WTF?! I am a single mom by choice. I always wanted to be a married mom — maybe too much. I never found a man I wanted to settle down with (or who wanted to settle down with me) but I was determined to not let that stand in the way of motherhood. My son is three and a half and it was the best thing I ever did.
My biggest problem is discipline. I can’t be the good cop and the bad cop, and even though I know the bad cop is necessary, it hurts me so much to see my son unhappy when I give him time outs. I think I am so focused on the necessities of life that I am too lenient. My son is a great kid now, but I’m terrified this may lead to a sociopathic 16-year old!
–Guilty in Gramercy Park
Thank for signing your note “Guilty.”
Guilt. The most useless emotion evah!
You spent so many years defining a perfect family life for yourself — that of a two-parent household with kids. Single motherhood is your Plan B. This is true for all of us. No little girl lays in bed at night dreaming of living in a 1980s condo raising children alone while searching for love. While you cherish your son and your life, you feel like you’ve failed because your son’s father is not involved. You feel guilty. You worry his life will be compromised by the fact there is no bad cop to play against your good cop.
But maybe not.
A few weeks ago my ex and I went for burgers together with our kids. This is the first time we’ve done anything like this in the four years we’ve been divorced. It was mostly OK, but there were a few tense moments because we disagree about discipline. It is not perfect that we live apart and the kids get different messages about behavior in our respective homes, but it is far better than if we lived together and bickered (or, let’s be real: had drawn-out brawls) regularly about discipline.
My point is that life is imperfect. We find ourselves on paths we did not imagine. Sometimes we find ourselves on paths that we do imagine — and find that dream is not so awesome after all. We see our friends in what looks like ideal homes — but peel away the layers and the reality is less glittering. Their lives — like yours and mine — are real, flawed, human.
None of this is to say that discipline as a single parent is easy. If you had seen the scene at my breakfast table this morning, you would feel so validated! (“THREE BITES OF SCRAMBLED EGGS! WHICH I COOKED BECAUSE YOU ASKED FOR THEM!”). Here is is my advice:
- Work on that guilt. You are probably doing an awesome job. How do I know? Because you are self-aware enough to be hard on yourself. Your kid is fine. And you’re humble enough to ask for help. Guilt-free decisions — like whether to take away a favorite toy for a day, say no to dessert, or stick to bedtime — are better decisions.
- Again with the guilt! Absolving guilt includes guilt that your kid does not have enough — enough time with a loving parent, enough financial resources and all the crap that comes with that, enough of you. When you are at peace that your child has enough, you will do things like make sure they get to bed on time so that you get a break and can recharge your batteries — only to start the shitshow again tomorrow!
- Call in the troupes. I wrote this post about how much I appreciate it when my brother disciplines my kids. It helps to have another respected adult voice laying down the law. It underscores your position and gives your pipes a break from screaming. Cultivate relationships with friends, relatives and neighbors who will spend time with your children — again, giving you a much-needed break — and will be firm in their discipline.
- You’re the parent. Period. One of the pitfalls of single parenthood is that it is lonely. If you do not have a strong support network and are not actively dating, it is very easy to rely on your child for companionship in an unhealthy way. Watch yourself. Do not overshare about your worries with your kid. And stop yourself if you’re inclined to go easy on the time outs because you’re worried the child will be angry at you. You’re the mom! It’s your job to make them hate you! (I jest)
- Give yourself a break. You will likely screw up. That is part of being a mom. Then you get up the next day — and screw up again! And in between you will do most of it right. You’re doing a great job. Keep at it, keep trying. And call me when he turns 16.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money writer, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, REAL SIMPLE, Parenting, USA Today and others.
The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children (Penguin, 2017), was a #1 bestseller and was featured in hundreds of media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, Oprah.com and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.
Her popular blog Wealthysinglemommy.com, and podcast Like a Mother, explore issues facing professional single moms: business and career, money, sex, relationships and parenting. Emma regularly comments on these topics for outlets such as CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, The Doctors, and many more. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” one of “20 Personal Finance Influencers to Follow on Twitter” by AOL DailyFinance, “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and “Most Eligible New Yorkers” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker on gender equality, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality.
Emma grew up in Sycamore, Ill., and lives in New York City with her children.