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I Don’t Know How You Do It

Categories: Business tripping, Fighting the Stereotype


When I moved out of the house I shared with my son’s father, I took two things: a cherry wood desk and a faded brown couch. I didn’t want the pots and pans and bed sheets, the reminders of shared spaghetti dinners and intertwined nights as a cohesive family unit.

I needed to start fresh: to use my limited funds and my vast imagination to build a new abode for my smaller family unit: a home that was child-friendly and tranquil. I needed a room of my own, separate from the memories that were still so fresh and raw.

I went to second-hand shops and examined floor model armchairs: under-the-chair rips and chipped wood could be easily replaced and a little creativity could make that old hassock look new. As I built my Single Mama home, I kept thinking of a conversation I’d had with a good friend who’d recently become a single Mom herself. She had two young boys, a career in telecom, and a relatively amicable divorce.

“I don’t know how you do it,”I’d said, in a tone twinged with admiration and sympathy, a small thread of thank god you’re not me.

“I just do it,”she said,”I don’t think about it. You take what life throws at you and you weave it into something doable. When there’s no option, you’re forced to take the best way, because there is no other. ”

Those words have stuck with me. I’m often asked how I manage to pay the bills, care for my son, thrive in a career (truthfully: I work two demanding jobs at all times, sometimes three), clean the toilet and brush my hair. I reply that I don’t sleep much, and that’s very true. But what the uninitiated don’t know about single Motherhood is that there is also a very glossy silver lining.

When I was coupled, I spent a lot of time resenting my partner. Why couldn’t he replace the roll of toilet paper when he used the last shred, why was he snoozing on the couch when the living room floor needed repair? I spent a lot of time glaring quietly while I put his milk back in the fridge, picked up his socks from the bedroom floor while plotting passive-aggressive retaliation . Now there’s no resentment, because I’m responsible for everything. If a bill doesn’t get paid, it’s my fault. If my son is sick, I stay home with him. There is no argument and I have to say: there is something empowering about being the sole head of household. I can get irritated with myself at the leftover dishes in the sink, but fighting with oneself is much less toxic than lambasting someone else.

Sometimes, late at night, while the house is silent and my son is sleeping, I miss a warm adult beside me. On Sunday mornings, I take my son for soccer and brunch and avoid making contact with young couples with children; it’s too raw. But most days, most times, I’m actually very satisfied with where I’ve landed in life.

I understand fully what my friend said, now: you just do it. You just do it, you do it well, and though it’s not the path you expected, it’s peppered with richness and love and not nearly as bad as you might have expected.

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15 comments so far...

  • Well said, by both your friend and yourself.

    I have found that this determination that comes with being a good parent is just about the most liberating part of parenthood. There are no more “what if’s”, no more “wait until tomorrow”, no more “I can’t” because you have to. This awesome little being is depending on you.

    You just have to; whether you’re a single or a unit…whether you work full time outside or inside the home, or not at all.

    Jessica  |  May 26th, 2008 at 4:03 pm

  • I think, like Jessica says, what you wrote is so true about being a parent — single or not. I feel like this. I have always had a crazy demanding job, been the primary breadwinner,and been fully committed to doing as much as I can as a mom. A friend of mine, who does not have kids, recently asked me just that question — how do you do it? I told her that yes, I don’t sleep much, I am exhausted a lot, and it’s not easy — but there is something so empowering about being responsible for our family’s well being…

    Nataly  |  May 26th, 2008 at 9:48 pm

  • “Now there’s no resentment, because I’m responsible for everything. If a bill doesn’t get paid, it’s my fault. If my son is sick, I stay home with him. There is no argument and I have to say: there is something empowering about being the sole head of household.”

    I felt the same way as I adjusted to single life after my divorce several years ago…knowing everything was up to me, I just did it. Or I decided not to. It was very empowering - and even though I’m no longer single, I’m still holding on to some of that sense of empowerment.

    Great post, and all very well said.

    Florinda  |  May 26th, 2008 at 10:53 pm

  • I can relate to this big time. I am a young single person, and slowly molding to the joys of motherhood. I didn’t plan on having children. In fact, I was that person rolling their eyes at the parents of loud children in public(especially movie theaters…now when my daughter says “WOW!!!” in the middle of the movie I think it’s the cutest thing ever). It’s just one of those things that you can’t explain or understand until you experience them first hand… like crying from happiness, or being addicted to cigarettes. Bittersweet is a word that comes to mind, but mostly just sweet because I know that I am her world, and every action (or lack there of) I take means something, even if only to her.

    Miranda  |  May 27th, 2008 at 10:59 am

  • It’s all true, the empowering feeling and the fact that as single moms we simply “DO IT”. I am a single mom of five, a full-time administrative secretary and part-time student. The question, “how do you do it?” is quite common for me, as well. I just have to take my hat(s) off to all of the awesome women, ladies, etc. who handle this amazing responsibility of motherhood with a smile. As with all things, it has its good days and its bad, but I am so grateful for each moment this experience has given me. I believe I’m becoming a great human being because of it.

