Thursday, March 21, 2013

National Single Parent Appreciation Day

I'm celebrating my 10th year of single motherhood. In honor of this anniversary, and this day, here are my Top 10 Thoughts on being a single mother:

  1. Accept Reality. The first few years of single motherhood, I got stuck in that "if only..." game. If only someone else could give the bath. If only someone else could make dinner. Yeah, well, no one else will, so deal with it. Wallowing in self-pity doesn't help anyone, and these are the types of issues that don't go away. The sooner you accept reality, the more you can celebrate the accomplishments. Which leads to number two. 
  2. Take Pride in Single Parenting. I went from the "if only..." syndrome to feeling quite proud of everything that I do all by myself every day. I learned how to snake a toilet. I went from making barely edible mac 'n' cheese to adding my own touches to a recipe. I've found a way to solve pretty much every single problem I've had or the girls have had in the last 10 years. And that includes knowing when to reach out to others. Hence number three.
  3. Accept Help. I didn't want to be seen as helpless or not being strong enough to do it on my own. Then, I just got tired and overwhelmed and validated that I'm doing enough already, thanks, someone else can take this one. From taking the girls to therapy to having my parents very involved in the girls' lives, to letting my friends buy me lunch, I have learned to say "thank you" and accept help without guilt.
  4. When Mommy's Happy, the Whole Family's Happy. I am now acutely aware of how much my state of mind affects the girls. If I'm stressed or fighting back tears, they know. And, when they were younger especially, they would be more prone to fall apart. As I went from surviving to thriving, so did they. When I pick them up, they genuinely ask, "how was your day?" Now, I realize that they might just be wondering how much supply of patience I have at that moment, but now that they are older, they know well enough to let me have my space when the day has not been good. And when I am happy, there is a lot of joy and music and laughter in all of us. 
  5. No One Else Matters. It's not that other people don't matter at all, but when it comes to how I'm raising my kids, I have to do it my way. I seek input from others, I take other people's advice and knowledge into consideration, but I cannot let anyone else dictate how I parent. And I could probably write a post on the Top 10 reasons why, but suffice it to say that no parent is perfect, no child is perfect, and neither are we. 
  6. Take Time Off. At least once a year, I try to find one way or another to take a whole week off, and other times, I take a day here and there off work while they're at school. There comes a time when I feel like all I'm doing is catering to other people's needs. And that's when I know I need a vacation! I very rarely actually go anywhere, and my staycations are usually a highlight of my year. I see as few people as possible, go out as little as possible and just be. The girls are spending time with other loved ones, so I know that they are being loved, and I think it's good for them to experience another way of living for a while with people that aren't me! 
  7. Take Breaks Every Day. Just once or twice a year is not enough. When the girls were little, they went to bed really early so that I could take time for myself. Now, there's a certain point in the evening that I say, "okay, go away now. Love you!" And they go to their rooms and I chill. I think they have both learned to appreciate alone time, which will be a valuable skill they can take with them forever. 
  8. Know Your Limits. Single parenthood can be exhausting. The two points above help me to avoid those times when I have lost it because I have pushed myself too hard. Even the strongest, most loving, most wonderful human being has their limits! Or at least, I do. So after a few regrettable moments (okay, maybe more than that), I have learned to know myself well enough to pick up the phone and call my parents or another loved one and say, "take them. Please." It's not that they're terrible girls, or that I'm a terrible mom. It's just that I have my limits. And so do they. A little time apart, or even the knowledge that some time apart is coming soon, can do wonders for giving me perspective and balance again. 
  9. Get Perspective. I have no doubt that blogging was my first step from surviving as a single parent to thriving as a human being. Writing it down, taking accountability here, and of course, reading other bloggers absolutely helped me focus on what really matters to me. Blogging is not for everyone, of course, but finding some way to step back and think about your most important goals helps to pick your battles most effectively.
  10. Finding Your Balance. Of course, I had to end on the theme of balance. There is a lot more to my life now than just being a single working mom, and I firmly believe that everything I'm doing helps me to be a better single mom. But with so much going on, I need to take some time every day to figure out what most needs my attention at that moment. Now, I could probably deliberate all day on that question alone, but what a waste of time that would be! No, I just pick something and do it. And then I say (usually out loud, though still to myself), "what's next?' Every day, there will be something I didn't complete. Every day, there will be an unexpected challenge. Just like the "if only" game, it's futile to worry or fret about what didn't get done. Balance is like perfection, a never-obtainable goal, but every day, every moment, focusing entirely this way and then that, allows me to make some strides in all aspects, and allows me to feel like I am addressing all of my wants, needs and issues, one at a time. 
Not only do I not play the "if only" game anymore, but I can no longer imagine my life as anything other than a single parent. I have embraced my role wholeheartedly, and I love my life and my girls with all my heart. On this day, I'm not so much asking to be appreciated as a single parent. Today, I appreciate being a single parent.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Single Parent Appreciation Day is Thursday, March 21

