As much as parents look forward to the end of the school year, it can also be an incredibly stressful time, especially when you're a single parent. With an ever-expanding list of places to go and checks to write, the last thing you want to be is shy about how overextended you are. Here is my golden rule for coping with stress, at the end of the school year and any time of year:
Don’t do shit for your kids.
Tell your children you’re teaching them independence and giving them a taste of what adulthood is like in the real world. But never forget the actual reason you’re letting them grow: you’re so overwhelmed that you’re delegating your responsibilities not by choice but out of necessity.
As with any golden rule, you can apply mine to many situations. For example, if your children are hungry but you’re behind on your work and bills and cannot bring yourself to enter the kitchen, tell them, “Fend for yourselves.” The result? My daughters now know how to cook and cook for their younger brother. It may sound harsh at first to the unenlightened ear, but it is surprisingly effective. Here’s why.
The golden rule is grounded in the theory of survival of the fittest, the mechanism of natural selection. Those who are best able to survive are most likely to reproduce.
Thanks to my laissez-faire approach to parenting, my kids are well-equipped for adulthood.
They can cook, fill out forms, go grocery shopping, take care of the cat, do laundry, and whatever else anyone asks of them. They can take care of themselves.
Because of my children's ages at the time when I became a single parent, I gradually implemented my golden rule rather than adopting it all at once. When I first separated from my husband, my kids were still young and almost entirely dependent on me. I understood that. But I soon found that taking care of three children by myself was overwhelming, whether it was summer, fall, winter, or spring, the beginning of the school year or the end.
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One chore I found I had no more time for during the day as a single parent trying to build a career was making my kids’ beds. I showed my kids how to make them and said I’d pay them an allowance as long as they did. The next morning, I walked into my kids’ rooms and found their beds made precisely the way I liked. Now I had ten extra minutes each day to focus on other responsibilities or, as I soon discovered, myself.
When school began the following fall, I told my children I wouldn’t make their lunches anymore. I showed them how to make a sandwich instead. The next day my kids packed lunch. I crossed this task off of my list and gained yet another ten minutes in my day.
The years passed, my kids got older, and as they did, I gave them even more responsibilities. If they wanted to sign up for a summer program, they had to fill out the forms. If they wanted a cat, they had to feed her and clean up after her. If they asked to have a particular food in the house on a day I wasn’t going grocery shopping, they had to go to the store and get it. I found myself with even more time on my hands, more time to focus on my career, and, most important, more time to focus on my sanity.
My golden rule does come with a hefty price tag; my kids sometimes resent me for not coddling them enough.
They will also probably never forget the original reason why I felt forced to delegate all of their responsibilities to them and harbor some resentment about that as well. But what I do hope they understand is the skills they have gained over these past six years far outweigh the costs.
They are on the road to becoming capable adults. This August, my eldest daughter is going off to college, and I fully believe she’ll adapt well to living away from home. Maybe one day she’ll even thank me, her dear, "neglectful" single mother. Given the situation I found myself in after my husband left, I know I am thankful for mine.