This post left me with a real Hallmark movie aftertaste the first few times I wrote it. Eww. It’s been revised several times, because holidays do not equate to Hallmark movies in my home. Holidays mean it’s time to Clark Griswold the house and flex on the neighbors! Sure hope they notice my new star light additions this year.
Still, as I jump from a neighbor’s rock to lasso trees with my Christmas lights every year, I can’t stop my brain from revisiting my life situation just a couple years ago.
I was a newly single mom, and majorly struggling in the throes of grief.
I vacillated between fully disoriented, deer in headlights shock and deep, overwhelming mourning.
There’s this thing about mourning that I learned that year: mapped grief would look identical to a map of a woman’s shopping path at Target.
All over the place squiggles. A little stop here, distracted reversal, and a shortcut through the shoes. Maybe reconsider the Dollar Spot. Repeat for an undetermined amount of time, and no timeline.
Either you know this map, or your husband knows this map…but we all know this map.
(I appreciate a linear checklist, and that grieving is not. It took me years to even get footing. Maybe longer, seeing as I still get emotional rehashing this. There’s a reason, though, hang on. Put on your blue light glasses.)
Although quite a bit is blurry, I remember a specific moment that Christmas season. I was headed to a holiday party that I never actually made it to. I had my sweet nine month old baby asleep in her car seat, and felt like I could crumble in the driver’s seat under the forceful gravity that accompanies grief. I glanced in the rearview and saw a hollowness in my face I hadn’t noticed. My heart physically stung. I felt nauseous. On my Spotify Christmas playlist, an OG Amy Grant 90s song played “Breath of Heaven.”
As I sat in that car feeling both shattered and panicked, the helplessness of the lyrics pierced me.
I am waiting in a silent prayer
I am frightened by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone
Must I walk this path alone?
Help me be strong.
Help me be.
Breath of heaven
Hold me together
Be forever near me
Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven
Lighten my darkness
Pour over me your holiness
For you are holy
Breath of heaven
Yes, exactly. I just wanted to be held together. Someone help. Help me.
But, I didn’t want help, or anyone’s involvement, really. In fact, I wanted to board up my house from the chaos. I ached for peace, quiet, and to hide with my babies. Requesting help wasn’t avoided because I was too proud, but because I didn’t quite even know which was was up. I was in that Target-squiggly lines whirlpool of heartache.
And, listen. Help? Who, me? I’d never before identified as a person who needed help. It’s confusing to be the drowning person when you’ve always considered yourself a lifeguard.
That’s when magic happened.
People-friends, family, strangers-hopped into the undertow with me. They didn’t ask permission. They didn’t ask what they could do.
They just did it.
I remembered being asked, “How are you managing this?”
I wasn’t. I DIDN’T! I couldn’t. My friends and family did it. They took on my load as well as their own. They almost literally carried us through a weird couple of years, and that’s a long time.
That’s why I’m writing this. Partially out of gratitude. Partially so my kids will one day recognize the colossal amount of help their mom had. (And partially because we’re in a DEEP, deep pay it forward hole. Probably so deep, we’re almost touching lava, which was the ultimate elementary hole-digging goal with the neighbors. Never thought I’d get to the center of the earth without a shovel, but here I am.)
What did these angel people do?
There were exceptional events, and those I keep in my heart instead of on a blog. Aside from those, here are some of the most impactful, memorable ways I’ve been helped over the past two years as a single, working mom with young kids. Here are some ideas for you, too:
1. A Sunday text. “Hey, I’m going to take your kids for an hour so you can get ready for church by yourself.”
2. Fulfill kids’ school supply lists. Someone left them at my door, and I loved not taking my whole entourage.
3. Drive babysitters to and from the house. My friends (and babysitter’s parents!) that have done this for me are absolutely heaven sent. (With tiny kids, I have to pull them back out of bed at night to take non-driving sitters home. This is THE nicest offer. I mean, they all are. But geez.)
4. Sit at the house while kids are in bed so the parent can go on a mind-clearing run around the neighborhood. Or maybe that’s just me that uses running as soul sageing. These night runs saved my sanity during the pandemic.
5. Lend your husbands/older boys to do “man stuff.” I can hang with the best of homeowners, but heavy lifting in the garage, cleaning garbage cans, trying to Jenga-out my holiday decor bins, and all affairs involving power tools are not in my personal realm of abilities.
6. Grab a couple extra Costco items to split. That is a tough store to get to through with three littles winding through samples!
7. I’ve had friends offer to pay for babysitters when we go out. Get outta here, but it’s SO thoughtful. Holy moly.
8. Take photos, or sneak a few. As a single parent, it’s not often you get photos of yourself WITH kids. They’re extra special captures!
