written by Natalie Pattillo

You Do You

Self-Care as a Single Mom

Natalie Pattillo

While mustering up energy to crawl out of my mustard yellow quilt cocoon, I opened one eye and reached for my phone, checking the time. “Dear God,” I shrieked while kicking off my warm sheets. It was 8:30—we overslept! I had thirty minutes to get my daughter and myself ready. I told myself that I wouldn’t be that “late parent” with that “late kid.” When you and your bub are dashing into her classroom, a specific kind of parenting failure trounces you. Her classmates are writing uppercase and lowercase Gs in their little notebooks ever so diligently. Then, while staring down the parent sign-in sheet, you realize that yet again, your kid is the latest by 30 minutes. Not today, I thought. I will not avoid eye contact with her teachers today due to tardiness.

  Amora, get out of bed, put on your clothes. Now. Now. Right now!” I barked. Hustling to the kitchen, I started boiling water for pasta. I sliced up some cucumbers and grabbed the bag of baby carrots—I was throwing produce around as if I were one of those chef competitors on Food Network. After her lunch was “finessed,” I checked in on Amora. Her striped blue pants were on backwards. I saw her golden brown hair peering out of the head hole of her favorite purple shirt. My girl was almost fully dressed…and vaguely matching in borderline wrinkly clothes. Success.

As I was power walking out of our apartment building, Amora lolly-gagged in true toddler fashion. “Mama, why isn’t there snow today?” she asked while standing in the middle of the sidewalk. Oh God, child, I don’t know. “Because, Amora, the conditions aren’t present to…make snow…?” I replied while trailing off. A cab is necessary if I plan on looking her teachers in the eye when I thanked them for caring for my kid. It’s now 8:50, so I starting hailing cab. I don’t have the budget for a cab commute, but $8 isn’t so bad for mitigating mom guilt.

A cab pulled over. I carried Amora in and told the driver the school’s address. “Ahh, you headed to school, running late?” he asked without the judging undertone.“Well, kids you know, it’s very difficult to get them on track. First they have to go to the bathroom, then you are out the door, and they have to go to the bathroom again.” See, this guy knows the struggle. He told me about his daughter attending NYU and how he hoped his son would focus on ACT prep instead of “playing with his smartphone.” He asked what I do for a living. “Pursuing my masters and working at a magazine,” I responded.

“Are you a single mom?” he asked. “Yes, I am,” I replied, wondering if he surmised from Amora’s mismatched outfit or my naked ring finger. While making eye contact with me through his rear-view mirror, he said, “Wow, it’s tough. I wish you a blessed life. You work hard. Education is freedom. You and her will go far. Don’t ever stop. No more babies now though, right?” We chuckled. I hugged Amora tighter.  Yeah, it was well worth the ten bucks.

And this, in a sense, is my version of self-care. In the midst of hustling through  commutes, work e-mails, playdates, cooking meals, writing on deadline, and laundry, I found relief in hailing a cab. My kid wasn’t late and I didn’t feel like a shitty mom.

Honestly, self-care is a new concept to me. I’ve found that if you’re a badass boss lady who typically puts others first, it can take some re-wiring. It’s not easy to blow off the deadlines or folding the buttloads of laundry. But, there’s indispensable value in pushing the pause button, whatever that means for you. I’ve found that self-care is to believe wholeheartedly that you’re worthy of relieving some of the pressure—from work, kid, friendships, families, partners, commutes, cooking dinner, and well, guilt.

SINGLE MOM SELF-CARE (with a tight budget in mind)

1) Don’t be a martyr. If you can afford to hail the cab on those rough mornings, just do it. Same goes for dinners—hit up Chipotle if cooking doesn’t fit into your day. 

2) At the end of the day, write down a few triumphs. They can be simple: “Today I made my kid a healthy lunch.” They can also be rather involved: “Today I said fuck you to trolling perfect Pinterest projects, and watched Scandal instead.”

3) Take your work e-mail account off of your personal smartphone. You know the work is there. No need to be reminded after hours or on weekends. You’ll always find a way to meet the deadlines, don’t let the inbox notifications bombard your mental well-being.

4) Take your friends up on their “I’ll babysit anytime you need someone” offers. I’ve found that if they aren’t busy, they are more than happy to fill in while you take yourself out for coffee. Imagine this: ordering your Americano without having a kid ask you if they can stir in the sugar or cream. You can take coffee out, walk to a nearby peaceful bench with a decent view, and finally finish the last two chapters of Tiny Fey’s Bossypants (it’s taken me a couple of years). Or just act like you’re reading to people watch. Bliss, right?! Plus, your kiddo will develop solid relationships with people you love and trust while you’re reconnecting with numero uno…you.

5) Buy a bag epsom salts. For about $12, you can get a 3-pound bag of the soul healing, mental and body cleansing goodness.  Soaking in the bath is my savior at the end of a rough day.

6) The list goes on. Whatever self-care is to you, do it. LET GO OF THE GUILT. LET IT GOOOO. LET IT GOOOOO. But we really must, it is the one thing that eats away at us for no good reason. Easier said than done, I know. Start by identifying what’s significant and eliminating everything else. YOU DESERVE IT. YOU ARE WORTHY. You are woman first, mother second.

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