Single Mothers: Survival Guide

The Single Mother's Survival Guide, with Patrice Karst

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Join Patrice Karst, author of 'The Single Mother's Survival Guide' for a poignant, funny and ultimately helpful discussion on surving the challenges and difficulities of parenting alone.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live. Today's Guest Speaker is Patrice Karst, author of The Single Mother's Survival Guide. Welcome to the program, Patrice. It's a pleasure having you here. Can you please tell everyone a little bit about your background?

Karst: I am a single mother, and have been since my son was born eight years ago. I was in a bad marriage so I got divorced, and have been raising my son, Elijah, for the past eight years completely alone.

Moderator: Why did you write the book, The Single Mother's Survival Guide, and what has been the response?

Karst: The reason I wrote the book is that when I started looking for books to help me in my own journey, I found very few that really spoke to my soul. I found books that had "How tos" and resources, information, but very little that really just said, Honey, I know what you're going through. Because I am the quintessential single mother, meaning that the ex-husband lives 400 miles away and only sees my son a couple times a year, and I have no family or support nearby, I am the real 24/7 single mom. And it has been a long, hard road. The reason I wrote the book was to let single moms out there know -- I am here for you, I know what you're going through. Let's share some laughs, let's share tears, and let's support each other in this incredible job we're doing.

Moderator: In your book, The Single Mother's Survival Guide, you list the Ten Commandments for Single Mothers. Can you tell us about those?

Karst: I think the first kind of says it all in a way, that first commandment. "Thou shalt not be afraid to ask for help from anyone at any time." Here's the clincher, because the offers sure as hell won't come in by themselves. That to me is probably what has been the number one most painful aspect of this journey. Despite, obviously, the physical exhaustion, and requirements, the financial requirements, the spiritual and emotional demands, what is the most difficult that I have found, is that we live in a society that does not in any way, shape or form, value and give support to single mothers. I want to add that, where would all of these children be without the single mothers? Granted, there are lots of wonderful fathers that are also single and doing this. But statistically there are so many more women doing it. Instead of having a society say, Wow, we know what a hard job you're doing, thank you for taking care of these children and doing a superhuman effort. Instead, there's a lot of stigma of single mothers as being the image of a lazy welfare mother sitting around living a life of luxury off of the government. HELLO! I don't even know a single mom that knows the word "luxury" or this image of a selfish, career woman that doesn't value men, and decided to have a child alone. And the last thing I want to say about that is that you cannot use the word "selfish" and "single mother" in the same sentence. Very rarely.

Moderator: In your book you list famous single mothers, Liz Taylor, Cleopatra, Madonna and Murphy Brown to mention just a few. Why did you do this?

Karst: Well, for fun. Basically, a large part of this book was to have fun. Also, let the moms out there know that they're in good company and that they're not alone. And, that these women, whom I listed, are all pretty phenomenal women. Of course, the famous single mothers are also you, me, and all the gals reading this book.

Moderator: Why is it so important to be happy about being a single mother?

Karst: Because it is what it is. Your other choice is misery. Then, of course, I have some other reasons. You'll be able to say," I did it all by myself." It will bring you good karma. You don't have to deal with the pain-in-the-butt husband in the house telling you what to do.

Moderator: In your book, you mention ways to nurture yourself. Why is this so important, and can you give us a few tips on how to nurture yourself?

Karst: Sure. Whenever I read tips on how to nurture yourself, because, as you know, every woman's article these days covers this issue, I always kind of found it a little annoying, because it seemed sometimes impossible to do. Which is why I started my list of ways to nurture yourself by saying, I promise NOT to tell you to take a hot bath (but actually, it's not such a bad idea.) And there are certain things that do just seem to work, and I'll mention a couple: Nature. There is something about getting out in nature that destresses us. And something about being where you see all of God's handiwork helps you to see the bigger picture. I give you permission to put yourself first. Sometimes. Occasionally. And that martyrdom is pass?, anyway. And of course, exercise. We hear this a lot , but it's true. Whatever it is, there's something about at the end of the day when you climb into bed having had some exercise, you just somehow feel a little bit better. I would end with, to keep a journal. When you can write down your hopes, your fears, your angst, your sadness, and all of the rest, something about knowing it's in writing, and it's been covered, released it, it just somehow -- For me, to write it down means that there is a record somewhere, and now I can move on. I can move on. The document is of what hell I've been through.

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Moderator: What are some key survival strategies?

