Carolyn Hax: Current situation gives single mom a sinking feeling

Advice columnist

July 19 at 11:59 PM

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I’m drowning. I feel as if the very last priority in my life is me — single mom, helpful boyfriend, one very, very, very stubborn 10-year-old child. I work full time in a job I hate, have massive anxiety and depression, am always overwhelmed and my child is not easygoing — he’s anxious and won’t own his choices and blames them all on me. One small example: If you won’t pack your own lunch, won’t eat a lunch I pack AND won’t eat the school lunch, YES you will be hungry and I don’t want to listen to the tantrum while I make dinner cause YOU, Kid, chose this.

New meds haven’t taken effect, I’m trying therapy — though I need to be on effective drugs for it to help — but how do I survive right now? I’m drowning. Kid’s dad is involved but undermines every single thing I do, so it’s not actually helpful. I feel like I’m failing at work, parenting, partnership, everything. How do people keep going?

Drowning: I’m sorry. Multiple stresses can feel so overwhelming.

I can’t speak for how “people” keep going, but one word helps me: “enough.” It has two meanings that apply. The more useful to me: “I don’t have to do everything right; I just have to do enough.” If your child is loved, dressed, and where he needs to be, has food available to him, and if you’re present and affectionate, then, that’s enough. You may have great and important reasons for “every single thing I do” — that stuff his dad is undermining — but your son will probably be okay if you drop this or that struggle long enough to regroup.

The second meaning is: “Enough!” As in, stop. You are grinding yourself to a nub trying to do everything right, so at some point you need to recognize that as self-defeating — because you can’t be an effective parent, partner, worker, patient, self-advocate, anything, without rest and stillness.

Serve your “Enough!” purpose by finding things to cut away temporarily to make room to breathe. The dinner-making might be a dietary necessity, I know, but if it’s not, then join the ranks of parents embracing Cereal Night (or ice cream or pizza) as a means of reclaiming 30-60 minutes toward the cause of not collapsing in utter surrender.

Lean on anyone, everyone. Even the somewhat-unhelpful people.

Also try zooming way out — parents and kids have found ways to get by for millennia, so you will, too — or way, way in: Each hug, each meal, each day is a win.

Readers’ thoughts:

●This is the depression talking. You made the first step with the med switch and starting therapy. Be proud of yourself for this. It is you not drowning. It is you believing in yourself and finding your way out. You can do it. I did.

●Single mom here. I often felt overwhelmed because of the standards I set for myself. At some point I decided to cut myself the same slack our culture does for the movie stereotype of a bumbling, single dad. It has helped immensely and given me more room to just enjoy my kids (and I know those blues about the kid who comes home hungry from school).

Brilliant, repurposing that stereotype. Thank you.

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