This week’s featured mom is Sarah. She’s a single mom with not one, but two TEENAGERS! Those years bring with them a whole new set of mothering challenges, but for Sarah, even the supposedly easy phase of parenting was full of slings and arrows. You are going to love her take on parenting and her mothering superpower is pretty darn cool. Here is Sarah’s Q&A.
How has making mom friends changed as your kids have gotten older?
My kids are 13 and 14 (19 months apart), and I’ve had many of my mom friends since my children were babies, so I don’t search for playdates any more. I don’t really seek out new mom friends as much as I pursue friendships in general. Though, a lot of the friends I have made in the last few years are women in their 50’s, with older teens or college age kids, which has been very interesting. I find it helpful to have friends with older children, it helps you get an idea of what’s coming around the corner.
How did you meet your best mom friend?
I met my best mom friend when my daughter was about six months old, at a Christmas party held by my midwives. I almost didn’t go because my husband had to work and I was nervous to drive alone with the baby in bad weather. To make myself feel better during the drive I decided I was going to meet a mama friend (I needed one desperately), and I made up what I thought my new bestie would be like. I wanted her to have a daugher the same age as mine, a solid relationship with her husband, an exuberant laugh, and an easy going nature. I also decided she should be a fabulous cook, love NPR and dancing and also be a writer, with bonus points if she painted or ever worked at a library.
The party was kind of disappointing for me at first, I was paralyzed with shyness and lack of sleep and all the new parents were so tender and edgy, and hen-like. The few people I was able to meet seemed to split between two camps, those who gave birth at home out of religious convictions, and those who seemed to have done it to express more political views. I found it hard to ease into conversation with either. I was getting ready to leave but needed to nurse my daughter before the drive. As I was sitting there I heard a laugh and looked up to see My Dream Friend. Hearts pretty much flew from my eyes. She had a baby girl and a charming husband she clearly adored. I practically ran over to her. I knew before I even had her phone number that she was going to be my friend. She had even met her husband when they were both working at the library. Everything was exactly as I imagined it, plus radness I didn’t even know about yet, like her cupcakes will blow your doors open and her potlucks always turn into dance parties. We have known each other for 14 years, and our daughters are best friends. I tease her sometimes that I just made her up on the drive over, which is the only way I can explain that she has three kids, a carpenter husband and two dogs and her house is barely ever messy.
What is the biggest parenting challenge you’ve faced so far?
The divorce presented the greatest challenge by far. I went from super intense, non-stop, no sleep ‘til Brooklyn, full time mothering of a two and four year old, to terribly sad and lonely, corporate worker bee divorcee who sometimes had to wait an entire week to see my children. I cried a lot in my first apartment. It was the absolute worst time of my life. There was no exhausted weening, surprise sassy back talk, lack of sleep or teenage whining festival more challenging than the time I spent aching for my babies.
What is your mom superpower – something you feel extra good at?
When my son came running into my office at 9:30 on a school night and announced, “Mom! I forgot! I need an Elizabethan collar! We’re going on location to shoot a video about Colonial WIlliamsburg! Tomorrow morning!!” I whipped that sucker up like I was made to crank out Elizabethan collars on command. I am also able to do that with birthday gifts. Apparently, when I’m under the gun I’m capable of some serious Mom Fu.
How has your divorce impacted the way you go about making mom friends? Did you lose any close parent friends when you got divorced?
The divorce hasn’t had any impact on the way I go about making mom friends. A lot of my friends are married, some are living in long term committed relationships, some are divorced. I didn’t lose any friends over the loss of my marriage, the divorce was about my ex and myself and had nothing to do with my friends. There are two interesting observations that I can offer about the impact of divorce though:
1. My core group of in-town friends has been in place for over a decade. They function as a big extended family and our kids are close, sometimes like cousins (people you hang out with when your families are together for potlucks or camping), some of them are more like best friends (people they hang around with on purpose, outside of parent orchestrated gatherings). Most of the parents are still married. It’s hard for my kids to express their divorce frustrations to their friends. They have two involved parents, two of nearly everything else, and sometimes their father and I don’t see eye to eye. My daughter doesn’t feel like she can talk much to her friends about these particular struggles because her friends can’t relate and seem worried that talking about it will make it happen to them. I’m very close to both of my kids, and there is virtually nothing we haven’t discussed, but I am also aware that they have emotional needs that can only be met by friendships with a relatable peer. I encouraged my daugher to reach out to other kids with divorced parents, and that actually helped her a lot.
2. At the outset of the divorce I put a lot of my parent friends at arms length. Part of me was afraid they were judging me (they weren’t, I made that up because I felt guilty for not sticking out the marriage and being miserable until my kids were adults). Part of me was afraid my divorce and new dating life would somehow poison the perfection of their lives (which is understandable but pretty silly, no one has a perfect life, perfect kids or a perfect marriage and also, divorce isn’t contagious). Part of me wanted to get out of the way a bit so my my ex could solidify his place with an approved network of people I already trusted with my children. I also wanted to run into him as little as possible, so we were careful not to attend events at the same time if we could help it. It was a little rocky for the first few years or so, but I didn’t lose friends over it. In fact, the bumpy parts showed me how deep my friendships could be, and how much I love them all for being exactly who they are. I really appreciate the fact that we all look out for each other and all of our children.
