Single Mom Stories: What you absolutely must have to be a single mom

Contributed by Amy Sue Nathan

This month we celebrate the many experiences, lessons, missteps and triumphs of single mothers for Single Mom Stories September. Join us by reading, sharing, commenting and -- if you have your own story to tell -- contributing here as we strengthen the circle of support of mamas. 

I became a single mom over twelve years ago. To this day, I value my independence and strive to have my kids see me as completely capable. Though being single and raising two kids alone was nothing like I expected, or like anyone told me (as if anyone would know), it taught me quite quickly that I was a one-stop-shop.

Mom/Dad/Friend/Foe                                                                                          Chauffeur/Laundress/Teacher                                                                                      Butcher/Baker/Candlestick Maker

You get the idea.

To be everything to everyone, that takes moxie. Determination. And if nothing else, it takes the primal fear of failure. It also takes supplies. You stock up for lunches, art projects, holidays. Why not stock up for single motherhood, my friends? It’s much easier to have everything handy, let’s say, when the dog brings you that dead-mouse gift, or when there are multiple knee wounds, or the diorama is due - yes, tomorrow! The supplies even work when packing up for overnight camp, college, or when launching your kid into the real world of his first full-time job in New York City, let’s say, which is 800 miles away.

It’s true that everyone is different and that every single mom experience differs from the next. It’s all about the mom, the kid(s), the environment, the situation, the other players. But there is one thing that is the same, no matter who you are or what your life is like.

This single mom gig is not easy.

It’s not easy with another parent somewhere else, with a partner, with money, with family nearby, with an Ivy League education. It’s always nice to know someone gets it, not just a little bit, but all the way gets it.

Below are seven things that made my life as a single mom much easier than it would have been without them. These were tools I happened upon, never planned, but then thought——THIS WAS AWESOME TO HAVE HANDY. It might not be what you expect, but if it was, what fun would that be?

1. Hammer and nails: I have hung pictures, repaired door frames, broken up big bags of ice cubes that had frozen together. Most importantly, I have showed my kids how to use a hammer. Nothing is as awesome as doing something yourself, except when you kid sees you do it yourself. (And I don’t mean one of those pretty, girly hammers. A real hammer. You can handle it.)

2. Paper clips. Many. All sizes and shapes. The colors don’t matter but the pink ones are always fun. Paper clips come in handy not only to clip paper, their birthright, but in fixing a toilet. That’s right. A paper clip can reattach a toilet chain. For this, I also recommend tongs. Long ones. They’re not just for grilling anymore. And being able to flush is really a first-world perk I’m not willing to give up.

3. Plastic bags and cardboard boxes. I recycle. I swear I do. I also carry reusable totes. Cute ones, ones with logos, freebies. I’m not picky. But a cute reusable tote does you no good when a bird dies on your deck or in your back yard, or when the dog brings you a baby bunny as a gift. The flaps on the boxes are wonderful faux dust pans, the boxes serve as well as receptacles—I mean little coffins, poor dears—and the plastic bags, well, let’s just say this is where you throw environmentalism to the wind and double triple-up.

4. Paper plates and plastic utensils. When the kids are with their other parent (if there is one) or with friends, use the throwaway stuff FOR YOURSELF. Do not do dishes or housework when the kids are gone. I learned this through the years. They’ll never know—and if they’re not home, how can they help you, or just watch you and learn? Don’t waste the effort!

5. Powered non-dairy creamer. You know what I’m talking about. It’s nothing to be proud of, but if you’re a coffee drinker and take it light, you know that a cup of black java in the morning just doesn’t hit your empty stomach the same way. There were more than a few times that I’d run out of half and half, and even milk, and starting my day before the kids woke up without an indulgent cup of coffee, set everything awry. Keeping a small container in the cabinet meant that while the coffee tasted like I was drinking it out of a paper cup at the DMV, it was still coffee, light, and it was mine.

6. Frozen vegetables. Yeah, yeah. Fresh is best. But single moms get waylaid way more than anyone else and whether anyone eats them or not, putting vegetables on your kid’s plate reminds you (and them) you’re a good mom, even if you didn’t make it to the grocery store that day (or week). Frozen vegetables are also good for boo-boos (owies, whatever you may call them) and middle of the night headaches, if you’re prone to those. They also stop the itch of bug bites and rashes. Bags of frozen veggies can also chill beverages. Of the juice box or wine variety.

7. Tape. All kinds. Scotch tape, duct tape, packing tape, medical tape. I have been known to tape up a cut finger with gauze and Scotch tape, but that’s only one of the many things you can do with the sticky stuff. You can make anything with tape, fix almost anything. And while you instinct may be to conserve tape (that piece is TOO big), I promise, there is no tape shortage and an extra long piece of tape is okay. Also, tape, like band aids, tend to make kids really happy. Hit the dollar store. Go wild. If you can give your kids some sticky stuff, and distract them, why not? You’ll be like a hero. Because I bet you no OTHER moms let kids loose with the tape dispenser. (Really the key is: lighten up a little, most damage you do to your kids isn’t permanent. I know that for a fact.)

My philosophy on both giving and receiving advice is: take what you need and leave the rest. But I promise you will never go wrong with #4. Or #6. Or #5.

Amy is the author of two novels: The Glass Wives, and the forthcoming The Good Neighbor, both published by St. Martin’s Press, and both featuring——you guessed it——single moms as the main characters. Amy has written for many print and online publications, and hosts the book and writing blog, Women’s Fiction Writers. She lives near Chicago in an empty nest.

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