There’s a woman sitting near you in a restaurant, on a train, in a school meeting, at your kids’ sport, on a nearby desk at work, or walking past you in the street, feeling lousy about herself.
The crew and I were in countdown mode all weekend. This little family of four has been one man down for 2 weeks and we couldn’t wait to welcome hub-dad back into the country. There have been times over this last fortnight when dinners have been a gourmet collection of weetbix, raisin toast and rice crackers. There have been times over this last fortnight when socks have had to be pulled out of the dirty washing pile and squished bits of cupcake have had to be picked off them before being worn to school. There have been times over this past fortnight when a wee-puddle, left by the side of the toilet bowl from a half asleep son has had to wait 7 hours before being mopped up. There have been times over the last fortnight when we have screamed [me], sworn [me] and cried [also me].
Solo-parenting, is parenting, amplified.
I am not unique in the going-solo sense. Mothers are doing this ALL. THE. TIME. At any given moment I could list half a dozen women that I know, who are juggling the demands of a young family while their husbands are away for work. And that doesn’t even count the single mothers, who just roll with these punches day in and day out (and probably, rightfully so, rolled their eyes and tuned out of my pity post by the second paragraph).
The biggest challenge of parenting, and more so solo-parenting, is the seemingly impossible art of living in the present. This allusive skill teaches us to appreciate what is in front of us, let go of the past and allow the future to fall into place. That’s all well and good and daisy-chains, until my son needs to get to soccer practice and my daughter needs to be at basketball, at opposite ends of the town, at the same time. Living in the present is all beer and skittles until the dog needs a walk, the kids need dinner, the washing needs to be pulled in and I have three hours’ worth of work to get through before the inevitable tiredness of the day threatens to sink its teeth into all of our emotional states.
The thing is, living in the present is a beautiful notion and an undisputable benefit to wellbeing, until life happens. It seems almost inconceivable to stop and smell the roses when you can’t stop watching the clock, checking the diary and trying desperately to somehow get ahead of the conveyor belt of the family schedule.
But if there is anything that I have learnt about myself over the last 14 days, it’s that regardless of how hard it seems, I need to find the pause button for this conveyor belt; I need to schedule in regular maintenance – whether I’m solo parenting or not.
There’s a Zen proverb that says “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” If I hadn’t been so preoccupied with the impending to-do list after my husband’s departure, I would have written these words on a post-it-note in every room of the house.
At some stage in every fast-paced block of 24 hours, I need to find at least twenty minutes of nothingness; of calm, present, non-judemental thoughts only. Because there have been times in the last fortnight that I have felt the harsh brunt of living in every moment except the current one. I felt anxious. I felt stressed. I felt irritable. I felt erratic. I felt don’t-even-look-at-me emotional. I felt angry. I felt guilty. I felt completely overwhelmed, exhausted and broken. All signs, I imagine, of present-living deficit.
With hub-dad almost touching down back on Aussie soil (ed note, I just got a text. HE HAS LANDED! WOOT!), I am looking back over these last two weeks and questioning how I behaved as a parent, how I managed my emotions and dealt with the stress and I am wondering “why was that so damn hard?” It comes back to my complete lack of presence; my inability to clear my mind of who needs to be where and what needs to be done, for just 20 minutes of each day.
Having never been great at meditation, I’m pleased to read recent insights about the practice being less sitting on a cushion repeating “om” and more just slowing down and basking your senses in your current surroundings. Meditation can be done walking or running or even, for the win, while watching a live show. Anything that allows you to shut your diary, switch off your phone, close off your mind to the things that “need” to be done and just “be” present, is going to pay back with interest – emotionally, mentally and physically.
So solo-mums, single-mums, mums with loads of support, mums with no-support, mums in general, parents in general, it is hard, so damn hard to stop thinking about what everyone is doing, where everyone needs to be, what everyone needs to eat, who needs to have what packed and what needs to be done next. But from someone who’s tiptoed on the knifes edge of spending too much time in the next moment, find the time to stop; to look, to listen, to breath. Forget the to-dos, forget the not dones and just switch off. 20 minutes in 24 hours.
Then mop up the wee.