The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Family

Here's To Motherhood — Or Not

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Recently, a friend and I were talking about our younger parenting days when she said, "You know, you still talk about your single mother days, but that was years ago."

She is right, but not really.

I've been married for 17 years now, to a man who became so important to my two kids that my daughter asked him to give the father's toast at her wedding. There are other reasons I love him, of course, but in this context, it's his relationship to my children that matters. Certainly, I have not felt alone in parenting for a long time.

And yet.

In my experience, being a single mother is similar to being from the working class. No matter how big your world becomes, you never forget that time in your life when you had less and worried more. It's a lesson that sticks with you long after everyone around you has moved on.

Predictably, the days leading up to Mother's Day take me back to that time in my life. When I became a single mother, my son was grown, but his younger sister was still home with me. That first December, when she was 8, she pointed to our three stockings hanging from the mantel and asked if we were still a family. I assured her there are many ways to make a family, and it had nothing to do with size. That was also the year I started making Christmas stockings for each of our pets to fill up the mantel.

Without my son and devoted friends, my daughter would not have been able to give me Mother's Day gifts when she was little. This would have shattered her. No matter how much I assured her that it didn't matter, it most surely did. I think that's when I first started resenting the holiday. I hated the pressure my little girl felt to prove her love.

Twenty-six years later, my feelings about Mother's Day have only grown more complicated. You might view this as overthinking. Welcome to the center hallway of my mind.

There are many ways to be a mother. Some mothers fail miserably and inflict great harm, which can make the holiday painful for those who wish they had a mother they could celebrate. Most mothers are better than they know, but it seems everyone, including the marketing industry, has an opinion about mothering. Which makes it easy to imagine all the ways you've fallen short.

No matter how good your own mother, if you live long enough, you'll eventually find yourself without her on Mother's Day. My mom has been gone for nearly 22 years now. You'd think I'd be used to that singular fact about my Mother's Day. Doesn't work like that. The longer I've been a mother, the more I understand just how much she influenced who I've become. I'd sure like to tell her that.

My mother wasn't a writer, but her ability to tell stories about her life helped me find the words for mine. I took too long to see how my mother's seemingly small acts of living would loom large in my world. She encouraged my biggest dreams, in part because she was so young when she gave up on her own. Our country has a long history of encouraging women too briefly, and even then, only when they are young and in the crosshairs of male ambition. The New York Times

One of the gifts from my mother and her generation of women — one that I recognized only after I turned 50 — is my refusal to volunteer for invisibility. A strong woman repels weak men, which gives us room to keep growing. In this way, I'm my mother's dream come true.

And so, my mother keeps mothering long after she is gone. That makes me hopeful for my own children and now my grandchildren. For me, too, to be honest. Have I done enough? Have I been enough? If they could pick who gets to be their mother, would they still choose me?

I don't know, but I get to keep trying, and that's enough for this mother on every day except you know when.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. She is also the author of The New York Times bestselling novel, "The Daughters of Erietown." To find out more about Connie Schultz (schultz.connie@gmail.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

As every American is aware, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed practically every aspect of everyday life. The health crisis has caused families across the country to quarantine in their homes, staying inside as much as possible and cutting out contact with others. The quarantine is putting a strain on relationships of all kinds, especially marriages.

When the confinement period ends, divorce attorneys are expecting a surge in divorce filings across the country. Many couples are expected to separate because of financial stress, tension caused by forced proximity, and cases of domestic violence.

While more couples may divorce, those who were already in the process of divorcing or who were newly separated when the quarantine began face unique struggles of their own. If you're among the 827,000 divorces that happen every year and find yourself in this situation, you may be feeling more stress than you ever expected at this time. This is especially true if you still live with your spouse. Take a look at these tips to help you cope with the stress of divorce during the COVID-19 quarantine.

Avoid Arguments

Avoiding arguments with your spouse is much easier said than done, especially in uncertain times. However, it is essential for reducing your stress levels. If you still share a home with your spouse, create a plan for the two of you to get along during quarantine. This could involve dividing the physical space in your home so you reduce your interactions or scheduling times when you can air grievances and work on resolutions. If you don't live with your spouse, avoid phone calls that could lead to arguments and only check in when necessary.

Stay in Contact With Loved Ones

Communication with the ones you love is important during any times of high stress. As going through a divorce and a quarantine caused by a pandemic are two major causes of stress, talking with your loved ones is more important than ever. Remember to call or video chat with your friends and family so that you can share your feelings and frustrations. They'll be able to offer valuable support.

Spending quality time with your children is also important during this time. In general, children spend 277 days out of the year with the custodial parent in divorce cases. If you are the non-custodial parent and your already-limited time with your kids is being reduced further by the quarantine, be sure to chat with them regularly. They need your support as much as you need theirs.

If you, your spouse, and your kids are all still living together, try to be intentional about what memories you want to want to create for the little ones. They're probably going to remember this as the last time you are a family together before you become two households. Remember to place your children's well-being as a higher priority than expressing stress or anger to your spouse. Develop a plan with your spouse to work as co-parents so that you can reduce stress for everyone in your household.

Learn About Divorce

The pandemic has given many people much more free time. If you're at the beginning stages of divorce, you can use your newfound free time to become more informed about the process of divorce. Couples with children should do research on child support and child custody. You can also look more in-depth at how property division works in your state. By doing this research now, you can dispel some of the uncertainty and confusion you may feel about how your divorce will work. With a clearer idea of what to expect, you may feel less stressed about the situation.

As you're learning about divorce, it can be helpful to contact a divorce attorney. They can offer further guidance and provide resources about the process. As at least one-third of data passes through the cloud, you likely won't have to worry about getting these resources from them in person and risk breaking quarantine. They can share everything with you virtually. You may even be able to video chat with your attorney to discuss your options in the divorce process.

While you may be going through a tough and stressful time right now, remember that there are solutions. You can use these methods to cope with the stress you feel and have an easier time during the quarantine. If you're still feeling overwhelmed, remember to seek help and keep in mind that this quarantine is temporary and soon your life will be able to move forward again.