“Motherhood is the greatest thing and the hardest thing.” – Ricki Lake
Being a mom is hard enough. Being a single mom is even more difficult. And being a single mom in addiction recovery can seem impossible — but it’s not.
Women everywhere have risen to the challenge of solo parenting while doing the work it takes to manage an addiction. Not everyone who attempts the journey makes it. For some, it takes several tries. Those who have succeeded have not done so without mistakes.
But each and every mother who has battled addiction while raising a child without a partner will tell you the exact same thing: it’s not easy, but it’s worth it. And while no two journeys look the same, there are three things that every single mother in recovery should remember.
1. It Takes a Village
Raising children is not a one-woman job. The day-to-day tasks of feeding, teaching, clothing, bathing, and playing with a little one (or several) are demanding enough. Combined with the daily challenges of managing an addiction, it can be downright overwhelming.
You’re going to need a support system. You need another mom you can call when you have questions. You need a friend who doesn’t have kids to talk to about anything other than being a mom. You’ll need someone who can babysit so you can make other plans, someone you can call in the event of an emergency, and someone who knows what being in recovery feels like.
Your kids need people, too. You can’t do it all, and you shouldn’t. Your children need people who will love them and be there for them when you can’t, either because you have a meeting to attend or because you just need a break. They need a strong, male role model. They need a family, related by blood or by love, with whom they can laugh and cry, grow and learn, celebrate and mourn.
Luckily, single doesn’t have to mean alone. To build the village you need as a single mom and a recovering addict, you must first find people you love and trust. Then comes the hardest part: when you need help, ask for it. But where do you start?
When addiction takes control of your life, there’s not much you won’t do to feed your habit. Unfortunately, that can mean hurting your family and friends and damaging your relationships. In some instances, the work you put into getting clean and staying sober may be enough to regain their trust. In other cases, it could be months or even years before the relationship is restored, if at all. The uncertainty alone may be enough to deter an addict in recovery from reaching out. However, if it’s someone who is important to you and your children, it’s worth the effort.
Find your tribe.
A healthy support system, or tribe, typically consists of people from a variety of areas of your life: family, long-time friends, co-workers, spiritual leaders, people who share your interests or hobbies, and other parents. For parents in addiction recovery, this should also include other recovering addicts. Many times, in order to find the people you feel a connection with, you must venture outside of your comfort zone. Join a mom group. Try a new exercise class. Volunteer. And, once you’ve made a strong connection, spend time and energy nurturing that relationship.
Just as surrounding yourself with good people is bound to help you succeed in motherhood and recovery, falling in with the wrong crowd is a surefire way to fail. As you determine who you want in your inner circle, don’t be afraid to exclude bad influences and people who trigger addiction-seeking behaviors. You should also reserve the right to change your mind about someone at any time and cut ties immediately if the relationship turns toxic.
2. You Can’t Pour From an Empty Cup
Being a mom is a sacrifice. From the moment you become pregnant, your body, your time, and your thoughts are consumed with caring for another human being. Mothers everywhere go without sleep, without showers, and without “me time” in order to meet the needs of their children.
The thing is, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Self-care is one of the most important parts of motherhood, especially for those women recovering from addiction. Unfortunately, for single mamas, it can be difficult to find the time and money for hobbies, exercise, or even small treats like a manicure or an iced coffee. Moreover, for a recovering addict, self-care must include 12-step meetings, counseling appointments, and in some cases, medication assisted therapy.
It is vital to remember that these activities are necessary to your health, well-being, and recovery, and find ways to make them a priority in your life. This means scheduling these activities in advance. Commit to giving yourself 30 minutes after the kids go to bed every night to read a chapter of your favorite book, watch your favorite TV show, or indulge in a cup of hot tea. Pencil in a lunch date with a friend every Tuesday. Attend the same meetings on the same days and at the same times each week. By doing them on a consistent schedule, these self-care activities become habits.
Of course, as all moms know from experience, creating a workable schedule for your family isn’t as easy as it sounds. There are a lot of factors to consider, including childcare, transportation, and unexpected challenges. So, you should also make a plan to address any issues that might make it difficult for you to follow through.
If your schedule allows, attend meetings during the day, while your kids are in school or at daycare, or on your lunch hour. If you can’t find consistent, affordable care, look for recovery programs that offer childcare and service providers who will allow your children to attend appointments with you. If all else fails, ask for what you need. In some cases, your sponsor, counselor, or group leader may be able to connect you with outside childcare resources.
If you don’t own a car, you’ll need to arrange reliable, cost-effective transportation. Start by asking a friend or family member to commit to dropping you off and picking you up on a recurring basis. Other regular meeting attendees or even your sponsor are good people to approach. If public transportation is available, pick meeting places and times, as well as counselors and service providers, that coincide with the bus or train schedule.
Expect the unexpected.
Kids get sick. Work gets crazy. Cars break down. Change is constant, but you can’t allow anything to prevent you from taking care of yourself. So, for every plan, have a backup plan. Have a babysitter you can call if the kids get sick, a backup meeting you can attend if you have to work through lunch, and a bus pass in case your car won’t start. While it may seem like overkill, a little planning in advance can keep you on track.
3. Grace Upon Grace
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, value grace over perfection. Every mother yells. Every child cries. Sometimes, dinner gets burned or you miss a meeting. There may be days when you can’t get out of bed. You may even think about using again.
On those days and in those circumstances, grant yourself grace. Give yourself permission to mess up, to apologize, and to be human. Work through your struggles and celebrate your victories knowing your sobriety is your greatest gift to your child, and your journey is a life lesson for both of you.