Riddle: When is a woman most like an octopus?
Answer: When the woman is a single mother.
Every mother fills multiple, evolving positions that include and are not limited to educator, mentor, coach (literally and figuratively), chauffeur, cook, laundress, seamstress, baker of goods for last-minute school fundraisers, confidante, role model, and disciplinarian. Carrying these responsibilities without the aid of a mate or partner, it is the shoulders of the single mother, however, that bear the heaviest weight. The necessity to provide her child with the basic necessities propels her into the work force where, spurred by fears of impending unemployment, her productivity and efficiency can exceed that of her colleagues. If unemployed, she must work diligently at the job of securing work: devising resumes, cover letters, follow up letters and integrating them into a well-planned and executed employment strategy. If employed, she must often juggle two jobs simultaneously with other needs that can appear, perhaps superficially, to be less vital.
Conscientious mothers, however, understand that, beyond food, clothing, and shelter, their children require nurturing: the key element essential to every child’s well being and self-esteem, and an element that, due to time constraints, can be overlooked or, at best, rushed. Therefore, along with the demands of the workforce or the job search, and her role as caregiver, a single mom becomes the sun in her child’s universe, the giver and sustainer of life, the lifter of spirits, the healer of scraped knees and wounded hearts around which the child revolves for his every emotional and physical need.
Loving mothers, however, view their children as the center of their galaxy and themselves, the bodies consigned to circle the young ones. It is the inexorable circling, the never-ending cycle of work and giving until there is no more to give, that produces such a burden, the mother can crumble under the weight of her responsibilities. Exhausted, angry, frustrated, distracted at work at a time when focus on the job is paramount, the resultant stress builds and eventually snaps as single mothers, good mothers, fail to honor the fact that they, too, require nurturing from both internal and external sources.
Houses of worship, schools, and the vast human services network, linking myriad organizations and agencies all provide various means through which single mothers can gain the resources and coping mechanisms that will impact and improve their lives, and ultimately, the lives of their children. Vocational training and retraining, psychosocial/family counseling services, professional resume writing services, job aid placement, and even financial aid can be accessed via these branches – provided the single mother is willing to reach out to them! Help may also be available through family members, friends, neighbors, and after-school programs, all of which can ease, at the very least, the logistical stress of having to be in two places at once.
Assistance also exists from within when single mothers perceive themselves as they already are: strong, responsible, loving, and focused. If you are a single parent, congratulate yourself on getting this far alone, and park no guilt in that desolate lot you view as your failures. Attach no blame to the fact that you cannot do it alone. Cite, or better yet, read Former First Lady Hillary Clinton’s best selling book, which centers around the reality that “It Takes a Village” to raise a child. Reward your efforts with regular breaks: small indulgences of time and pleasure that will energize you, reduce your stress, and grant you the impetus to go forward.
These indulgences need not be costly. A walk in the park as the leaves unfurl at Spring or color in Fall, an inexpensive lunch or dinner with a friend, a few hours at the zoo with or without your child, an afternoon in a bookstore, turning the pages of “Chicken Soup for Mothers,” from the popular “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series, or an hour under headphones at the same bookstore, sampling new music without charge: these are but a few suggestions for accessing the stress reducers that enable you to remember that you, too, count; that you, too, require and deserve the very best of care.