By Heather Dugan, Connection Coach, for the SouthFloridaReporter.com, June 30, 2015 –
I’m a single mom in an OK career. I have friends at work and through my sons’ activities, but it seems like I’m always just racing to catch up to my life—never really enjoying it. I cherish my two boys, but friends and sports are gaining significance in their lives, leaving me on the sidelines more than I’d like. I gave up on dating—no one seems to understand the demands of being a single parent. I dream of working in another career in another city but can’t make that sort of move for many years. I feel stuck to a life that can’t rise above mediocre. I can’t help feeling I was meant for more. I see that you’re a single mom too. How do you manage the load without totally losing yourself?
It’s true. Being a single working parent is tough work, and if there’s a glamorous moment in the picture, the single parent is generally the one behind the camera—not in frame. It’s easy to lose sight of who you are from a longterm perspective.
What concerns me is the deflated tone of your email. You say that you’ve given up on dating, but it sounds like you’ve actually given up on enjoying life until this “someday” career change that may—or may not—happen. Waiting on a new car or a vacation makes sense, but waiting on personal happiness and fulfillment is the worst choice an individual can make.
You describe yourself as a busy mom and employee—basically a facilitator who works for everyone but yourself. No wonder you’re depleted and feel “stuck.” There is more, but creating a more energized life will require you begin connecting with others beyond a friendly wave in the parking lot or nod across the cafeteria. Guilt and exhaustion can prevent single parents—especially us moms—from reaching beyond the work/school/extracurricular zones immediately around us. But we owe it to our children to fully develop ourselves, because we are the examples they may unwittingly or purposefully follow.
Forget dating for now. Begin with who you are outside of what you do. Start looking for ways to expose these parts of you to daylight so that they can begin growing again. Connection is critical. Focus on face-to-face engagement—short conversations with proximate people, especially ones you encounter regularly—with the goal of discovering if there’s a friendship “click.” When you find “friend material,” take charge in a friendly way—be the initiator of coffee or lunch. Then, look for shareable activities—maybe a noontime walk with a new co-worker. Be creative and flexible about fitting people into your life, because investing in friendships will provide a broader, stress-easing perspective, opportunities to learn more about yourself in the context of others and add meaning to daily life.
Next, assess your career goals. You mention and dismiss dreams within the same sentence. Is it truly necessary to dismiss the whole package outright? While your children may tie you to your current location, are there any first steps to fulfilling a long-term life plan that you can take now? Simply knowing that we are “en route” can enhance a less than optimal current situation and build our momentum to make necessary changes. Even upgrading your skills outside of work—pursuing unrelated passions such as photography, cooking classes or (fill in the blank) will enhance your enjoyment of the present.
Ditch the “drainers.” “Drainers” are people or activities that take without giving back—children are exempted, but you are not in a position to drag along needy adults. Physical activity, proper sleep and nutrition are of obvious importance, but please also consider talking to a therapist if you’re unable to move beyond this flat-style of living.
You’re right that there should be more. Define what “more” is to you and go get it, Sandy. I wish you the best.