    Tameeka  |  May 27th, 2008 at 11:53 am

  • What a great post, Kristin. I am reminded of the quiet strength and courage of my mother as she raised my brother and I on her own.

    Roxanne Ravenel  |  May 27th, 2008 at 10:41 pm

  • Please forgive me if I sound preachy. For me it’s a lot of prayer and a daily decision to ‘Just Do It.’ A serious decision to be happy, and when I’m not to pray and affirm what I want out loud. The power of the mind is awesome. As is the power of a woman/mother. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that you are but a decision away from a good day. That’s how you just do it. You stand up, decide… today’s the day (everyday) and it all falls into place. Lovely isn’t it?

    Almond  |  May 27th, 2008 at 11:39 pm

  • That’s a great point almond. I am not particularly religious, but I agree with the main point. A lot of it is being able to make that decision to ‘be happy’ and open to all the wonderment your child is trying to show you. It’s amazing what you can learn by seeing things through the eyes of a child. It’s about putting a big fat smile on you face and count you blessings every single day.

    Miranda  |  May 28th, 2008 at 9:23 am

  • I really enjoyed this post. My son is four and I work two jobs, plus go to school, so I understand exactly where you are coming from. I am finally learning to enjoy being single, and I am wondering why it is taking me so long! Now I reach out to other single moms, especially teen moms, to try to help them be better parents. It really is empowering.

    Jennifer  |  May 28th, 2008 at 1:49 pm

  • Thank You for the article. Becoming a single mother has to be one of the most challenging things. No, it is the most challenging thing I have ever done. Knowing my two children are dependent on me for so much is rather daunting. However, it is a choice to be happy. So when you are getting them ready for daycare so you can get to a important meeting with a boss with no sense of humor and who doesn’t understand how cute your children really are and the children decide it is a great time to get the food coloring out and decorate themselves, carpet and walls you have a choice to make. You either become crazy momma punish them scream and yell or you take a deep breath remember this is something that you will laugh about for years to come and the meeting well you probably won’t remember it. You just do it and do the best you can.

    Terri  |  May 28th, 2008 at 4:32 pm

  • Thanks for pointing out that silver lining of single motherhood!

    Very true indeed.

    Single Mom Seeking  |  May 28th, 2008 at 6:13 pm

  • ‘Tis the season…

    Is there some crazy planet alignment… something strange is going on… I’m running into lots of women going through the same. I guess we are all waking up to what we deserve. I have been separated since December. I totally hear what you are saying… except one thing. I’m not so raw anymore. I’m in love with life. And that’s something I haven’t felt in a long time. I hope you visit Living In Theory.

    Sugar  |  May 29th, 2008 at 1:23 am

  • It is empowering but what I’ve recently learned is that it’s also a very hard cycle to break. When the lonely bed gets to be too much, it’s a big adjustment to let someone else in to your routine without resentment - for precisely the reason you pointed out Kristin - we do it all and there’s no one else we can blame, and no one else we depend on. Having been alone for a long time I found it hard to adjust to sharing a home - not that I don’t love my boyfriend. He’s incredible. But I stepped back the other day and realised that the source of my nagging is really the fact that I’ve been independent for so long and it’s been done my way for so long.

    Just something to bear in mind - wow, that post sounds negative. Sorry. It’s just that having realised why I seemed to get “uptight for no reason” I’m trying to change it and thought maybe it would be a good thing to share.

    tash  |  May 29th, 2008 at 8:03 am

  • Well put. I’ve been a single mother of two for almost five years now, and while I miss having a grown up to watch Lost with sometimes, I have really started to enjoy the freedom of being a Single. Of course, “freedom” is relative when you have kids…but it’s all good to me.

    Tough as ka-ka, but good.

    Rebecca  |  May 29th, 2008 at 11:38 am

  • I’m am so relieved to here someone else say that, tash. I have been single since I was 3 months pregnant and my daughter will be 2 in June. I’ve been hit on, asked out, and even went out with numerous guys and before I even give them a chance to get to know me (or as I say; disappoint me) I label them as this that or the other, all negative and ridiculous given the lack of info I actually have about them, and they are instantly shot down. I was hurt for a long time trying to accept that my ‘family’ would never be mommy, daddy, daughter and now that I have I feel that nobody is good enough for us. A friend of mine pointed this out to me, accusing me of sabatoging myself because I’m too pig headed to understand that not all men are scum. That my standards are way to high, and at this rate me and my daughter will be alone forever. I wouldn’t go to that extreme, but maybe I will end up a crazy old cat lady.

    Miranda  |  May 29th, 2008 at 1:10 pm