Close to ten years ago, I made one of the biggest, most important decisions in my life. I started the process to become a Single Mom By Choice (SMBC). I shared my journey in one of my very first blogs here on The Daily Feels.
Like most women who choose to take this path, I did a copious amount of research and planning. I also interviewed a dozen or so women who became Single Moms By Choice, and a lot of common truths emerged. One point, in particular, was clearly stated by each and every one of the women I spoke to… lone parenting is not for the weak of heart.
Each of these women explained the pros and cons that go along with lone parenting and clarified the difference between single parenting and that of lone parenting. Lone parenting is exactly how it sounds, your parenting alone, with no significant other to provide, decide or lift some of the heaviness of childcare (hence, why a village is key). I was thankful they were so brutally honest because knowing the difference is crucial when making the choice to become one.
Obviously, I became a lone parent by choice, but I never referred to myself as one. I always offered up the single parent title. Up until a year ago, I was fine with that label. That was before I decided to meet up with a few moms for coffee. There were four of us: one single mom, two married moms and me. We started to discuss parenting and some of the struggles we were facing. I commented on something the single mom said, agreeing with her uncertainties, and I happened to utter something about how single moms tend to doubt themselves a lot. Halfway through my response, that single mom raised her hand, and her voice – and started to properly educate me:
“I hope you don’t take offense to this, but you’re not a single parent, Janis. I am a single parent. I have an ex-husband who shares 50% of the heavy lifting, ok, maybe 40%, if I am being honest. The point I am trying to make is, if I need a backup or can’t do the mom-thing on any given day, I have someone as invested as I, to help me work it out. If I struggle with a decision that concerns my kids, I have someone to talk through those concerns with. If I can’t pay for my son’s hockey equipment, my ex is there to help fund his passion. Single parents have a back-up. You, doing this alone, typically do not. Single parents get a break – every other weekend and sometimes even a week or two vacations to focus on ourselves. Solo parents like yourself, do not. You must show up, every day, all day, no matter what is going on in your life. The load is all on you… which is hard, and stressful and not for the weak. Single parents have nothing on parents like yourself – and you, my friend deserve a medal.”
I became emotional and a bit uncomfortable with the conversation. Mainly because I CHOSE lone parenting. I made the decision to have a child on my own, through a donor, and knew ALL that that decision came with. I don’t know, maybe I was referring to myself as a single parent, so I didn’t feel so alone. But the more I thought about what this mom said, I wondered if I really prepared enough for this lone-parenting gig.
I started rehashing some of the conversations I had back in the day with those lone moms by choice. They all shared and proposed the common prep and provisions needed to move forward: sound financials, designating alone time, building a solid tribe of helpers, having your story prepared for when your kid asks about their ‘dad’, etc. Let’s just say, I felt I was well educated and prepared based on their offerings. But what I had experienced soon thereafter that coffee date with those moms, I definitely was not primed for.
I am referring to the decline in my health (and that of my tribe). When something malfunctions, when bodies shut down, as a lone parent, you still need to show up as if…and I am here to tell you, it’s close to crippling.
For the past 8 years, there was nothing that lone parenthood through my way, which I felt I couldn’t handle. Albeit hard as hell, and having self-doubts and messy cries from time to time – it was all pretty figureoutable. But in late 2019, into early 2020, all this lone-doing got the best of me. My body crashed and as luck would have it, the same happened to my tribe of caregivers.
When you’re a lone parent, you’re too busy making sure all the balls stay in the air, because you are in fact responsible for all those balls. One drops, and the shit show ensues. So, stress becomes a thing. You’re so used to its company; you stop paying attention to it. It’s your side-kick…and new normal. It wasn’t until I found myself in excruciating pain, on a business flight to San Francisco, where I became ‘woke’ to the amount of stress I was carrying, and what it can do to my body. Whereas I worked through the pain, I knew something was not right. When I returned home, I dragged my unwell self to the doctor, and It was there where I was diagnosed with shingles. Yes, shingles. I was shocked because I thought shingles was an elderly person’s illness. Whereas it does affect the elderly, it’s also an illness that is brought on by an insane amount of stress. The doctor had me run-through what had transpired as of late, where stress could/would play a role in me getting shingles. I told him just typical, ordinary stressors. He asked me to explain that comment further. So, I simply said:
“I am a single parent of a child with Autism. But it’s been like that from day one – so nothing as of late has really changed.”
He replied: “Can your son stay with his Dad while you heal from this?”
I responded: “No. By single parent, I mean lone parent. I am his one and only.”
He looked at me wide-eyed and said: “Ok, so now this makes perfect sense and why your diagnosis is warranted. You are the lone parent to a child on the spectrum. That’s a lot. And whereas you think all this is typical, it’s really not. When you don’t acknowledge stress, your body does. It sets off an alarm. You getting shingles is your body’s way of telling you it’s had enough. This is why women your age have heart attacks. You need to take this seriously. You and your body need rest.”