I hope to have a post up, but either way, please take a moment to celebrate your accomplishments as a single parent, or the accomplishments of a single parent you know.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Financial Update: Tax Refund and a New Plan

It's tax refund time! This time, I did things slightly differently.

At first, I thought I would use some of the funds to pay off my high-interest credit card; the one I had to use to get my car repaired last year. When I thought about these past several years, however, I reconsidered.

It's been a vicious cycle of running up credit card debt throughout the year, trying to pay it off with my tax refund, and then finding myself having to pull out the credit card again to pay for car maintenance or school supplies or other miscellaneous unexpected expenses.

I decided to save most of the money in my savings account this time. I took my car in, and paid another $600 to keep it in good condition (cash this time), and yes, I bought a few things. But I have an emergency fund. It's not 8 months, like Suze would want. It's probably about a month of true necessities. It's a start.

Soon after, I bought The Debt-Free Spending Plan: An Amazingly Simple Way to Take Control of Your Finances Once and for All (on my new Kindle Fire), and I was even more pleased with my decision, and have already started to implement the plan.

Now, I will say at the outset that this plan isn't perfect. Had I not just put a big chunk in my savings account, I probably would not be as enthused about the plan as I am with that cushion. Even with that, I can still imagine scenarios where I won't be able to stick to the plan of never incurring another credit card charge again. Still, I can see that with time, it can work.

Living within your means is not a new concept, by any means. But what was different for me about this plan is the idea that you don't completely deprive yourself even as you learn to live within your means. You actually budget for eating out and entertainment and clothing. And unexpected expenses.

So how do I do this as a paycheck-to-paycheck earner? By only paying the minimums on my credit cards.

For me, that was something very different. I had read over and over I should be paying down the debt as fast as possible. Instead, Nagler understands how this enables the vicious cycle to continue. There is nothing left over for the car repair or the new printer or the baby shower gift. So what do I do? I plunk down the credit card. Because there isn't another way. And once you start, it gets easier to continue to pay with credit because hey, there's already a balance.

Unless, that is, I have only paid the minimum on the card. And while that sounds counter-intuitive to paying off debt, it is the only way to have cash left over. So that I don't have to pull out the credit card for my textbooks or Riley's uniform pants.

The key to keeping that cash is the Magic Little Notebook. While I've been budgeting for years now, I admit, if there's still $$ in my checking account, I will most likely use it. So instead of just letting that "free" money go, the Magic Little Notebook keeps me in line to truly live within my means and only use the money available for each line item. (Those line items include Fun and Savings.)

I also like her 1/3 rule when it comes to unexpected cash. (Probably because I did something similar with my refund.) She suggests spending 1/3 on whatever you like, saving 1/3, and paying down debt with 1/3. This way, you don't deprive yourself completely, you continue to build up the cash reserve so that you don't have to turn to the credit card, and you pay off some of that debt a little faster. Sounds a lot like balance to me!

I can't go as far as Nagler suggests when it comes to cutting up or freezing the credit cards. I can't guarantee that I will never put another charge on the card. Even Nagler says that it takes about three months to get the Plan's kinks worked out for each individual. Still, I have more confidence that my credit card balances can go down and stay (relatively) down. I like not feeling like we have to say "no" to ourselves all the time, but I can still make progress on financial stability.

*this is not a sponsored post. I paid for the book myself, all thoughts are my own, and I wouldn't even call this a review. It's just a post inspired by a book. And my tax refund.