‘I was always the tired mom. I was always the yelling, burnt-out, over-worked, stressed-out mom.’: Single working mom shares blended family’s busy schedule, ‘I’m still figuring it all out’

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“I got married and pregnant at 18, on purpose, because all I ever wanted was to be a mom. I delivered B when I was 19 and my ex provided well enough that I was able to stay home with my daughter. When I got divorced at 21, I graduated from teen mom to single mom. B was almost 2 years old at that time. I was very fortunate to have the emotional and financial support of my mom and grandmother; I was able to freely leave an unhealthy relationship with B’s father and raise her on my own. I spent some time living with my mom and I started college, and then when B was about 18 months old, my stay-at-home-mom days ended, and I went to work with the help of a home daycare I connected with through social media.

mom holding her daughter
Allye Mathis Photography

By the time B was 4, her father stopped showing up. It was hard for both of us, for different reasons, but we persisted, and I raised her without the help of a partner. By this time, I was working full-time as a paralegal and was no longer receiving financial support from my family. Child support came inconsistently, and I could never rely on it, so I budgeted our life without accounting for it. I put B in private school for kindergarten and during breaks and on snow days, I took her to the same home daycare. I transitioned from stay-at-home mom to working mom fairly well. In fact, I was glad to be out of the house. I was glad to have some distance from the whining, the potty accidents, the tantrums, the pretending-to-like-playing-with-dolls all day long. I was happy to have my own life outside of motherhood.

little girl in red overalls outside
Allye Mathis Photography

It was never easy. Working full time, paying for after-school daycare, getting home late with barely any time to squeeze in dinner and showers was draining. I went through a lot of drive-thrus, and I made a lot of spaghetti. We ate on the couch almost every night. There were many ways that I failed B, and I didn’t even know it at the time. Yes, we were happy living our life just the two of us, but when you’re focused on just staying afloat and getting enough sleep, you don’t get a lot of quality time with your kid. B had a lot of screen time.

Being a young, single, working mom was exhausting and isolating, but I made good mom friends through social media, and we met up every Monday night to watch The Bachelor while the kids played. I was, and am still, so grateful for those friendships that helped me through and brought me company. Being surrounded by these friends, though, was a reminder of what I didn’t have. They were all married and stay-at-home moms. They had the life I always wanted, the life I so naively thought I would have when I got married. I wished I’d chosen B’s dad differently. I wished I’d chosen a partner who loved his family and could support them emotionally and financially so I could stay home and raise her.

As B got older, we got busier. No matter what I’d wanted for us, I had to work and provide. B started doing extra-curricular activities. First came year-long gymnastics, then seasonal sports. We attended birthday parties and playdates. There were school fundraisers and Girl Scouts. Homework and projects. There was one of her and one of me, and I was trying to maintain my own life as well. I tried to work in the occasional sleepover-with-grandma when I could, so I didn’t lose my sanity. I spent more than just a few nights crying to my mom that I just needed a break. She’d been a single mom too, and here I was, repeating the cycle. Always being able to give B just enough, but never what she deserved. I was always the tired mom. I was always the yelling, burnt-out, over-worked, stressed-out mom.

young girl holding a pine cone
Kaytlyn Rosko

I was single for five years before I met my fiancé, Chris. Chris had been married and divorced and had three kids of his own. He was, and is, everything I never knew I needed from a partner. Chris allowed me to grow. He acknowledged the struggles I’d been through as a single parent and gave me the time and grace to grow into the person who could be half of a partnership, and trust me, it wasn’t easy. I was used to doing everything on my own, never having to answer to anyone or explain myself. Chris loved me for who I was but provided me with the space to reflect on what kind of mother and woman I wanted to be. When Chris introduced his kids to us, I became distinctly aware of how spoiled B was as an only child. How spoiled I had let her become because I was so focused on just getting us to everywhere we needed to be every day.

Becoming a blended family was a big change and challenge for everyone. B went from an only child with one parent to the second youngest with two parents. We were all forced to grow, to be more patient, and to be more understanding. Through months of love and communication, and plenty of therapy for everyone, we’ve come a long way. The kids don’t always see eye to eye, but they have made lots of progress, and it always makes me smile when they play together.

