People often seem surprised when I share that I’m a single mom. Apparently, I seem very put together, my kids look happy and well cared for, and I look well rested. My kids always have what they need for school. I make sure that they’re successful. In other words, people think I’ve got my stuff way too together to be doing this alone.
Here’s the thing people don’t realize, though: There’s so much they don’t see.
Nobody knows that I not only hold a full-time job but also put in over 20 hours of freelance writing on the side each week. Most people have no idea that my bank account constantly wavers. I frequently hold my breath the day before payday, hoping everything clears when I swipe my card to buy a few needed groceries. Nobody realizes that I often go without so my kids have what they want and need, even if that means wearing holey jeans or putting off medical treatment so I can continue to pay for my kids’ music lessons.
I don’t tell anyone about the nights I spend wide awake, worrying about all the ways I might be ruining my kids. I keep the constant nagging voice inside my head to myself, and I don’t tell anyone that I frequently question if I made the right choice to pick my battles when my kids’ dad decided to leave.
In fact, I try to not let people see me scream or cry about how stressed I feel, even when it’s overwhelming.
Nobody knows that I run myself ragged trying to maintain a clean household and I constantly fail. Most people don’t even realize that I often have to choose between doing the dishes and spending quality time with my kids and that time with them wins out almost every time.
Nobody sees that even when I say I don’t need any help, I’m secretly praying for someone to just give me a hand for a minute.
I don’t tell anyone that I constantly compare myself to other moms and make lists of all the ways I come in dead last. I never share that I fear the day my kids say that a friend’s mom is better than me or share how a friend’s parents do so much more for them. Most of the time, I know that I’m not a good mom, but I don’t want to hear my kids flat out say it.
Life is overwhelming, especially when you’re raising kids alone. I’m a single mom, and sometimes I just want to cry on someone’s shoulder — but whose shoulder can I even cry on?
I often feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and completely inadequate. But here’s the thing: That’s not what people see at all.
In fact, people see something much different — and that’s what I should really focus on.
Instead of focusing on the single mom who works 60+ hours per week but still struggles to pay her bills, I should look at the mother who always makes time for her kids, no matter the cost. I shouldn’t focus on my old, worn out jeans; I should look at the cute clothes my girls love. Instead of thinking about those times I hold my breath while standing in the grocery check out line, I should focus on the fact that my kids have everything they need to stay healthy and happy.
When I start worrying about all the ways I’m ruining my kids or coming up short, I should instead look at all the things I’m doing right. There are lots of validating moments that show that I’m providing incredible memories for my kids every single day, and they love lots of the things we do together. Even when they seem grumpy or upset, I love my kids, and they know it.
I’m doing the best I can — and sometimes that’s all any of us can do.
Instead of focusing on the dishes that aren’t done, I should look at the delicious dinner I just cooked for my kids. I shouldn’t focus on the carpet that needs to be vacuumed; I should focus on the laughter I hear as we play board games for hours on end. Instead of stressing over my messy house, I should celebrate the tiny victories when I actually complete tasks that need to get done.
Yes, being a single mom is incredibly difficult and I frequently just wish I had a shoulder to cry on when I feel overwhelmed. But you know what? I’m also kicking ass as much as any other mom out there, and that’s what really matters.
I love my kids and they love me — isn’t that enough?
People seem surprised when I say that I’m a single mom because I’m so put together. But here’s the thing: There’s so much that nobody ever sees.
Previously published on Moms.com.