How involved are you with your kids’ friendships? How has that changed over time?
I used to be in charge of making playdates for my kids, right down to the part where I’d call the other parent and find out when their kids could have a sleepover. At this point they are old enough to work things out together and then ask permission to carry out their plans. Which is great because I was starting to worry that my kids would never be comfortable calling another kid and saying, “Hey! Do you want to come over?” and that I would be forced to make all their dates for the rest of ever. It used to be like “Mom, I’m bored!” and it was my job to get on the phone, or, I would make plans they hated and there would be all kinds of whining about it, Being their social director got old, and after a certain point I felt it was in their best interest to take a more active role in their own lives. So they did, and it’s been awesome.
At this point I’m pretty hands off about their friends, mainly because there haven’t been any problems where I felt I needed to intervene. They each have close friends, the same kids I’ve known since they were tiny, but they have also made new friends through school. I keep most of my friendship opinions to myself unless I can see they are struggling, and then I ask them if they want advice or help. Jr. High has not been without typical drama, teasing and the same stuff we all remember from puberty, and when you’re 12, those are huge issues to handle for the very first time.
I do a lot of listening. My daughter is in 8th grade now, and there are a few girls in her class who are a little more “advanced” than she is, which is uncomfortable to contemplate, but it is what it is and my opinion has not been requested, nor would it be welcome or helpful, and a heavy handed approach just makes kids feel like they can’t trust you enough to be honest with you. It’s not that my eyebrow hasn’t shot up when I see pictures of one of her school friends making out with a boy and making joint smoking hand gestures, it’s just that I also remember being 14 and trying to be cool. I also know that some kids don’t have parents that listen and some have parents who only yell or are never around, My role now is to listen and help my kids suss out their own boundaries. I need them to know I will love them no matter what they say, do or think. I want them to understand how to make choices for themselves without telling them who to be. I have taught them to identify the people who take more than they give back and how to shut that down. I tell them to follow their gut, if they can feel that something is off, or wrong or not a good choice, they need to listen to that, because that will serve them for the rest of their lives, even when I’m not there to tell them what they should do.
So far they are both comfortable telling me what’s going on in their lives and how they feel about it. What I am learning by listening is that some kids have super overprotective parents and now they are afraid to fail, or be hurt, because they never had the chance to build up the skills they need to handle danger or conflict. Some attention seeking kids have parents that mean well but never engage and treat their kids like a project they keep meaning to get back to. Some kids show how much they are hurting by being mean and judgy to others. The ones that seem the most well adjusted have embarrassed themselves and gotten through it, failed and managed anyway, recognized how much it hurts to be a jerk, witnessed their parents be human and realized, it’s OK and know they are loved no matter what. Our job as parents isn’t to make everything smooth and comfortable and perfect, to never cry or be frustrated or make a mistake in front of our kids. Our job is to teach them how to handle the inevitable realness, to be responsible for their own lives and internal landscape, to know it’s OK to keep trying when they get it wrong. There is no perfect. If I parent out of fear I am rigid and judgmental, if I parent from love I am resilient and forgiving. Parenting from love makes confident kids, the kind you want to hang out with on purpose.
Do you have any tricks for balancing your work responsibilities and family time? What about making sure your personal needs are met?
If there is any silver lining to my divorce it’s that we split time with the kids, which means when I’m on Mama Duty, I am ON IT. But when I’m not I can do crazy things like sleep in or eat cereal for dinner.
My life has lots of intense components. I have my kids every other weekend, every Monday and every Thursday. I’ve been in a long distance relationship for almost five years and we see each other when we can. I nanny on Wednesdays for a delightful girl child who is nearly three, I run my own business as a Clutter Consultant/Organizer, I make sock monkeys, magnets, amigurumi dolls, t-shirt rugs and baskets, jewelry and paper flowers. I’m working on another play, a book about organizing and a memoir, I maintain a four bedroom house and cook all of our meals. I have two cats, one grey sweet easy kitty, one mammoth ginger beast who is more like a fuzzy toddler with a short fuse. I’m on the board of a local community art space. I’m on stage telling true stories live once a month. And I am pretty much constantly searching for freelance gigs.
As you can imagine some days are pretty full and hard to relax into. For a while all these components felt like a jumble and I wasn’t doing a good job of managing any of them. My secret is therapy (seriously, I owe my therapist a hug, a round of applause and a pony) and regular gut checks. I take my vitamins, I sing. I ditch the office chair for a yoga ball. I practice gentle self compassion. I spend time alone when I need it. I try to keep a sense of humor about the sucky parts. I don’t expect my children to be anyone other than themselves. If I miss my boyfriend I tell him that. If I am tired I sleep. If I am hungry I eat. I write down all the things I need to keep track of on Post It notes and stick them where I need reminders. One of them says, “Breathe. Because you can”. It’s the little things that keep a mama sane and put together. And coffee. That helps a lot.
Do you have a story to share that would make you a great Featured Mom? Email with a brief summary of what makes your story special and whether you’d like to write a guest post or do a Q&A for a chance to be featured at Mom Meet Mom.