Single Mom with Teenagers – Advice on How to Avoid Becoming One and Tips if You Are!
There have been memes regarding teenagers before the word “meme” existed.
The one that I recall seeing on little plaques in bookstores and novelty shops:
“Teenage grandkids are every grandparent’s secret revenge on their own teenagers.”
I don’t think my parents need revenge against me; I was a saint. So, it’s not karma that has turned me into a single mom to two teenage boys; it’s just how my life turned out. And while being a single parent was never my life’s aspiration, I wouldn’t have it any other way as I love my kids, and I know my co-parent and I are happier apart.
But I can help prevent people from succumbing to the same fate or reassure them that they are not alone.
It is never easy to be a single parent, even if it’s a part-time single parent with a co-parent. Of course, it’s easier if you have a co-parent. I often console myself by reminding myself that at least my teenagers’ dad is working with me to provide consistent parenting to my teenagers, or the gruesome twosome, as I sometimes think of them.
If you are contemplating separation and think you are better off being a 100% on-duty parent, consider it more.
When I separated, I wanted primary custody of my kids. I knew I was a better parent (I was, as I had been the stay-at-home parent for the majority of their lives). I had a lot of practice in morning routines, bedtime routines, arranging playdates, meal preparation and all other required caregiving duties involved in raising children. I even learned to anticipate the arsenic hour (you know the arsenic hour – between 4 and 6 pm when your children turn into Frankenstein, a werewolf and demon rolled into one?).
My co-parent was, frankly, useless regarding the typical caregiving duties. My kids would go off to his house and return to mine wearing each other’s clothes. “Uh, Ellis, did you notice you are wearing Rowan’s pants?” Ellis’s pants went to mid-shin. My co-parent promised to arrange our eldest’s birthday for two years before it happened. And when it did, it was because I wrestled it back from him and did it at my place. My seven-year-old had his sleepover when he was nine. My co-parent managed to feed my kids, but I know it consisted mainly of take-out. I’m pretty confident my children only bathed at my house for many years. I typically bought their clothes, arranged doctor’s and dentist’s appointments, and arranged everything related to school (including ensuring they got into a choice program in both elementary and high school). Sorry if you are reading this co-parent, but it’s true. You can argue that I wasn’t very good at making money – also true. Good thing I’m good at managing money!
But, because my co-parent and I shared parenting, I had opportunities to learn how to make money, and my co-parent had opportunities to practice being a better caregiver.
I also had breaks from parenting, which we all know is primarily unrewarding grunt work. Of course, parenting can also be extremely rewarding. My children’s sweet angelic faces may have carried me through the tough times (not during the arsenic hour), but once they hit teenagerhood, the rewarding moments seemingly take a hiatus. I’m told they come back when your children turn twenty-five, maybe thirty for boys.
So, as my youngest ticked over the magic threshold into becoming a teenager, I thank my lucky stars every day that my co-parent and I have had enough time to learn how to be better co-parents together. My co-parent is still not quite at the same level as me in the caregiving roles. I’m still not quite at the same level as my co-parent at making money. (What they say is true about women taking a break from the workforce to raise children and the various reasons women earn less than men). But my co-parent and I are exponentially better at our new roles than if I had taken full custody of our kids.
Teenagers are brutal. I am still spending many of my waking hours looking after their every need (it’s hard to break years of ingrained habits, and I’m required to feed them, right?), and they now spend their waking hours dodging me. When my children do deign to hang out with me, it’s usually to mock me or argue with me. I understand why they are like this. I know that teenagers are going through significant physiological changes – their brains are shedding, their hormones are raging, and they live in a stressful world where they spend a good chunk of their day at what they perceive as a jail.
I know all this and understand- I empathize with my kids.
But despite understanding and empathizing with my kids, sharing a space with two very unpleasant people for hours at a time and being one of me against two of them is very hard. Did I already say that? I can’t emphasize it enough. Two horrendous teenagers are being mean to me, and no one else in my home can commiserate with me or remind me that I’m not crazy.
So, why am I telling you all this?
A few reasons.
If you’re planning to have children, ask yourself if your planned co-parent is the partner with whom you want to raise children. And I know we all think they are, only to change our minds after the children are born. So, do some parenting courses together, and design a contract about who does what once the children arrive. Plan the logistics before you have kids instead of having to do it when you separate, and the conflict prevents you from creating a parenting plan.
If separating with kids, before deciding that your ex-spouse would make a useless parent and you had better take it all on, think again. I thought my co-parent would never be able to raise our kids as I could, and I was right. My co-parent has different strengths than me, and our kids have benefitted from our combined strengths, and we have both grown and improved in areas where we had weaknesses. (Caveat: if your spouse and future co-parent are abusive, you may have to be the sole caregiver. If you feel your spouse is abusing you or your children, please seek help for this first).
Try to separate when your kids are tweens and teenagers only if you and your spouse are on exactly the same parenting page and have mutually agreed that your family will be better off if you separate. Yes, it’s ok to separate when your children are teenagers if you are consciously uncoupling. But be aware that high-conflict separations are a disaster for teenage development. And last but not least:
Take care of yourself and take time for yourself and find some friends to support you when your children become teenagers. My current strategy is to leave the house – they love it, and I love it! Of course, I put house protection in place before leaving. I go outside, sometimes just for a bike ride or a walk. I call my other “mom” friends, who remind me that I’m not crazy. And if you haven’t found “mom” friends yet, don’t worry; they aren’t hard to find. You can often spot them taking solo walks around the neighbourhood, muttering to themselves or looking like they are walking off an argument. Smile at them, say a kind word, and you have likely just found your first “mom” friend.