Recently we asked Abigail Bullard, 2019 Pennsylvania Mother of the Year, what advice she could offer other single parents about finding balance and taking care of themselves. Here’s what she had to say:
I began my time as a single mom *almost* fourteen years ago with the birth of my son, Tyler; four years later, I welcomed his brother, Teddy. During that time I worked full-time and completed both a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting and Masters of Accountancy through online schooling, both accomplished in the overnight hours while the kids were sleeping. I know first-hand that balance and self-care do not come easily and that, especially while children are young, parents need to re-learn how to care for themselves and find time for quiet moments in the everyday hustle of parenthood.
Achieving balance as a single parent can seem nearly impossible. Remind yourself of that weekly as you are late to sporting events and when you haven’t had a date/girls night/boys night in months. You will be late, and it’s OK. You will have to eat fast food before a sports practice, and that’s OK also. You will bring the wrong uniform, or you will forget the violin, or your child will lose their shin guards all within 30 minutes of their next practice – and you will survive that. Allowing these things to roll off your shoulders is key to surviving single-parenthood, and “Don’t sweat the small stuff” should become your life’s mantra. I used to stress over potty training and my Mom would say, “Don’t worry, he will be potty trained before he goes to college”- and she was right. Stress can be amplified when you are doing this alone, but sometimes when you are losing your mind, you have to close your bedroom door and try to remind yourself of how far you’ve already come on your own.
To a single parent, the idea of “balance” changes every single day. The goal is to ultimately remember that YOU, as the parent, are included in that balance. You aren’t just balancing your children’s activities and homework, and “oh man, I forgot to pull the chicken out for dinner”; YOU are just as important, if not more important, than all of that. Have you slept? Have you eaten a piece of fruit lately? Do you have enough caffeine in the cabinet to get you through the week? Don’t forget who you are and what you like – I love to read, and so I buy a new book every few weeks for myself. I bought a Keurig a few months ago; this would seem so insignificant but I love that I can hit a button when I walk into the kitchen and suddenly I have hot tea. This is a little thing, but it makes me so happy, so many times a day. Knowing yourself and finding small ways to fit yourself into your every day schedule will help maintain some level of sanity. (Exercising as a mom is a separate article, but dually important if you can find the time and energy.)
Celebrating Everyday Moments
One of the best ways to regroup and connect with your children is to find little ways to break up the ordinary. Finding times where you can celebrate the individual child and also come together as a family.
My first suggestion is to, as much as you can, SHOW UP to EVERYTHING. Today my son has a 2:45pm end of school year Woodwind Ensemble concert. I will leave work early to be there, in the front row, with the other three parents that can make it. This is the 378th band concert this year (well, it feels like it) but I will be there to celebrate him and his achievements. Parents are not required and most don’t come, but I know how proud he is and I want to show up for him. My work will undoubtedly be here later tonight or tomorrow.
We also eat dinner together. This is age-old wisdom, but whether I picked up a pizza or I roasted a chicken, we will sit together and eat dinner. TV turned off and phones put away.
Sometimes I wash their hair. Don’t tell them I made this public – but they bend over the sink and I “shampoo-shampoo-condition”. They get a good giggle out of it and probably like the head massage (I love getting my hair washed at the salon). Each kid takes 3 minutes but it’s silly and an effective way of making sure they wash their hair.
We also walk the dogs together. On a cold winter night, we are known to put our coats on and walk the dogs up to Starbucks for hot chocolates. They can hardly use their phones while walking, so we talk and get a little exercise in at the same time. Any chance you have to be active with your child gets them away from technology and lets you focus on each other.
Lastly, as for finding joy in hidden places, there is a great article by Kaleigh Rogers, “Volunteering is the best kept secret for Mental Health.” The article shines a light on the link between giving back and a person’s psychological wellbeing. When you’re strapped for time but truly want to fit more good deeds in your day, I am always a fan of picking up a $10 cookie tray and delivering it to some awesome people, such as Police or Fire personnel. The kids and I make a point to go to our local police station every September 11th to deliver a treat and show our appreciation for the job they do.
Tips for Saving Time
My kids are now 9 and 13 so I have a few rules to make the day go smoothly:
1.) Know what you want for breakfast – I don’t care if you decide while you’re brushing your teeth or if you’re eating the same thing every day; when you come into the kitchen, I want you to be ready (and I thank the heavens if you choose a bagel or frozen waffle or something we can eat in the car on the way to school/camp). That’s not to say I don’t surprise them with a smoothie now and again, but on school mornings we need to walk out the door at 7:15am, and I just want them to eat something.
2.) Have your homework done before I get home from work. Plenty of wiggle room here for projects or if they need help, but they can finish most of their homework in advance of seeing me.
3.) Pick your clothes out the “night before”. When I come in to say ‘goodnight’, I want to see your outfits for tomorrow sitting on your dresser. (I don’t generally get involved in their fashion choices unless they are dressing for the wrong season.)
Lastly, as a parent, question everything you have on your plate. Do your kids really want to take that instrument lesson? Or are they doing it because everyone else is? Are you going to that play date because you really like the people? Or were you guilted into it by the other parent? (PS – don’t ever let someone guilt you into anything.) Own your time and energy reserves. You can’t do everything or go to everything, and sometimes you just have to gracefully apologize when you are just too tired for one more thing.
Happy Mom = Happy Family
Abigail Bullard is a hard-working, every-Mom, who spends each day trying to make each child, pet, family-member, friend and employee feel like they are a priority. At 21, Abi lost her first son to domestic violence, which put her life on hold as she learned how to move forward from such a tragic loss. At 24, she put herself through college while working full-time and raising her 6 month old son full time, and subsequently completed a Master’s degree in Accounting while working full-time and having her second son, who turned 1 just as she graduated. Today, Abi manages a Finance team for a global healthcare company by day, and spends the rest of her time raising her two boys. When they are not playing piano or on the sports field, they are volunteering in various ways throughout the county. Read more about Abigail here…