for well over 30 hours) I noticed that his right thumb was swollen 3 times its normal size and was black and blue.  It looked ugly.  It was Sunday evening.  Seth was to have minor outpatient surgery on Tuesday.  I had a day to figure out what to do.  So, I spent most of Monday driving him around wondering how best to get the thumb evaluated.  His pediatric office?  The emergency room (over 3 hour wait time per some inside sources)? Does it need anything at all?  What if I ignore it and then it’s actually broken and we go 2 more days?!?  We ended up at the hospital’s urgicare center where he was fitted with a very nice little splint…more to help him feel better, the doc said (but I knew it was actually more to help me feel better).

I get stuck in wanting to do everything I possibly can to take care of the kids as well as I can.  But that’s in the midst of not knowing sometimes what the best care is for them.  And believe me, this is only mild stuff we’ve been dealing with.  A little asthma.  A little ear infection.  Colds.  Fevers.  Nothing serious – no real emergency room visits (though I was sure Noah was trying absolutely positively EVERYTHING he could to require an ER visit before he turned two – “how about a few stitches, Mom??” – and I give myself full and unending credit for thwarting that plan!) and no hospital stays.  I am very thankful.  Because I have decided that I will either overreact with the kids (oh yeah, it’s clear, that’s one of those can’t-catch-your-breath, have-10-seizures, fall-over-and-get-a-concussion, lose-a-kidney, break-the-thumb and end up in the hospital kinds of situations) or completely under-react (oh, just rub it!).  There’s no middle ground.

Which is why, unless it’s a weekend evening and they are complaining that their ear hurts…I drag my kids to go see a doctor every time.  (Though I will confess to being a tad late on this last guy’s well child check-up….um, 15 month visit?…. or 16 months ….who’s counting?!?!)

Anyone else have this trouble of under- or over-reacting??