Recently a friend used the phrase “survival mode” and it stopped me in my tracks. I realized I’ve been functioning in survival mode lately and that explained a lot.
I never planned to be a single parent, let alone a widowed mama to four unique kids with a variety of needs. Lately all that I’m NOT doing right has been plaguing me. The ghost of the mom I once was and the voices of what I feared others thought of me were loud.
I used to be a mom who planned fun family outings every stinkin’ week of summer.
I used to be the mom who boldly painted my home because life is too short for white walls. (Seriously, I hate white walls.)
I used to be the mom on top of multiple activities, making sure my kids had fun opportunities.
I used to be the mom who remembered what her kids needed from the store and important appointments that needed to be made.
I used to be the mom who didn’t feel so exhausted all the time.
Now I look at the ratty edges of the ottoman in the living room and beat myself up for not reupholstering it. (I’m sure I pinned a tutorial on a Pinterest board somewhere.) Now I stare at the white walls that are everywhere in my house, wondering why I can’t seem to find the time or energy to pick a new color and just do it already. Now I make three trips to Walmart in a week because I keep forgetting a few things. Now I fear my children’s childhoods are passing by and I’m letting them down.
A few weeks ago, one missed mommy-responsibility seemed to represent all the places I was failing. I sat beating myself up because two summers in a row now I’ve forgotten to sign my youngest up for swim lessons. Fat tears were threatening to pour over when a friend, Miriam, texted me that I was doing a great job. I felt like a fraud. If she only knew…. I texted back my fear. Her words were so full of grace: “You aren’t messing up. She’ll learn to swim. She’s well-cared for, well-loved, and a very happy child. Swimming, piano, whatever the object, it’s only sprinkles. You are providing the cupcake AND the frosting.”
I think I equated “survival mode’ with homeless parents or those struggling with addiction. When I asked a friend who is a family therapist about my epiphany she smiled and said that yes, single parents are known to be functioning in survival mode. It’s taking all they’ve got to make the basics happen.
That’s why I feel like the Pinterest mom full of inspiration and energy is missing–she is! In her place is a mom doing her best to do the job of two parents to make sure their basic needs are met—physical, emotional, mental, educational, and spiritual. In her place is a mom who just can’t always add sprinkles right now.
As my friend was texting me these sage words, my daughter noticed my tears and asked what was wrong. I told her simply that I felt like I wasn’t doing as good a job as her mom as I could because I’d forgotten stuff like swim lessons. With all the grace a 9-year-old can muster, she looked at me and reminded me I’m still adding some sprinkles. “That’s not true. You’re a great mom. Look at all the fun I’m having this summer. I got to go to theatre camp for a week. I’ve been playing. I had a birthday party with two friends. And next week I get to go to church camp. I’m having a great summer. You are a good mom.”
If you are a single parent wrestling with the guilt of missing sprinkles, I want to encourage you to breathe. To give yourself grace. To ask God to help you provide the cupcakes and show you when you are able to add sprinkles and when you are not. When you notice an opportunity to do something special, do it! This week I realized we had an open night and whisked my kids off for the buy-one-get-one-free night at the discount theatre. We saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and laughed and cried. They thanked me afterwards.
We can’t always be the Pinterest mom we want to be. It’s just not realistic even with two parents at home. But sometimes we can let go of what used to be and try to find new glimmers of thriving in survival mode. Sometimes we are doing the best we can and that is enough. Sometimes God provides for the extras–like theatre camp or movie night. And maybe, just maybe, because the sprinkles are rarer our kids enjoy them a bit more.
Are you a single parent struggling in survival mode? I’d love to hear what you struggle to keep up with in your life. Sharing our stories helps remind us that we are not alone. Share in the comments.
For more on how to take care of yourself so you are able to take care of them, check out Self Care is not Selfish.