The biggest parenting lesson I've learned is that, as a single mom, I just can't do it all

·4 min read
Susan Solomon Yem and her family
The author with four of her children.Susan Solomon Yem
  • As a single mom, I know my limitations when it comes to what I can do with my kids.

  • There are also plenty of things I don't like to do, and I've learned to say no.

  • My children have become more resourceful. They find ways to do the things they want without me.

When my youngest son was 4 years old, I bought an extension for my bike with pedals and handlebars so he could assist me during our tandem rides. We took it out a few times, but it was hard to pedal a bike uphill with a toddler on the back — at least, it was hard for me. He often begged to go out riding, but I couldn't. The thing sat in the garage for months — years, actually — before I finally gave it away.

It broke my heart when I stopped taking my son out on those rides, but I came to realize there are some things I just can't do. Riding a bike uphill while pulling an extra 40 pounds behind me is one of them.

As a single mom, I know my limits

I'm the first to tell you I'm not a supermom, but as a single mom I'm expected to be. I admire those parents who can do it all, but that's not me, and I've learned to be OK with that.

I remember taking three of my children on the subway when they were young and panicking at the top of the escalator because I couldn't get us all on at the same time. Fortunately, a kind person came along, grabbed one of their hands, and helped them step on. Come to think of it, maybe it was a harried commuter who needed to get on the train and wasn't willing to wait for me to figure out what to do.

I also know the things I don't like to do

There are things I can't do, and there are things I don't want to do. I don't enjoy playing board games, so I frequently decline when my kids ask me to join them for another round of Monopoly. I'm not a sports fan, and while they'd love to attend a Major League Baseball or NFL game, I never take them. I did sit through two days of professional lacrosse one weekend, and despite having a sore rear end, I had a good time.

Don't get me wrong, I've said yes to plenty of things. I attend every one of their school events, cheer from the sidelines for each of my student athletes, and carpool to all the extracurricular activities. I've even earned the title "Cool Mom of the Week" for my well-organized birthday parties at the hippest venues.

But I haven't taken them fishing, a pastime they love, or to a concert. That's one of my nonnegotiables. And when it came time for them to learn to drive, it wasn't me sitting in the passenger seat on those practice runs.

I'd like to say their dad has stepped in to do all the things I won't, but sadly that happens infrequently.

So, yes, they miss out on some things. But here's what's happening. Once I realized I didn't have to do it all, it felt like a great pressure valve released, and I was no longer consumed by guilt.

I realized something else, too. My children are resourceful, and if there's something they want to do that I can't or won't, they figure out how to do it anyway. If they want to go camping, they find another family we're connected to that's going on a trip and ask to tag along. If they want to learn how to sail, they recruit a seaworthy adult to teach them.

Maybe it's a win-win. I'm learning to say no when it feels appropriate, and they're learning how to get a yes and respect their mom at the same time.

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