Snuggled up on the sofa with my son, I shared the kind words my coworkers had spoken during an encouragement activity earlier that day. After listening to their assessment of my character, my typically encouraging son looked up at me skeptically and declared half of them were true.
I laughed at his frank assessment and had to admit he was right. His response was as amusing as it was sobering.
Since then, I’ve been asking myself, “Who gets my best?” I don’t always like the answer. As a widowed single mom, it’s easier to bring my best self to work than to sustain those positive attributes at home. Unfortunately, my son often gets my leftover emotional scraps after I’ve poured my energy out on others.
Doing it all … poorly
Two years ago, changed circumstances forced me into the role of single mom. I hadn’t planned to work full time while my son was young, but suddenly it was necessary. I felt guilty I couldn’t be there for him as I had been in years past. To make matters worse, he couldn’t understand why he was getting less of my time and attention.
So I tried to minimize the impact of my work on our home life. I set out to be “Super Mom” and do it all, afraid to fail at work or at home. Even though I was now carrying the full load for our family, I tried to keep things the same as when I shared the load with my husband. I tried making every dinner from scratch instead of allowing myself to heat up some cans of soup. I said no when others offered to drive him to or from school to help me out. And I wouldn’t allow myself a mental break—even when I was coasting on fumes—insisting on “meaningful” conversations every night at dinner instead of watching a show together.
It only took two months for me to crash and burn. No matter how early I woke up in the morning or how late I pushed myself to stay up at night, I could not keep up with the demands at home and at work. Trying to live up to my old standards was exhausting as a single mom. I was frazzled and stressed. I had no patience for my son and very little capacity to handle any difficult situations or emotions. My fuse was short, and I quickly fell over the edge of impatience into anger.
Every time I blew up and had to issue yet another apology to my son, I would vow to do better—find the ever elusive work-life balance—but I never did. I had no choice but to work, and there was no end to my responsibilities at home. I knew something had to change, but what?
Underneath it all
After many times through this cycle of determination and failure, I realized the problem wasn’t just my over-packed schedule and endless to-do list; it was my heart. Without realizing it, I had turned work into a place to find my value and worth, not just a way to provide for my family.
It was an easy trap to fall into. Parenting is exhausting, and it’s only amplified when you’re doing it alone. The continuous outpouring of energy and unseen sacrifices into an often thankless job is draining. But our identity is shaky when it’s contingent on our performance at work or at home. The security and sense of self-worth we long for cannot be found in either of these things. We were made for so much more. We were made to have a secure identity, deeply rooted in God’s love for us.
As mothers, we love our children simply because they are ours. They don’t have to earn our love, buy our love, or perform for our love. Yet, even our motherly love is imperfect, and we don’t always love our children as we should. But God’s love is not fickle and conditional like ours. His love is perfect and secure. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). His love for us has never been based on our performance.
Our boss or coworkers might reject us when we fail to meet expectations, but God never will. Our children might respond to our best efforts with disrespect and anger, but God always responds with grace. His love is the firm foundation we can rest our identity on.
I’m realizing the only way to live a more balanced life is to find my sense of value in God’s love for me, not in my accomplishments at home or at work. When I do this, I can serve at work and home, not to find my identity, but to take care of the people I love most. I don’t have to fear failure or try to be “Super Mom.” I can just be me.
While I haven’t found the magic ingredient to a balanced home-work life as a single mom, I have learned to ask myself a few questions to gauge what’s happening in my heart:
- Am I using work responsibilities to escape difficult parenting responsibilities?
- How do I feel about myself when I don’t live up to my own or others’ expectations of me?
- Are the things in my schedule that take away from time with my child nonnegotiable? Or could I ask for an exception?
- Is there a role, promotion, or project I could delay until my child is more independent?
- What simple changes can I make to show my child he is most important to me?
As single moms, we might never find the perfect work-life balance, but we can find freedom. When we rest in God’s love for us, we can be free from the burden of trying to do it all. Let’s be faithful to love and care for our families at home and at work. Our identity doesn’t rest in our performance. And that, my friend, is good news indeed!
Copyright © 2023 by Elise Boros. All rights reserved.
Elise Boros lives outside of Washington, D.C. and spends her days raising her son and investing in the lives of college students through the campus ministry of Cru. As a young widow, she is passionate about helping other people walk with God through grief and sorrow in an authentic way. Elise blogs monthly as part of the content team for Songs in the Night, a widow discipleship ministry. You can read about her and her husband’s journey through and beyond heart transplant at Waiting For True Life or follow along as she tells their story on instagram @waitingfortruelife.