How to Be Both Mom and Dad

Listen to "How to Be Both Mom and Dad" on Spreaker.

"How can I be both mom AND dad?" is one of the questions I am most asked. It is easily in the all time top 5. 

And it's a fair question.

As moms, we worry. We worry about everything. And knowing there is supposed to be a dad around when their isn't, is certainly going to freak us out! We wonder...

  • Are our kids going to be ok?
  • Will they feel ashamed?
  • Will they grow up, screwed up, because there isn't a dad around at all, or enough?
  • Will they be angry? 
  • Do I need to go find them a dad?
  • Have I failed?

...and the list goes on.

While these feelings are perfectly normal, worrying about the fact that dad is MIA is not going to solve the problem.

Often single moms shift into overdrive and throw themselves into trying to be both mom AND dad, and typically to their detriment.

And THAT is exactly what this week's podcast is all about.  Give it a listen.

How to Be Mom and Dad - Episode Transcript

Welcome to Kick Ass Single Mommy with your host, Sara Sherman, single mom support that is implementable, inspirational, and intuitive. Hello and welcome to episode number nine of Kick Ass Single Mommy. Today I want to talk to you about a question that I get asked all the time. And that question is, how can I be mom and dad?

And you know it's not a casual question. It's not like, “hey, Sara, I was just wondering how can I be mom and dad?”

 No, it's an intense question, it's a gut wrenching question, it's mothers who are exhausted, overwhelmed, fearful, frustrated, they feel guilty, they have concern for their kids, they're afraid that their failing and they say, “How can I possibly be mom and dad?”

And when someone asks me this question, my heart just breaks. I totally get it.

I remember when I had my son and they put him in my arms and it just hit me like a ton of bricks. Like holy crap, it takes two people to make a baby for a reason and there should be another person here and they aren't. And how am I gonna do the other part, how am I gonna do my part? We don't get training in how to be a parent.

All we see are how other people parented, how our parents parented, how our grandparents parented, how our friends parents parented, how they parented on television on the sitcom or some other kind of show, but we don't get training in this. We don't know what the outcome is supposed to be and really the attitude that we are accustomed to is you cross your fingers and hope you do your best.

And you'll find out when your kids become adults at 18 or later and that will be the measure of whether or not you did a good job. And that's really a hard way to figure out if you've done something well.

I mean that's like saying here's the coursework and good luck with that and down the road a few years, many years, you can take your final exam and if you did well, well then you probably did okay in the process. It's just not even feasible. And then to put on top the extra burden and responsibility of feeling like you have to accommodate for the fact that someone else isn't there.

Can you really be mom and dad?

So here's the kicker with that. You can't be mom and dad. You can't do it. You are just one person and you can't be two people.

You cannot defy the laws of physics and duplicate yourself. And you certainly can't defy the laws of physics and duplicate yourself such that you create a completely different separate person. Like it's not even like you're trying to duplicate yourself, you're trying to turn yourself inside out to be another separate human being. And one of the opposite sex in most cases and of course, that is not feasible.

The Pitfalls of Trying to Be Mom and Dad

There's no way to do that. You can only be you. And the fact of the matter is this desire or need or desperation to be two people is distracting. It moves you from your focus, it creates an impossible goal, and because you have an impossible goal you will fail. You will absolutely fail if your goal is to try to be mom and dad. You won't fail because you're lame, you'll fail because you created an unachievable goal.

A standard that simply cannot be met. Therefore, there is no way you can succeed, you will fail. Okay, that's pretty heavy. Here you are, you're a single mom, you're raising kids who don't have a dad in their life or who don't have a dad in their life through the bulk of their day-to-day life or activity.

You have all the feelings I described, the guilt, the pain, the fear, the loss and the list goes on. You so desperately want to do the right thing for your kids and now here I just told you that you can't do it. That you can't be both mom and dad.

Now What?

So listen, I know it's heartbreaking and your feelings are totally legitimate. I remember my son was in high school and we were going to Boy Scout things and I was always the one that took him to all his Boy Scout things.

Now, by this time his father had come back into his life, he showed up when he was 10, he lived a few hours away, he wasn't hugely involved but he was there and I was divorced from my ex-husband and have been for, oh gosh, handful of years, and that's the person that my son really felt like was his father had been most strongly in that role.

