Solo single motherhood is no picnic in the we-do-everything department if you ask me. I worked at the magazine all day yesterday, picked JD up from school at 5:58 PM, cooked a rice-salsa-cheese-bean concoction for dinner (with a side of salad greens), washed the dishes, bathed JD, and just when I thought I could collapse on the couch and watch a cartoon (even though most of the shows JD watches make me want to jump), I got asked: “Mommy, wanna play hide-and-seek with me? I will count and you will go hide.” He looked at me with his giant, brown owl eyes, and I really wanted to just say, “No, not tonight,” but I hid behind the shower curtain while he counted to 27. I was doing myself a favor, as I leaned against the cool tiles and smelled the sweet rose bar of pink soap: a group of three Kansas State University researchers found that single mothers can reduce their stress by playing and engaging their children.
This makes total sense to me. I mentioned that when I experience bad panic attacks and am alone with JD, I often pull out the Play-Doh. We sit on a paint-splattered old sheet on the living room floor and make stuff —any stuff. I find that creating something is a great way to distract myself from that doom and gloom, sinking stomach feeling. Instead of pacing back and forth, crying hysterically that I can’t breathe, I sit calmly and make purple and yellow Play-Doh meatballs. The scent and the warm, squishy compound between my fingers oddly helps, too. The real secret however is that by engaging JD when I’m stressed or anxious actually keeps him calm too. There is nothing worse than feeling your own anxiety and stress when your preschooler is well, acting like a normal preschooler. JD is high energy 24/7. He likes to be entertained. He likes to play. He likes for someone to do something with him. One of the only times he’ll sit and chill is if I put a show on he really, really likes and even then, he sometimes wants me around. This makes me feel like I have to constantly be on, and it is stressful when you feel like you have to be and do everything, all the time.
“Single mothers can feel constantly overloaded and overwhelmed at being a parent and trying to fulfill all of their responsibilities. Being a single mother brings extra stress, because they have decreased economic resources, longer work hours and their social support network may be limited as well. Because of all of this, they can feel the constant stress of ‘how am I doing in my role as a mother?’” notes researcher Blake Berryhill in the study findings.
I don’t exactly agree with decreased “economic resources” (isn’t all of America feeling this pain?), but I do agree with everything else. I work at least 60 hours a week and even though I do have family and friends around, they are not always around, which means I am mom and dad most of the time — if not all.
Luckily I’ve found ways to make it work, and they all line up with the findings in this study. If I need a break, I yank out the flashcards and quiz JD. When we’re done I feel better (a. my kid is a smarty and b. I just got to relax) If JD won’t stop jumping on the couch and the dishes are piled up in the sink, I call timeout, grab a ball and we run and play catch in the courtyard. Getting my endorphins pumping automatically decreases stress, panic, and worry — this is just science talking. We’re big artists, too. We color and paint daily, often sharing the same sheet of paper and collaborating on a masterpiece. Sitting quietly and reading to JD is not only important for his development and growth, but it allows me to sit quietly, too. A lot of the time we lay in his bed with a pile of books — I keep reading till he tells me to stop. I don’t mind at all — his bed is cozy, and we’re both bookworms.
Single moms, the next time you feel the stress of life on your shoulders, don’t cry, don’t panic, don’t lock yourself in a room, and don’t yell at your kid. Play a board game. Engage your kid in a round of catch. Go for a walk and decide that clouds look like unicorns and slices of pizza. It really works, my friends. It does.
What types of things do you do with your kids when it comes to playing?
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