I still work in the same law firm I started with, as a paralegal. They have been incredibly generous with me and my schedule, accommodating me so that I can pick up the kids every day from school (because who can afford after-school daycare for four children?). Without their generosity, our family schedule would be impossible to maintain. But even though I leave work early every day, the calendar often still feels outrageous.

We alternate weeks with Chris’ kids with their mom, on a 50/50 schedule. The days we have with the kids are filled with laughter, but they are also filled to the brim with stress, for Chris and me, as parents. We are committed to activities (school, sports, mental health, physical health, and tutoring related) every single day. For four kids, we have eleven commitments per week. ELEVEN. I can’t believe that number is real. There are weeks we don’t make it to every activity, for our own sanity and for theirs. Three of those activities are bi-weekly. Really, it’s only two activities per kid, per week. Something fun and physical (gymnastics, jiu-jitsu), something educational or mental-health-related (tutoring, therapy). Of course, basketball starts back up for our oldest in January, so something is going to have to give.

four kids in halloween costumes
Courtesy of Savannah Brandt

Whenever one of the kids wants to quit something, we will fully support that. The last thing we want is for our children to feel as burnt-out as we do. Somewhat unfortunately for us, the chauffeurs and wallets of the operation, so far, they’re all very happy and committed to their activities.

But what about us, the parents? We are exhausted. We rarely eat out (imagine the bill for all six of us) and we never do drive-thrus. Typically, we divide and conquer, and when we finally get home, we cook, clean the kitchen, and try to fit in a half-hour of TV or board game time with the kids. The stress of trying to fit it all in is sometimes overwhelming. After the kids finally go to bed, Chris and I just lie on the couch, thinking about how we have to do it all again tomorrow. All the sports, therapies, tutoring…on top of us both working full-time jobs and trying to maintain our home.

I never thought I would truly miss being a stay-at-home mom because it is hard. I also used to never understand what stay-at-home moms did all day after their kids went to school. How easy they must have it, doing nothing until 3 p.m. But now, as a full-time working mom to four, I get it. Those stay-at-home moms get the laundry done. They grocery shop. They pay the bills and clean the house and take the car for an oil change. They schedule doctor’s appointments and put dinner in the crock-pot. They finally take the shower they’ve been too tired to take for three days. And hopefully, for a moment, they sit down and relax. Because when those kids get into the minivan at 3 p.m., it’s going to be chaos until every activity is completed for the night. Until the homework is done, and dinner is eaten, and the lights go out on another busy day.

family photo with the dog
Courtesy of Savannah Brandt

I appreciate those moms. I see how hard they are working all day long to raise their children and maintain the home. But I don’t get the laundry done during the day. I don’t get to pre-heat the oven. After the kids are in bed, the house is still a mess. The dog hair still needs to be vacuumed. The laundry still needs to be folded. Hell, forget folded, it hasn’t even been washed yet.

I write this as a reminder, for all the working parents like me, that you are not alone. That it is okay if the kids have frozen nuggets and macaroni for dinner. It is okay if Johnny has to miss baseball tonight because you just can’t possibly adult for one more minute. This is your life too, and you deserve to be happy in it. And if that means foregoing every extra responsibility or commitment you’ve made for one day, so that you can wake up tomorrow feeling refreshed and more productive, then do it. Normalize taking a break. It’s good for you, and it’s good for your kids to see you prioritize your mental health. You are a strong, wonderful, capable parent, and you are also a strong, wonderful, capable person. Give that person some credit, because you are doing great.

kids dressed for the holidays
Courtesy of Savannah Brandt

My suggestions? Well, I’m still figuring it all out. Make friends with like-minded parents, those that work and those that stay home. It’s important to have a support system that you can lean on, drink wine with, take turns driving to soccer with, and vent to. Utilize social media. Join local Facebook groups that meet up for playdates or can offer advice and recommendations from parents that have already been through some of your struggles. Ignore the dishes and the laundry for one night so you and your spouse can watch a movie, talk, or play cards. Every day, your children get older and while that may come with busier schedules of their own, it also means they can do more on their own; wash their own laundry, pick up their rooms, do their homework without you hovering, toast their own Eggos. Embrace the chaos, cry if you need to, and know that you are not alone.”

kids in uniforms
Courtesy of Savannah Brandt

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Savannah Brandt from Colorado Springs, CO. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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