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Making a Life for Two

Looking back at her sometimes difficult transition to family life, a mom describes learning to take care of herself as well as her daughter.

For my fellow singles, here are some thoughts, offered with lots of humble hindsight
  • You can find out what it's like to be a parent beforehand. I would have had a smoother transition if I had spent more time with kids before my daughter arrived. Hang out with families and children; babysit; be a mentor; volunteer at school or take on a regular coaching commitment with a children's sports league.
  • Find out what it's like to be solely responsible for your household. Contemplate how your new life will affect your job, work schedule, social calendar, and vacations. Consult a financial planner (talking with mine about the cost of college was an eye-opener). Spend time with other single parents finding out about their lives and hearing their tips and views.

    A shock for me was realizing that I had no one with whom to share the joys of my daughter's first words or steps. I felt very alone then. Ultimately, I developed a rewarding friendship with another single mom, and made stronger connections with the neighbors who see my daughter often.
  • Realistically assess your support structure and prepare for emergencies. Single parents need a lot of help. I had pneumonia for a month after I arrived home with my daughter. My mother had to take over child care for several weeks. Three single parents I know have changed jobs and moved closer to supportive family and friends.

    Which family members can help you? Do not count on an elderly parent with limited physical abilities, nor the brother who is an hour away and has a wife, two young children, and his own commitments. Be straightforward: ask what kind of help friends and family can really provide, and for how long. Is it an afternoon a week? An evening a month? Try to get a commitment.
  • Find a church or another group that offers emotional support.I am a recent church-goer. I need spirituality in my life now, and it is calming to sit peacefully during a sermon while the day-care center downstairs takes care of my daughter. In addition, I have found support and friendship in church.
  • Request help in tiny pieces so that people are not overwhelmed. Ask a friend take your child to a playground for an hour-and-a-half while you shop, mow the lawn, balance the checkbook, or do something else you have not had time to do-like be home alone and listen to an opera, loudly.
  • Be prepared for negative reactions at work. When your personal priorities change, workplaces and bosses may not happily accommodate those changes. Ensure that your adoption time off is approved in writing before you take a leave. Make sure your colleagues know that you will need to leave at a certain hour to get to day care and that you will not be able to work on weekends. Check personnel policies, state regulations, and laws. Consult an attorney in advance to learn your rights. Be paranoid. You cannot afford to lose your job and health benefits while you are adjusting to your child's arrival.
  • Be confident in your decisions. No one else can tell you how to manage parenthood. Try to ignore those who offer "constructive" advice. They don't stand in your shoes. If they are not single parents, they haven't tried pushing a grocery cart carrying a cranky toddler after a long day at work. If your psyche says you need some time each week-or one day a month-to get things done or just to cope, respect that.
  • Find a way to keep up your own interests. Your life changes with parenthood and mostly you want it to. I did not want to give up my early morning walk, but I did. A year later my doctor told me that walking is good for my health. That means it is good for my daughter too. So I've reorganized my work schedule to go in slightly later two mornings a week so I can walk. I found a babysitter for one night a week so that I can go out with friends. A friend offered to babysit regularly on weekends. I am trying now to find a way to have a whole day to myself occasionally so that I can hike or fish. I wish I had recognized the importance of time to myself earlier.
  • Share what you enjoy with your child. I love going out to eat, and, instead of giving it up, I've learned to take my daughter along. Going out early to Chinese restaurants and family restaurants was fine, even when my daughter was a toddler. I like museums, so we go to children's museums often. I can't fish with my daughter yet, but we have visited a stream together. I enjoy hiking and she enjoys riding in the backpack.
  • Be creative. Don't be constrained by your own expectations. I expected work to be different. I expected more help from my family. I didn't realize how hard this would be. I was wrong about a lot of things. I've found that I must be more creative, more open, and more flexible. Respecting my own needs while fulfilling my daughter's is a simple idea, but it took me a long time to see that it is both important and possible. I am still working to improve the balance in my life, but I know that the happier I am, the happier my daughter is, too.

    Kate Mattos lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her six-year-old daughter, Eleanor, and their dog, Tramp.

    Copyright 2002 Adoptive Families magazine. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
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