“I don’t know how you do it.”
As a single mom, this is the phrase I hate the most. I know the person who is saying it means well. But it’s not as reassuring as they may think it is. Frankly, it can be patronizing sometimes. They’re trying to say that they don’t think they’re capable of doing what I do, but most people would be surprised at how much they’re capable of when they don’t have a choice.
I’m aware of how badass single moms are. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I don’t know how I do it either.
My plan was never to become a single mom. But life, as it does, threw a huge curveball at me and I found myself in the single moms club. As much as motherhood is instinctive for me, single motherhood certainly is not. Here I am, navigating a reality I never really considered for myself. There are plenty of my fellow single moms who will tell you the same thing. We didn’t choose this life, which usually means, we’re not sure what we’re doing.
While I have a great support system, including my son’s dad, the bulk of caregiving falls on me. All single moms have a different way of handling motherhood. For me, making peace with being a single mom had a profound impact on how I live my life. That peace brings a little grace to those times when I feel like a complete failure on all fronts. Those days happen a lot. Motherhood is by no means easy, and for those of us doing it alone, that increases by a million.
Single moms, we’re operating on a completely different mental plane. Not only do we have to make sure that we’re getting things done, we have to carry the pressure of perfection. My mind is a constant loop of things that need to be done — usually with an accompanying sense of dread. The pressure as a single mom to present myself as a “put together” person is so real.
Sometimes it feels like I’m never going to tackle everything on my to-do list. And you know what? Stuff sometimes doesn’t get done in a timely fashion. Even though I can see the laundry bag is tipping under its own weight, it may not be my priority. There are days we eat take-out because I forgot to take something out of the freezer.
You want to know how I do it? I don’t get an adequate amount of sleep every night. Single moms have to do things whenever they can find the time. At night, after my son goes to sleep, I like to revel in the silence. That’s my time to unwind from the day and decompress. It’s the part of the day I look forward to the most, even though I know I’ll hate myself in the morning. Privacy and time to myself is something I rarely get, so I’ve learned to make it where I can.
My late nights aren’t just scrolling through Pinterest for cookie recipes though. It’s a time to continue my daytime work. Working from home is hard, even with a school-aged child. Late nights are usually spent typing furiously, finishing as much as I can. I know that tomorrow me will be upset, but that’s a tomorrow problem. Will tomorrow me hate late night me? Absolutely, but that really doesn’t stop me from doing it. That’s why caffeine exists, right?
When I hear “I don’t know how you do it,” I honestly want to laugh. Do I have a choice here? If I don’t do it, who’s going to pick up my slack? There’s no part in my life where failure is an option. My son relies on me to make sure that he has everything he needs. He’s the thing that pushes me forward when it feels too hard.
Most of the time, I barely know what day it is. I’m going through the motions, getting myself from one thing to the next. Let me tell you, it’s not the most ideal, but as many single moms know, it’s our norm. We’re simply putting one foot in front of the other doing what we need to, day after day. As monotonous as it can be, sometimes I find the repetition comforting. Like, at least there are some things I can count on when things are uncertain. There will always be a mountain of laundry. The sink is likely full of dishes. Without a doubt, I will stay up way too late and kind of hate myself the next day. It’s weird how that becomes such a large part of my normal, but here we are.
For us single moms, there is no option to not be everything for everyone. We have to put our noses to the ground and do whatever it takes. If I sat down and actually took stock of everything I do alone, I might break down in tears. Sometimes I wish things could be a little easier. I know they will be one day, but that day feels so far off.
Next time you’re about to tell a single mom “I don’t know how you do it,” pause for a second. You may think you’re being encouraging, and maybe to someone you are. But for many of us single moms, you’re just reminding us that what we do is really hard. I don’t know how I do it either — but for me, it’s not a choice.