Single Mom Survival Guide: Creating An Organization Battlestation

One of funniest comments I repeatedly get, being a working single mom to three small kids, is "I don't know how you do it." Or "I couldn't do it."  

To the first point, do I have a choice?  Because if so, I would like to reread the fine print I clearly missed. There was a moment Sunday morning while wrestling three children through a crowded grocery store in a car-shaped cart (my toddler pulling glass jars of olives off a shelf, my 3-year old laying in the aisle screaming for a donut) that I would have gladly signed any "opt out" clause you would have presented me. I’d give my John Hancock and then would have left that full cart, and those three psychotic children, in the dust as I sprinted through the parking lot to freedom.


To those that say they "couldn't do it,” yes you could… you would if you had to. I hope that day doesn't ever come for any of you, but should you find yourself in this same place as myself and millions of others, please be confident that after the dust settles and you find your bearings, your Mama (or Papa) Bear instincts will go into hyperdrive and you will find your way.

The secret to my success, and honestly my survival, is sticking to a routine and scheduling my life around it.  I look forward to my kids being a little bit older so we can go out to a last minute dinner on a school night without invoking tantrums.  But until then, I am enjoying them being little and planning our lives to avoid any unnecessary chaos.

I am a very visual person, so I find myself always writing notes and lists to keep from forgetting anything.  I've called on this habit to basically organize my entire life, and have done the following to keep it all in check.

1.  I've created a centralized command station in my home - I use blank space on my pantry door, but you could use any empty wall space, a bulletin board, or the fridge - to organize schedules, appointments, etc.

I purchased a magnetic white board calendar that I use to keep track of all important events at a glance (doctor appointments, soccer practices, work meetings, anything that is important and requires preparation.)  I keep invitations to parties, school cafeteria menus, and forms that need to be returned to school attached so that everything can be viewed quickly.  Over the years, my calendar wall has expanded to 2 calendars and a white board for the kids to doodle on (primarily to keep them away from my important stuff), but it's a staple at our house.  Many friends that made fun of my calendars have since bought them for their own house, I might add! Calendar 2.  I still carry around an old-fashioned datebook in my purse.  This is basically where I keep my entire life on file a week at a time. This is where I keep the dates that I track on the white board calendars, as well my “To Do Lists,” shopping lists, menus for the week, and reminders of things to plan/schedule/review.  If you were to look at the notes in my datebook, you would probably think it was the ramblings of a madman (which it very well may be), but I would be completely lost without it.  I track expenses, bills, when library books are due, our custody schedule, everything...  From the moment my day starts until I go to sleep, I feel like I am moving.  My datebook forces me to keep on task, and I always feel a sense of accomplishment crossing something off the list…who doesn’t like to feel accomplished!?!?

3.  In addition to my monster datebook, I also keep a small notepad on me as a place to store important and fun stuff that doesn't have a deadline.  I use it to write down funny things my kids say, inspirational quotes to keep me moving, restaurants I want to try, notes on travel destinations that would be fun for me and the kids to explore, holiday gift lists...basically anything that brings joy to my busy day.  This is the less organized, happy-go-lucky cousin to my anal datebook that reminds me to live a little and not be so annoyingly organized. Planners

If you can manage your life using apps on a smart phone, I give you kudos.  I've tried and my OCD need to color coordinate everything has ruined my ability to use modern technology to my own advantage.  And despite my best efforts, my plan is certainly not foolproof - I was reminded by my oldest son just yesterday that I have forgotten to buy more of his favorite toothpaste not one but TWO weeks in a row.  There is a system to suit each family, but this is worth a try if you’re working toward becoming more organized.

I am always in search of ideas to make my life easier, so if you have any suggestions on how you keep your house running, I would love to hear them in the comment section below!

Thoughts From an Evil Step-Mother

Being a step parent is hard. If you have step-children you understand the gravity of that statement. My step-daughter is 5. I came into her life at the age of 2. She was a spunky little ball of fire then and continues to amaze me with her wit and intelligence. She’s an awesome kid and I love her dearly! But, being her step-mom is hard. When her dad and I got married, I told her that I thought it would be a good idea for her to start calling me her “evil stepmother”. After all, every mention of stepmothers in Disney movies are all negative. So, I thought I would just head that off with a bit of a joke and diffuse any kind of bad feeling that would come with this change. She would laugh at me and refuse! I told her it was a joke and it was ok.  She looked me dead in the eye and said, “But Bre, you’re not evil. You’re the best stepmom ever!” HA! What a sweet girl! Now I realize she has little frame of reference, but I’ll take it.  I’ll take it because those kind of sentiments are few and far between when you’re a stepparent.