So here's a kid, who in essence has two dads, and it's always his mom who is taking him places and doing things, and the one who's there consistently in and out and it's Boy Scouts.

So we arrive at the church where we're supposed to meet and the boys are coming with their dads and they're in the car but there aren't any leaders there and that's kind of unusual because they were all pretty on time and ready to go ahead of time. And so we thought maybe we were in the wrong spot. And some of the dads are in like Boy Scout outfits, uniforms, gear, what have you, because they're gonna participate in this weekend’s activity.

So we pull up beside each other, roll down the windows to the car, and we're like, "Hey, are we in the right place, is there any chance that we should be meeting someplace else, do we have our wires crossed, what's going on?"

So we had decided that everything was cool, we were all in the right places, we were just there before the leaders, and we just needed to wait. So then we moved our cars and pulled into parking spots. We're all good and ready and I'm waiting and it's not a big deal to me. If you've got kids in activities, you spend an enormous amount of time waiting in this way, in this manner.

"Thanks Dad"

So as we're sitting there, my son takes his fist, and he jabs me in the shoulder, gingerly, lovingly and like you would at a boy, and he says, he goes and punches me in the shoulder and says, "Thanks, dad." And my heart soared and shattered at the same time. I was so grateful and a little bit overwhelmed and proud of him for recognizing that I was the one who was there for him and that I would always be there for him, and he was grateful.

With teens, to have them kind of come outside themselves a little bit and realize what's going on outside them and what other people are doing and how it impacts them is a big deal. It's a big deal for non-teens certainly a big deal for teens. And so the fact that my son had enough awareness and appreciation and respect and many other positive emotions that he took the time to acknowledge my presence.

And to thank me for it meant the world to me.

But I also felt his pain, and my pain that in an ideal world there would have been a dad there.

And every other boy had a dad there where he stood out. He only had his mom. And I wasn't going to go for the weekend, the dads didn't want a mom hanging out on the weekend, and I had my girls, and I needed to be there for them and Josh was gonna have a good time and all the guys were they kind of took him under their wing as well. And it's not that he was lacking anything it's just that he was lacking the presence of a dad who should have been there.

Being Dad

And it's hard. I understand, and I had conversations with my kids that perhaps a dad would have, or I tried to do it in the way that a mom would do it, and the way that maybe other perspective of the words that dad would use. Because the energy is different, and I think that we all recognize that.

At the same time we all know, we all know that simply the virtue of having a man in your life doesn't equate to having the ideal male situation. I mean if that were the case then none of us would ... you wouldn't be listening here today. You would have everything covered in your child's life.

It would be all taken care of. And that's not the case. So the mire idea of having a father doesn't equate to everything that we romanticize a man would do if we could just get one to be around. So it's perfectly normal to have the sadness, and the overwhelm and the feelings of frustration and all these other things because your child doesn't have the picture perfect life we perceive a child should have.

The good news here is that you don't have to be mom and dad, it is so easy to feel that it becomes your responsibility to pick up the slack for the other person.

You know we tend to do this in relationships, we're in a romantic relationship and somebody starts slacking. So what do we do?

Well, we work harder. We give more, we think maybe if we keep giving more the other person will at some point engage in the relationship and pick up their part, and you won't have to do it anymore. And we all know that that's not the case.

You can't do enough to cover the other person's part. And in this situation it is exactly the same. It is impossible for you to do enough to pick up your partner's part to pick up the other parent's part, so that you are fully being mom, and you are fully being dad.

It's just not possible.

Your Goal

So here's the good news, you don't have to be mom and dad. You don't have to do this. Now you might be thinking, “Wait a minute Sara, like this makes no sense. I'm here, dad’s not here, and now you're telling me that not only can I not be mom and dad but I don't have to? I don't even understand what you're saying.”

And you know, fair enough. I will explain.

Being two parents is not your end goal. Let me say that again, being two parents is not your end goal.

When you think about what you want to accomplish for your children and where you want your children to be when they are 20 or 25 or 30, and this is the time that you are laying the foundation and giving them all the skills so that they can be at the right spot and pick up and move forward never in there do you say I, my goal here is to be mom and dad.

Now, don't get me wrong, having two people who work together in that positive manner and raised their children as a team is a magnificent thing. Absolutely.

Right now, it is not your thing.

Regardless though, the fact is right now you are on your own. And wailing and worrying and gnashing your teeth is not going to get your kids raised.

