The Myth of Work–Life Balance
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Walking the tightrope as a Solo Mom
Ah, Solo Moms and the balancing act of attempting to simultaneously walk the tightrope of work, home, and parenting responsibilities. What part of being a Solo Mom isn’t a daily attempt at keeping all our plates spinning? Everything we do is all we can do, and the truly amazing part of our reality is that we are, day in and day out, doing the best we can to take care of our jobs, families, homes, and at the end of the day, ourselves—even though it is easy to feel as if we are the last priority. It is hard, exhausting, stressful, and relentless work, but we have to do it. There is no one else.
What can we do, then, to help ourselves succeed at this seemingly impossible task? First we can acknowledge that we need help sometimes. Before I was a Solo Mom, I was able to help my Solo-Mom neighbor by being her backup. I was home, so I gave her daughter a safe place to be after school, my ear to listen about her day, a kitchen table for homework, and my pantry for snacks and dinner. I felt blessed by doing so, and now that I’m a Solo Mom, I realize how much that must have helped them. Do you have a neighbor or family member who can support you? Do you feel comfortable enough asking for help?
I’ve struggled with having the confidence to say “I am enough, and I’m doing the best I can.” Most of us do. The true discomfort, aside from the very real financial and time constraints, is guilt. And that guilt frequently results from comparing our situation to standards set by God-knows-who. Those shoulds that come from other places: the media that tells us that we can have it all, or someone else’s idea, or a rule that is impossible for Solo Moms. I should be managing everything better. What does that even mean? I should be ahead financially. I should be managing my money and time better. My kids should have more time, more things, and more of me when there is less to give. There is no partner or spouse to take over when we’re sick, tired, stressed, sad. But—and I’m saying this to myself big-time—I am doing the very best I can right now in this moment. And so are you.
We need to find those people who care about us and genuinely want to help. Maybe that means reaching out to someone and asking them to help us figure out a workable budget, finding a friend to take our children out for an activity so we have a chance to breathe for a little while, or spending an inexpensive evening with someone who lets us decompress and vent a little to rebalance ourselves. But this requires honesty and transparency on our part. Are we OK with asking? Are we OK with being real? We need to send our superhero cape to the cleaners every once in awhile.
We need a plan and a way to have a concrete, specific answer when someone asks, “What can I do to help?” And we need to check our egos at the door and know that asking for help is a sign of strength and self-realization, not weakness. Weakness is thinking we don’t need anyone, that we’ve got all the answers, and if we could just be better at [fill in the blank], we would have it all together. So we just beat ourselves into submission until we figure it all out and spend our much-needed energy keeping up the appearance that “we’ve got this!” on our own.
When we isolate ourselves, what do we teach our children about strength and resiliency? I was in a family therapy session when the therapist asked my son, “How well does your mom do at taking care of herself?” We all need to ask ourselves that question. We lead by example, and even though we may say the right things about how important it is to take care of ourselves, do we walk our talk? It takes a strong person to admit they need help. I want my children to be comfortable enough to not judge themselves harshly when they reach a place bigger than their limited life experience. To feel it is safe to admit they don’t have all the answers. To learn to look to outside experts and people they trust when they don’t know where to turn. And to understand that we are all doing the best we can. To know they are enough.
The biggest gift we Solo Moms can give our children is our example of loving ourselves, whether we are successfully keeping all our plates spinning or whether several are tottering and crashing to the ground. We show what we are truly made of when we can sing, laugh, or whistle as we sweep up the pieces. Tomorrow is a new day full of great possibility. None of this was in the brochure, but Solo Moms reinvent that brochure every day. We love our children fiercely and set out with the best intentions, and when we experience a real “plate crasher,” we clean up the pieces, glue the plates back together, and try again tomorrow.
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A certified professional life coach and professional singer, Nancy Jo Nelson lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Her nest is emptying, as her daughter, Jillian, lives in the city and attends North Park University. Her son, Sam, still lives at home, along with Winnie the Wonder Mutt and Bolt the Mighty Chihuahua. Her first book, Lessons from the Ledge, is available on Amazon.
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