I’ve heard often that parenting is a thankless job.  I have a son of my own and I agree with that statement, but being a stepparent is even more of a thankless job. When she is with us, I am her mother. I do all the things a mother must/gets to do. Yes, it’s on a part-time basis, but that doesn’t make it any less important. I don’t believe that you can be a “part time” parent. We may only see her part of each month but she is in our hearts, thoughts, and plans everyday! I love being her stepmother, but sometimes it’s very difficult.

I will never be her mother, and I have never tried to assume that role, but my heart is hers! When I hear her telling a story and the words “my real mommy” come out of her mouth, it makes me twinge a little. She is my kid in so many ways. I just don’t get the Mom perks. That’s ok. I’m not looking for that. School Bus She starts Kindergarten this year. Her parents get to take her to registration and ride the bus with her on the first day. I miss out on those things because I’m not her “real” mother. It hurts my heart to know that I only get to participate in some of the events in her life in the “mother” capacity. I invest so much of myself into her and it is hard to have to step back and just watch her experience those types of milestones.

She has been such a huge part of my life for so long that I owe a great deal to her for teaching me about life and love and parenting. Before we had our son, she was the be-all end-all to my life as a parent. Now she shares that with her little brother, but is still my “first” kid love. I may not get to ride the bus with her and I may have to stand back and watch her parents participate in her events, but that can be ok. I get to love this kid like she is my own child. I get to be in her life. I get to watch her mature and blossom into a beautiful young woman. I get to impart some of my knowledge and *cough* “wisdom” that will hopefully stick with her and help her along the way. So, it’s ok that I’m “just her step-mom”. It’s hard and stressful and trying…but so worth it!

Picking Up the Pieces After Divorce

"Let go or be dragged."

It's been almost a year since my husband left my kids and I behind for another woman. We are trying to figure out our new normal and are almost there. I actually wish I had the resiliency my children seem to have. They seemed to have grieved the loss of our every day life and embraced their new relationship with their dad overnight. All 3 have their moments - they miss him, want him to come back, forget he isn't coming home. But shortly after airing their grievances, they are back to Spongebob, Legos, or whatever fixation they may be obsessing over that week.

Despite their ages, my 3 and 6 year olds are very cognizant of the world that is our new normal, and they have as many unanswered questions as I do. Trying to keep them informed while keeping the entire situation as vague as possible is hard, especially as they begin to put the pieces together. Most of the questions they asked are answered with a simple "I don't know." And there have been a lot of unanswered questions thus far. "If daddy doesn't love you, then who does he love?" "Why did daddy move so far away from our house?" "When will daddy realize he made a mistake and come home?" I know that someday they will put the pieces together on their own. So for now I leave the questions unanswered, and I focus on making them realize that all we can do is keep moving and treating others as we wish to be treated.

My recovery has been long and is probably far from over, but I find myself hoping each day that tomorrow will be the day I finally let go. Let go of the feelings of anger, hatred, disappointment, self-loathing. Having your spouse leave you for someone else somehow alters your entire perception of life and reality. The feeling I had the moment I caught him cheating can only be described as a kick to the head. When you finally come to, all that you thought you knew was wrong. The person you trusted with your life isn't the person you thought they were at all. You're suddenly a stranger in your own house and own relationship, and your mind spins with irrational blame. Am I too overbearing? Should I have dressed up more often? What is wrong with me? Am I too fat, too ugly, too boring?

I spun myself into a black hole of depression. I didn't eat. I didn't laugh. I felt hopeless. I felt like a failure. I apologized to my parents for letting my marriage fall apart and wasting their money on a beautiful wedding. I felt like I should send a letter thanking my wedding guests for the money and blenders and china place settings and letting them know they had wasted their money. I mourned the end of my marriage like a death, although in retrospect, him being run down by a bus seems almost easier. I cried about the plans we made for me to be a stay-at-home mom. Plans for family vacations we hoped to go on. Retirement someplace sunny once the kids were out of college. My life as I knew it was gone.