If you need to do that fine, no problem, block off some time and feel the pain. Your pain is real, and it is absolutely appropriate to the situation. No little girl sits at home and dreams of being a single mommy. They might think they will be, or they might understand that it could happen, but it is nobody's first choice.

It certainly wasn't mine either.

When you need to back up, take some time out, and feel the pain. Eat ice cream, have a glass of wine, complain to your mom or your girlfriends, all of that is perfectly and highly therapeutic. Just do what you got to do.

Now here's the trick.

Don't stay there and don't use the fact that a man is not actively participating in your child's life as a crutch to not participate in your life either or in your child's life either.

Get in there and parent your ass off because the reality is as much as we want to fully meet the needs of our children and give them a life of pure joy, ease and comfort, we know that does not serve them

What Our Kids Need

We know our kids need to develop the skills necessary to cope with life.

What We Know

We know that if we deny our kids that knowledge, we have short-changed them. Denying them that knowledge means they step into adulthood unprepared and completely set up to fail. What a horrible, horrible thing.

We have no idea what lies ahead for our children. We have no idea what hurdles they are going to have to face, we don't know what they will need the strength and knowledge to accomplish.

What we do know is that they have a life of ease, a life of no frustration, no disappointment, all immediate gratification and no challenges, we know that sets our kids up for failure.

We know intellectually that they have to experience life's yucky side.

The good news is, right now they have you there to guide them in how to problem solve. How to handle disappointment and frustration and how to celebrate life's highs and yes, celebrate life's lows.

As parents, we have got to be strong enough to teach them how to navigate life's waters instead of keeping them on dry land all the time. And for our kids, one of the challenges that they have to face is that dad is not around at all or as often as we'd like.

Fast Forward

For my son who's now fast approaching 30, 30 years old, yes my son is 30 ... my oldest child is 30 almost, what he learned in that time is driving his actions today. He recently separated from his child's mother, and he initiated the action that he needed in order to protect his time with that child.

He's building with that child routine and structure for his five year old. He's making sure that teeth are brushed, ABCs are learned, that there's a morning routine, an evening routine, that meals are healthy, the whole list.

He is making sure his son has a present and active father because he knows exactly what it's like to not have a present and active father. He knows exactly what it means to be a good parent. I taught him that, and he's repeating everything he learned.

And his father taught him how incredibly important his role is. Without that, with a life of ease, when things got difficult, I don't know if he would have had the hutzpah to do what was necessary. I mean he is adamant, he is unwavering, “That is my child, and I am going to raise my child.”

It is beautiful to see and knowing that he didn't have that, seeing it is so much more beautiful. I am so proud of him.


Rule #1

So here is my very first rule in dealing with this situation. This is my first rule no matter what's happening in my life and I always, always in my mind, start at this point:

Control what you can control.

You cannot control what your child's father does or does not do. You can't do it. It's completely impossible. So let it go. Let me say it again, let it go.

 What you can control is what you do and what you can do is to be the very best darn parent there is.

Now you know my thing is priority is in plans for a kick ass single mom life. So next week I want to begin to speak about some of those priorities.

How to develop your priorities and how to get focused on making the plans you need so that you can be the very best parent, the very best parent you can be so that you don't have any surprises when your kids hit 18 or 20.

They are prepared, you know you did it right, and you know that you taught them. And they know they can feel confident. So let's just take a minute here and review what we've talked about today.

Let go of trying to be mom and dad.

 Let go of being upset that dad isn't around.

Focusing in either or both of those areas is a distraction. It takes your energy away. When you have times, and you will, that you just really need to wallow in it or be upset about it or just feel the feelings that you have, step away, take some time for yourself, put a time limit on it and feel the pain.

Give yourself some great self-care, do what you need to do. When you feel ready step back into the parenting role and continue to move forward.

Your child needs a solid parent and right now that is you.

So you've got to be at your game. You can't be distracted, you can't be feeling sorry for yourself, you have got to be focus, figure out your priorities, make your plans and create the kick ass life that you and your children need and deserve.

Okay, so be sure you come back next time, feel free to sign up below, and I will make sure that you get the podcast, and my latest publications in your email box so that you don't miss a thing. And if you know another single mom who struggles with this issue, please pass this podcast along to them. No one needs to be alone. So until we meet again, live powerfully and go kick some ass.

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