Since then, I have tried to be cognizant of my stress levels but other than exercising, eating well and meditating, I don’t know how else to ease the pressure of lone parenting. This is a 24-7, 365 day-gig, so I believe it comes with the territory, and maybe these lone-parents I spoke to early-on, just thought it was a given, this unspoken rule of sorts.
I healed from the shingles and I did what I could to keep well, but the warning signs reemerged early 2020. This time I noticed them, but again, other than self-caring a little bit more, I was not sure what else to do – other than roll with it.
First, my tribe of four caregivers scaled down to one. I literally trust four people to care for my son when I can’t, and one by one, they were all being picked off for reasons beyond my control. I am a full-time, working Mom, my tribe helps me do all the things. I was now relying on one of my caregivers to pull the weight of four. You might be saying to yourself, “just hire someone else to care for Kellan”. That’s not as easy as it sounds when your child is autistic. Kellan doesn’t always communicate properly, and he can’t tell me if something goes wrong while in other’s care. Hence why I usually only have family watch him. Anyway, losing the majority of my tribe, created a heightened sense of concern…and stress I have never felt before.
While I was worrying about who was going to take care of my son, I was heading into one of my busiest months at work. I was gearing up for a great career opportunity. I was spearheading a big industry event. It was going to give the company I work for incredible exposure and present a big career win for me. Every step of the planning process was grueling, but I was beginning to see the light. There I was, two days away from the big event, packing for my flight, and my knees gave out from under me. I fell to the floor. I felt nauseous, sweaty and faint. After 5 minutes of this not passing, I called my sister to come over, because I didn’t’ want my son to find me on the floor, unconscious. Once I felt up to it, I drove myself to urgent care and it was there where I was diagnosed with Strain A of the flu. “Noooooooooo”.
For the next week, I felt like a train hit me – fatigued, weak and nauseous from the harsh meds my doctor prescribed. All I wanted to do was rest – but I have a child who doesn’t get to see mom do that very often, if at all (BTW, moms – lay your asses down once in a while – your kids need to see and accept that every superhero needs to recharge). He wasn’t comfortable with it. I explained to him that mom was tired and just needed to lay down, but he kept on pulling my arm to sit up. In addition, I was super scared that I was going to pass this evil virus onto him, since it was just, he and I (thank goodness that didn’t happen). I was on the verge of tears because I felt whatever I was fighting, was winning. This flu had taken over my entire body, and for the very first time in my 8 years of motherhood, I was doubting my ability to lone parent. I was a mom on empty and there was no fuel in sight.
Needless to say, we got through it – but this lone parent emerged with some serious concerns. I had two significant examples of how my mishandling of stress was killing my immune system. Lone parenting went from this empowering role I thrived at, to this position that now scared the living shit out of me. These exact concerns landed me back in therapy. I knew if I didn’t figure some stuff out, and make some much-needed adjustments, I was going to continue to break down.
In these weekly, 45 minute sessions, I am working through the deeper meaning behind doing “all the things”… seeking ways to eliminate what doesn’t fucking matter, because some of those ‘things’ truly do not.
I currently have been prescribed three assignments. I wanted to share them with you, in case you’re in need of dialing down your stress level:
- Create another plate. My therapist instructed me that we can’t just have ONE plate spinning at all times. That plate gets filled with all the things and well, we put stress on the plate and ourselves, and eventually, we crash and burn. So, my work is to prepare two plates: the ‘I’ll do it’ plate, which consists of all the things that need to get done for my son and I to survive and thrive. And the second plate is titled, ‘delegation’. I suck at delegation because I claim to be a “limitless, independent female” who is used to doing everything herself. I am realizing those terms, powerful and all, are complete and utter bullshit. Those descriptors I used to be proud of and lived by, are what made me sick and why I am currently in therapy. ‘Human’ is the only way I am choosing to define myself these days.
- Learn to solo-task. Tell me, how does a Mom do this? We gave birth to the term multitasking. However, I realize this is part of the work. In full admittance, I am most likely doing all the things half-assed anyway and getting myself sick in the process. One. Thing. At. A. Fucking. Time. is my new mantra.
- Saying “no”, more. This ‘to-do’ item I have mastered over the years. I say no to anything and everything that doesn’t serve my soul. Done.
So here’s to my new role of being a two-plate wielding, solo-tasker who says no, a lot. It’s going be an adjustment, and I’ll probably screw up at times, but if I have learned anything in my 8 years of lone parenting, it’s that everything is figureoutable.
Be well, my fellow humans.
Janis Gaudelli is The Founder of The Daily Feels. She started this passion project to reveal the magic behind storytelling, and how truth-based narratives bring people together in the most heart-warming of ways. Fascinated by soul, depth, intellect, raw truths and rebellion with a cause. Often captivated by the awe of nature: star gazing, moon manifesting, sunset chasing, waves crashing, crickets singing. Fiercely curious about the inner-workings of the human psyche… she professionally studies human behavior for a living. Forever proud and grateful for being a mom to the force that fuels her life: her 8-year-old son, and greatest professor, Kellan.