I Stopped Being A Mom For 24 Hours

At some point, I have to stick up for myself against my kids.

mom with kids on bed shurkin_son / Shutterstock

As a mom, I'm constantly worried about my kids. As a single mom, I'm constantly crazy worried about my kids. Am I working too much? Am I too poor? Am I missing important moments?

The answer to all of these questions tends to be a resounding yes!

When you have limited everything: time, money, help, breathing space — everyone suffers. I take this personally. After all, my kids didn't ask for life with a single mom — and to be honest, I didn't either. 


I began mommyhood assuming I'd be the next great June Cleaver. I found my prince, said my "I do's" young, and started popping out tiny humans to inhabit our picket home like a bunny rabbit on crack.

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Fifteen years and four kids later, the prince ran away and I got left juggling everything. Kids, income, house, school, vacations — they're all mostly entirely up to me, and it can be exhausting.

My kids get it. They've watched our lives devolve from stay-at-home-greets-you-at-the-door-with-homemade-cookies to work-like-a-crazy-mom-trying-to-do-it-all-and-fails-miserably-most-days. I'm hypersensitive to this.


Now that I'm a single mom, I don't just want to give them a good life; I want to give them the best life. 

Which is why I stopped parenting for 24 hours to see what would happen.

I try often to make up for all they're missing. I try to make their lives easier, happier, and more full of love. Because I'm so painfully aware of the imaginary existence I'd assumed they have, I try frenetically to make this foreign life feel magically delicious.

Limited time and limited money have changed the way I parent. Since I no longer have a house or parenting partner, my children have become partners in their own existence.

They've moved into more responsibility for their schedules, their activities, and our home. It's as if the absence of another grown-up and the limited presence of myself amplifies their presence.


With one less adult available for harping, planning, directing, and guiding, my kids have to self-direct more.

This all sounds fine and fancy, doesn't it? Letting the kids guide their existence, letting them be responsible, helping them understand their own power, and giving them their own power.

Yeah, no. Well, no to that today, because here's the truth: No matter how much you envision yourself as a good teacher, a good leader, and a fairly put-together hipster single mom who's kind of making it work, kids are kids.

They know they shouldn't be bad roommates but they're still going to toss their gum wrappers on the floor when you're not around. They nod and smile when you say it like a Parenting Book ninja: "Guys, it means so much to me when you tidy up after yourself because it means more time for all of us to do the things we love."


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But turn your back for two seconds, and they still drink pickle juice from soda lids; they still smear toothpaste on the toilet seats; they toss moldy towels in giant underbed heaps lined with razor blades and e-cigarettes.

Kids choose disgusting whenever they have a chance.

Lord of the Flies is the single most prophetic book of all time. If a single mother didn't ghostwrite that novel, I'm ready to give an honorary title to the author. Because, yes, kids left alone turn into chest-beating, YouTube-sneaking, candy-snorting pigwipes.

They don't need an island of their own; they just need you to leave them alone in the house for 63 minutes.


Yesterday was one of those days. I worked an hour longer than usual, and in that hour, the kids arrived home from school, cracked open a seven-pack of ice cream, painted ukuleles with vats of honey, and spread candle wax on their naked bodies like cranberry-scented war paint.

As soon as I was home, I was out again. One daughter needed to be dropped off at an event; a dinner needed to be attended. I didn't even have time to use the bathroom last night, let alone survey the damage.

Early this morning, I came downstairs to a sink full of crusty dishes, a kitchen table identical to a meth lab, and 8 1/2 socks strewn across a dusty floor. (Yep, 8 1/2 socks. Don't even ask.)

As usual, I felt bad. This was my fault. I was working, and they needed me. I should have been there after school to greet their faces, pinch their cherub cheeks, and light the cranberry candle of goodwill.


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Fueled by guilt, I frantically started cleaning, picking up, and putting away.

And somewhere between finding a Pokémon card in the microwave and wiping up 54,000 egg crumbs (how do eggs even have crumbs?), I realized we were stuck in an "I'm Sorry" cycle.

I say "I'm sorry" for being gone, working, and not being a Borg model of the mother I always wanted to be. So I pick up, tidy up, clean up, save face, and try to make go away.

Then after a nice firm chat, the children see the error of their ways, say "I'm sorry," and we all go about our merry business. The house gets clean because I cleaned it; the kids get scolded because I scolded them; the mom gets tired because the mom is doing literally everything.


Not today. I stopped mid-microwave wipe, grabbed a paper and pen, unplugged the WiFi router, and decided to stop lecturing, stop saying sorry, and start holding my kids to basic expectations that every kid should have.

Of course, since I'll be working late tonight, I won't be there when they get home.

So, I left them a few love letters instead. Eleven signs that I'm done with the cycle. Eleven little reminders that I'm sorry they have a busy mom, but I'm not sorry they're alive. And I'm not sorry that they're capable.


It's tough being a mom. I think it's fair to say it's tougher being a single mom, but I'm starting to see that the hardest part of single motherhood isn't the gig itself, it's the expectations I place on myself.

It's time to start changing that, time to stop doing everything, and time to let in everyone who can help.

Put on your war wax, Piggy. You've got egg crumbs to clean.

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