Single working parenthood has gotten the intimidating reputation that it has because it’s no joke. I mean, obviously any form of parenting is quite the rigorous task. And married or partnered parenting certainly brings its own set of fierce and complex challenges; I remember well.
But single parenting can be a particularly sobering, humbling shitload to juggle—requiring a tremendous amount of ongoing self-compassion, resilience, humor, and devotion.
And sometimes, no matter how much we might wish or will it otherwise—our stress and exhaustion, hormones and triggers can get the better of our parenting. We make painful mistakes with our children, and then get to work with remorse and the blessed opportunity for repair inspired by those mistakes.
One recent evening, I invited my children to join me at our living room altar. They came willingly—open and curious. “What’s up, Mom?” Arayla (14) asked, plopping herself down on the copper-colored meditation cushion to my right. I patted the other empty cushion to my left, motioning to Ezra, as I replied, “I just want us all to have a chance to sit together and share a bit.” Ezra (10) planted his bottom dramatically on the cushion beside me, exhaling deeply.
We all faced the altar. I sat in the middle, between them, and carefully lit the center pillar candle, and the two candles beside it. Everyone was quiet. Then I lit the small bundle of cedar in our abalone shell, letting the sacred smoke cleanse my body, mind and heart before handing the shell to Arayla, who did the same, before reaching around me to hand it to her brother.
After a moment I took a deep breath, and vulnerably shared, “I just want to acknowledge that I’ve clearly been carrying some extra stress lately, my Loves. And I know there have been moments when that stress has leaked out onto you both, through my voice and my energy; moments when I’ve lost my center and my temper.”
They both nodded quietly, listening with presence.
I continued, “And I know I already apologized in the moment, but it’s been weighing heavy on my heart—those moments when I fail to live as love with you. And so I just wanted to say again how sorry I am for any and all of those ways that my energy has felt abrasive to you, or for the moments when my words have been reactive and sharp. I always want to be so skillful and graceful with you, and I’m sorely aware of the ways I fall short.”
I picked up the lighter and burned some more cedar, offering it to Spirit, acknowledging the power in my own prayer.
The kids were quiet, just taking this in. Then Arayla placed her hand on my thigh, and with compassion responded, “Oh Mama, Thank you. And it’s okay, really. You’re holding a lot. I’m sorry we stress you out sometimes! I’m sorry for when we’re bickering and driving you crazy. And thank you for everything you’re giving. Thank you for everything you do for us all the time.”
Then Ezra piped in, “Yeah, Mom, thanks for everything you do for us. And…. I’m sorry for my part too. Like the mess I left in the kitchen yesterday, and for forgetting my homework and my lunch twice this week! And for, you know…when I don’t listen.” His shoulders slumped down, clearly feeling his own remorse of shortcoming.
I smiled at him tenderly and pulled him close. “Thank you, and it’s okay. We are all growing.”
I made eye contact with Arayla, feeling the simple grace of forgiveness flowing between us. I took another breath, and continued, “There’s something else I wanted to say, perhaps especially to you, Ezra.”
He turned to me, looking straight into my eyes, asking, “Yeah, what is it?”
I shifted my position back a little, so we could all see each other. I chose my words deliberately, “I’ve been noticing lately that you’ve been working extra hard to be so helpful around the house, Ezra. You’ve been helping out with cleaning, and taking out the garbage and recycling without being asked, and you’ve been setting the table, and taking out Freya in the morning. So many ways you’ve been really showing up as such a helpful member of our family.” Ezra’s face brightened and his golden chest lifted proudly.
I continued, “And I’ve been praising you every time, haven’t I, and letting you know how wonderful it is to feel your support?” Ezra nodded happily in agreement.
I glanced over at his sister, who raised her eyebrows at me, curious about where this was going. Then I turned and looked deeply into Ezra’s eyes, and slowly, with power behind my words, I said to him, “I just want to make sure you know that you don’t have to be good in order to be loved.”
The room got extra quiet.
I looked back and forth between them, as I continued, “You don’t have to be helpful, or act in a certain way, in order to secure my love.” I paused, to see how this was landing.
Ezra said quickly, “Oh I know Mom, it just feels really good to show up! I like it.”
I nodded in understanding, and then added, “Hey, helpful behavior is a wonderful skill to have in life. It DOES feel good to show up. It’s so important to find meaningful ways of contributing to one another and to our home and to our world, in all the ways we can. And it’s very important in a family that all the work doesn’t fall upon one person.”
I looked at both of the kids, beaming, as I accentuated, “Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE your help. It’s awesome and necessary! Please don’t stop.”
Ezra giggled a little to feel how excited I get about receiving support.
I continued, “BUT I just want to make sure you know that you don’t have to be good. It’s not your job to be good in life. What you give, and what you do, and how you perform, and act—these are not the reasons I love you. Sometimes your behavior triggers me, and sometimes your behavior delights me. But my love for you is constant, having nothing to do with what you do. I love you just for your being, okay?”
I dove into Arayla’s ancient, wise-blue eyes, and echoed to her softly, “I love you just for your being, okay?”
She smiled at me, cozying up to me sweetly, as she mumbled shyly, “Okay, Mom.”
Then Ezra galumphed all of his 105 pounds of ten-year-old boy into my lap, straddling me, almost knocking me over, as he said into my ear, “You don’t have to be good all the time either, Mom. We always love you too.”
I laughed out loud at his quick reversal of the teaching.
I said, “Hmmm, are you sure about that? I thought Mamas were supposed to be good all the time? I’d certainly like to be.”
Ezra shook his head and said, “Nope. Nobody’s supposed to be good all the time Mom, not even you.”
I sighed then, resolutely, and shrugged happily, “That settles that, then.”
Sooner or later, most of us find the need to trade in being good, for simply being wholeheartedly ourselves.
Do you maybe wish to burn some holy cedar now, and truly apologize, and be forgiven, and once again surrender being good for being wholeheartedly yourself? I left my candles lit on my altar for you. Be my guest, my friend. Please be my guest.