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Being A Single Working Mother: Revelations from the Waiting Room

I’m sitting in my dentist’s office, waiting for my son. It’s the kind of day that requires a go-with-the-flow attitude. This morning, my son texted me that he was having jaw pain, headaches and sore gums. I told him to make a dentist’s appointment and that I’d pick him up from his college campus and take him.

This happened to be a really packed week. My schedule was filled with work commitments and personal stuff, too. It’s my busiest month at work, and for some puzzling reason, I planned several personal appointments. Regardless, my boy needed me, and I wanted him to need me. He’s been living on his own for two years and is ridiculously independent. He rarely needs mom for anything, so you better believe I jumped at the chance to help him.

On the 20-minute ride from the campus to the dentist, we had some glorious time to chat. At the dentist, however, everyone was running behind, and I began to feel that familiar dread and anxiety over not being in the office. I was happy to help my son, yet I felt the tug of my job nagging at me for not having enough desk time this week.

Spending Time With My Son

It’s the plight of every working parent, regardless of your child’s age. You are serving two masters, constantly switching between one to the other, unable to satisfy everyone at the same time.

I thought back to all those times I got unexpected calls like today. The school nurse, daycare, the principal. Someone was sick; someone was misbehaving; school was called off for bad weather. The ensuing juggling act: Can I find someone to watch my kids for an afternoon so I don’t need to leave work, or should I tell the boss sorry, but I have to go? During those years, I often felt I was marinating in second-guessing.

As a single parent, I often felt put upon—everything fell squarely on me. It’s incredibly exhausting, but I will be straight with you—it’s pretty amazing to be No. 1 in your child’s eyes.

Helping My (Independent) Son

Finally, we dashed out of the endless appointment. My son was late for class and I’d been gone too long, but I knew he was starving. I pulled into Chipotle and handed him a twenty. He tried to give me the leftover change from his order, but I refused and instead, slipped him another twenty. He was polite and grateful, and knew better than to try and refuse.

I know his budget is super tight, and he does without many, many things. I love helping him out, and suddenly I understood why my parents did the same for me. Gas money for trips to visit them, my dad sending me a check and insisting I buy myself a “pretty” and not spend it on bills.

Spending this rare time with my son meant I was able to learn more about his day-to-day life. I hadn’t a clue he walked four blocks to his bus every morning, or that there had been a break-in on his block last fall. I feel neglectful, not knowing some of these basic things, but I also realize it’s part of the process of my boy growing up and away. Never growing away from my heart, but away from needing to tell me everything, away from needing my advice for most things.

That not-always gentle tug of back and forth means that I’ve done my job well. And both my sons’ collective happiness and success is my sweet, well-earned reward.

Renee Brown lives in Minneapolis with her two tall sons—Sam, 20, and Zachary, 18—and three obstinate felines. She is a senior account executive working in advertising and an avid reader, wine drinker, creative writer, and yoga enthusiast.

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