Then, a few weeks later, my aunt, Rosanna, came by to visit with me and the kids. She had gone through the exact same thing a decade before and gave me the pep talk/"come to Jesus" discussion I so desperately needed. Instead of mourning the end of my marriage, she made me realize this was my official "do over." I was being granted a second chance at life and I get to call the shots. This has stuck with me every day for the past 9 months and is my mantra.

That conversation triggered a switch in my brain. It was like someone blew the dust off the wiring, and my old self came to life. I was actually scared of my old self at first. "She" got lost in the "we" of our marriage, suppressed by a need to be everyone else's everything. The highly organized, Martha Stewart wannabe, supermom, who never forgot to pack school snack or library books, who always had laundry done and french toast sticks in the freezer, and who is at the ready in the event of a first aid emergency or school art project deadline. The worrywart, high strung, Italian housewife, who kept tabs on her husband's work meetings, doctor appointments, dry cleaning, and corporate card bills. The loyal daughter, who hates disappointing her parents or asking for favors.

My old self was still many of those things, but with more of a take no prisoners, screw you attitude, that is neither lady-like or forgiving. When the old me surfaced, I knew exactly what I needed to do and wouldn't rest until I gained control of my life again. The day after I threw my husband of 9 years out of my house, I proceeded to box up every item he owned - every chotchkie, mixed tape from high school, ugly cowboy shirt he wore to be hip and downplay his bald spot, EVERYTHING - along with every hideous gift and family heirloom his parents gave us. I didn't care where he took it - it just couldn't stay in my house. I then got on CareerBuilder and LinkedIn, called and e-mailed every former colleague I knew, and was able (thank God) to find a great job in less than a month. I drafted and executed the most brazen divorce agreement of all time. And within 5 months, I was exactly where I needed to be. I established my own stable home for my kids. My career was back in place. And my "screw you, I'm awesome" attitude is about 90% recharged.

I can confidently say I am in the rebuilding stage of this whole process. It's taken a lot of guidance and reflection to figure out what that really is. When you have been with someone for a long time, I think your default reflex at first is to want to find someone else - a replacement of sorts for the person you thought you were meant to be with. I, far too prematurely, tried to sign up for a dating website. Aside from being terrified by my "perfect matches" (which is an entirely separate blog post in itself), I realized this is so far from the next step for me. I couldn't even answer simple profile questions. What are my hobbies? Changing diapers and combating 3 year old temper tantrums is certainly a red flag for most guys, so I would have to lie. Pretend I like jogging or dancing or some other thing that makes me sound fun. What is the last book I read? Honestly, it was "Where's Waldo?". Last adult book was probably "The Da Vinci Code" back when it was actively on the New York Times best seller list in 2005.

So after a year of first crisis management, then reflection, I am in the process of rebuilding me. I am going to go back to the goals the old me lost along the way. I love art. I love drawing and painting, going to art museums and taking photos. I am going to find that passion again and get back to it. I already have a few ideas sketched, which is an incredible thing, since it's been years since I've even thought about it. I love to travel. I want to see the world, and I want my kids to see there is a whole world around them to explore. And I want to rebuild my career. I love what I do, and I want to be as successful as I can be. I always think back to my favorite Barbie as a little girl. She was the Career Barbie. She had a great job and a killer wardrobe - what's not to love?

So what the hell is the point of this blog post/rant? I'm not 100% sure, honestly, other than guess I just want to let others that are in the same boat know they're not alone and not to give up. You will be OK. Although all may seem lost at first, just take every hurdle one day at a time. Some days that may be something as simple as getting out of bed or paying bills. I remember getting out of bed in the morning (or sitting up wide awake at 2am) and searching for blogs, articles, etc. on the internet about what to do when your spouse leaves, how to combat depression, and life after divorce. I just needed to know that I wasn't alone. And I found great strength from those posts, actually.

When I'm ready to meet the right person, I will be confident that I am being myself and I'm living the life I was meant to live. I'm hoping to find that person, but am not fearful of going on these adventures in life alone. I'm like a great piece of cake. With or without icing, I'm still really awesome. If the right icing comes along, that would be great, but I am still fabulous on my own.

Family Picture

Two humorous blog posts that may have saved my life... http://happyhausfrau.blogspot.com/2010/06/what-to-do-when-your-husband-leaves-you.html?m=1


This post originally appeared here in April of 2013.