9. Showing up at my kids’ sports games was one of the sweetest, most thoughtful gestures from a few of my friends. They cheered my kids on, who felt like a million bucks in front of an audience!
10. Don’t wait to be asked for help. If you ever ask, “Hey, what can I do?” I’d say nothing. I’d say we’re so good. So super great, thanks! In the same breath, recognizing where I may have a need without asking will make me blink back tears.
11. Take out the trash. I had a babysitter do this once, and didn’t realize it had been years since I’d handed that duty off. I cried. Luckily, this 16 year old boy didn’t think I was insane and has returned my babysitting texts to this day.
12. Clean. Wipe off a counter. Put some dishes in the dish washer. Some of my closest friends will swing by and just start sweeping, wiping counters, whatever. I tell them to stop, but it’s secretly amazing.
13. Unexpected Venmos. A little note, “For groceries this week!” “Get lunch!” or “Emergency money!” Tearing up a little typing it. Again, my knee-jerk is to send it back…but even a little extra truly lightens a single parent’s load.
14. If the parent is working, take their kids dinner. Can you believe this text? I had a friend take my kids their favorite dinner while I was at work recently. They were THRILLED, and I was moved they had a special sparkle in their day while I was away.
15. Help wrap Christmas gifts. I had a few friends waiting in my driveway when I got home from work one night, their arms full of wrapping paper and tape. We chatted. We laughed. We wrapped. Seriously, angel friends. I told you.
16. Take meals. Any meals.
17. Help with laundry. A friend once walked in and took all my laundry, and just left…and she knows we are gross. She brought it back folded the next day. First of all, wahhh! Second, that gave me extra time for weeks.
18. Fill their freezer with easy, frozen meals (Trader Joe’s if you’re extra). This is what I rely on for my babysitters to make for my kids.
19. Include your single friends in “family” things. We appreciate the friends that still invite us to the “couple” outings or dinners, even though I don’t have a plus one. It makes us feel normal!
20. Grab basic groceries for your single parent families-cereal, milk, etc. I had a good friend come over unannounced, walk in, put them all away, and leave. Who are these psycho nice people!?
21. Specific to me: throw my kids in the pool. You know, in the summer? I try, but my kids are less than impressed.
22. Leave a little soda or treat at the door. We all need caffeine.
23. I once was left with no choice but to ask a friend for a plunger…pretty late. It had been a DAY, man, and she knew. She not only came with a plunger, laughing, but also a babysitter. She took me to a 10PM dinner in our jammies, and it’s still funny. I don’t know how to replicate this. I just want to tell you how nice it was.
24. Are kids playing sports? I’m unexplainably thankful for sweet coaches that arrange rides for my kids while I work, or even scheduling practices around my work days so my kids don’t miss out.
25. Be patient with any lone parents in public. (These two little boys, for several years, could have made a sequel to “Catch Me if You Can.” Nice strangers waited for me to chase and corral them everywhere.)
26. Send over your bug man, or landscaper.
27. Again, in my own experience, sending me photos or updates of my kids while I work makes my whole day! It’s a relief. I miss them. I hate being away from them. Getting a peek into their life or an update eases that pull on my heart.
28. Celebrate the parent’s own birthday/ Mother’s Day/etc to make it special. Not a big deal…but actually, a big deal. I don’t care for gifts or acknowledgement, but it sure is a sweet surprise to feel remembered on a special day while my kids are young enough to have no idea if we’re on Tuesday, April, or what.
29. Understanding teachers. We have the most special preschool teacher that is okay with my daughter being late every. Single. Day. My boys’ school starts at the exact same time, and although laws of physics don’t allow me to be two places at once, she is SO patient with our habitual ten minute tardiness.
30. If you’re close friends with a single parent, physically meet with them to talk. I’ve been almost in tears when I’ve had tough days and friends just come to my door. I don’t ask. They’ve just journeyed to wherever I am, whether that’s the salon, a baseball field, or my house, and just give me a hug, or listen.
31. Don’t expect a timely response to calls or texts. We have so many browser tabs in our head open. Our kids are everywhere. Who knows who stole the phone. BRB.
31. Compliments. Sounds silly. Single parents are so strained in every sense of the word, carry heavy parent-guilt, and are generally exhausted. Or it’s just me, I don’t know. There’s not a whole lot of reassurance from tiny kids at home, and I’m sure older kids don’t present the best versions of themselves to their parents. The road back to singledom was likely turbulent, so any nice words are highlighted in neon yellow for several months.
As simple as some of these are, they were nothing short of life changing to us. Not tax deductible, but hopefully some of these greatest examples of friendship can inspire you, too, while I’m being Hallmark movie-esque.
(Hoping to add to my list “Took my Christmas lights down,” come January, because I lassoed my lights REAL high this year. Dad…)