From a very young age, I've always been given a huge amount of responsibility. I was in charge of my little sister, who was four years younger. I cooked dinner, washed dishes and did laundry. In first grade, I walked three miles to and from school crossing a busy boulevard. There was no snow but still. I basically took care of myself. I don't exactly remember being given a list of tasks or having a reward chart of any kind. And there certainly was no allowance given. We were just expected to do the work. My mother always joked that this is why she had children in the first place.
My mother, who was an alcoholic, spent most of her days drinking or recovering from drinking too much. She stayed in bed most of the time, leaving me in charge. I have three older sibling but for whatever reason, it was me. I was the responsible one. The one who could be trusted. The one she depended on. She would take me along to her doctor's appointments, letting me miss school. She would call me in from another room to change the channel on the TV. She would confide in me like a girlfriend even though I was just a child. She was critical and mean and I did what I was told.
When I was eleven years old, my brother and I went to live with my Dad, in a much more functional environment. It was organized and clean and full of routines and regiments. My dad worked the night shift from 4pm to midnight. He was gone when I got home from school and came home well after I was asleep at night. Sometimes I would stay up late just to be able to say goodnight and on the weekends I would help out with home improvement projects and chores. It was a loving environment but we were mostly expected to take care of ourselves. By then I was a pro at feeding and entertaining myself. I didn't need anyone outside of paying for clothes once in a while and giving me a ride to friend's houses.
As expected, I became an extremely responsible adult. Reliable, dependable, loyal. Always following the rules. Always trying to prove my worth with tasks and checklists and spreadsheets of what I have accomplished. Always taking on too much trying to please people by doing everything for them. Making everyone else's lives easier. Making sure to be needed. Making sure to stay busy and to show everyone how strong and capable I was. I would regularly burn myself out trying to do it all. Trying to avoid stillness. Trying to be better than my mother was.
After my husband died, I couldn't keep up the pace. I didn't care about perfection anymore but would become anxious if I wasn't constantly productive. It's been a continual balancing act between staying afloat and running for the shore. Between participating and hiding under the covers. Between pushing myself and giving myself some grace. I've been trying to find a way to lower my standards without completely throwing in the towel. Grief on top of solo parenting on top of the pandemic has been one challenge and one disappointment after another.
Lately, adulting has felt like a lot. It has been enough to handle the everyday tasks of running a home and a family without the additional plot twists that the last few years have brought on. There's been the non-stop scheduling and rescheduling of appointments and the survival of fifth grade math. There has been laundry and errands and the never ending preparation of food. There have been bills and colds and library books due. There have been holidays and weekends and downtime to fill. And on top of all of that there has been the constant influx of difficult decisions to be made. Decisions about discipline and consequences to give. Decisions about responsibility and capability of a not-so-little but not-yet-grown-up boy. Decisions about how to honor my husband on anniversaries and birthdays. Decisions about how to keep us safe.
The reality is, my husband wasn't the one in charge before he died. He wasn't any more of an expert than I am. He had opinions and guesses and information based on something he heard from a friend. If anything, I was the one constantly consulting Google and Pinterest. But the official title of Solo Parent has made the level of responsibility and the decision making process that much heavier. It has felt like the weight of the world is now on me. It has felt as though the choices I make will be life altering and imminent.
I realize, though, that it is all a story I have made up in my mind. That it is harder somehow now than it was before. That I am completely on my own. Partnerless. Alone. That I don't know what I'm doing and I have nobody to help me. That I'm incapable. Unsure. That I can't. When the truth is that I don't know any less now than I did before. That I didn't rely on my husband as much as I think I did. And that I am much more competent than I am giving myself credit for.
I noticed that I started telling myself I couldn't do it. That it's too challenging. Too impossible. Too much for me to handle on my own. That I'm too tired and unmotivated to accomplish what needs to be done. That it's too hard to feel all these feelings. That I'm not qualified. That I don't know what I'm doing. That I'm doing a terrible job. That I need an assistant or a wife. That I want to pay someone to do it for me. That I can't ask for help.
I also noticed that this was a recipe for disaster. I was setting myself up to fail. I was inviting my brain to find all the ways that this was true. And so it did. I started to notice every little thing that was going wrong. How I forgot one of my shopping list items on my Target run. How I ignored my gas gauge until the light popped on. How I neglected to sign my son up for soccer before the deadline. I knew that the only way to turn this ship around was to acknowledge the wins. To look for some of the ways I was succeeding. Nothing big. Just enough to prove my story wrong. Recording a podcast episode early. Getting my son to school on time. Making time for myself every day. So even though it would be impossible right about now to believe that everything is sunshine and rainbows, I can see that not everything is going downhill either.
Adulting has seemed more overwhelming than usual these days, but I am getting through it one step at a time. I am still making lists and prioritizing what needs to be done. I am still comparing notes with my mom friends and our pediatrician. I am still referring to my intentions when deciding what's best for me and my family. And I am still taking deep breaths, the same way I always have. Everything feels really hard right now and I'm doing it.