Karst: Get my book, No. 1. I'd say No. 2 would be "Be easy on yourself; stop trying to or to even think that you can be the best at every single thing you're trying to do. Get your priorities in order. Those priorities are to take care of you and your children, first. And everything else, second. No. 3, you need a support system: Friends. You need to know there's people you can call on in an emergency, or just talk you through a bad day. And to stop worrying about being politically correct. I'll explain what I mean. You don't have to obsess if the kids aren't having the perfect amount of fruits and veggies everyday. If it's McDonalds three nights a week, it's okay. If they're not going to four different school activities, trying to keep up with the Joneses, it's okay. If you really find that taking an antidepressant is helping you to be a better mother for a few years, it's okay. You do what you have to do to keep you and your children as happy, and peaceful as you can. Lastly, look for the light. No matter how dark the tunnel may often appear, the light is there. Find it. Watch for those mean, yucky little gremlins that hang out in your mind sometimes. Just tell them to get lost.

Moderator: What are some dating rules for the single mother?

Karst: Like I know? But, having said that, No. 1, if he doesn't love your kids, don't love him. Your kids come first, period. Of course, you have your own needs, but when push comes to shove, your kids will always be yours. He, on the other hand, may not. If he will add to your life, and help make things easier, then he's a keeper. Conversely, if he's going to create more work or stress in your already overworked frantic life, lose him. You can start this new homework assignment: To smile and talk to five new men a week. Hopefully out of sweatpants (as I am sitting here in my sweatpants). To tell you how to do it, doesn't mean I'm doing it. It's a good reminder for me, though. It also helps to not give men the evil eye every time you look at them. It doesn't lend to men approaching you, if you're looking at them like you want to chop them up. Don't take me too literally.

Moderator: Why is it so important that single mothers extend themselves into their communities?

Karst: Because isolation and loneliness are the No. 1 reported painful aspects of being a single mother. I just recently came back from Bali. I took myself after 10 years on a major adventure, and I saw how the people lived there, where it's ten or 15 people in one home, and the women are taking care of the children together, while they're plowing the fields, cleaning the home, and they're happy and joyful. And though they don't have a lot of material possessions, they could never relate to the kind of loneliness that we as mothers in America feel. As most of us live alone in our own houses or apartments. With that in mind, we need to create, however we can do that, the feeling of tribe again. For some, it's meeting other mothers at the park. Unfortunately, for most single mothers, they're working during the day. Maybe the park can happen on Saturday. But many single mothers work all day and then come home to just the children, and it's extremely lonely. I think the solution to so many of the problems facing single mothers are for them to live together. But, unfortunately, our society just doesn't do that very much but it would solve the financial aspects, the loneliness. The moms can trade different nights taking care of kids, so the other ones can get out. It could also provide a sense of family and of siblings, that children may be alone sometimes.

When you use the word single mother, obviously they come in every age, shape, and walk of life. There are single moms that I know whose ex-husband lives five doors down, and they get very large child support, and have nannies. There are other single mothers whose kids haven't seen their dads in 10 years and are just at the poverty level and probably haven't bought themselves a new dress since they can remember. So I'm giving broad information to women that all have different circumstances and situations. But I'm trying to cover some of the most universal themes. If you are one of the wealthy single moms, why not help out another sister? If we don't start truly reaching out, and caring about one another more, we as a society will completely crumble, and I think we're already beginning to see that. Not to be completely political here, but for us, the richest country in the world, I think we're very poor. Some of the third world countries I've traveled in have more going for them in the way day-to-day life is, with family and how the children are cared for than we can fathom. I'm not talking about the ghettos of Calcutta here. There's obviously different levels, but we think, Oh, they're poor, or communists. I see a sparkle in their eyes that I rarely see here. And they don't need to anesthetize themselves the way we do, because of our lack of true community and spirituality.

Moderator: Is feeling resentful, hurt, bewildered, exhausted and at time like you're loosing it... NORMAL?

Karst: Completely. And if anyone says that they don't ever feel that, they're liars. Or, they're on some drug that I would not mind getting hold of. Just kidding!

Moderator: Is having a rich fantasy life important?

Karst: It keeps me going. Just to add to that, trying to remind yourself that any day things could change on a dime, that no matter how bleak things may look, you just never know what miracles might be in store for you. In other words, keep the faith.

Moderator: What do you tell single mothers who have low self-esteem?

Karst: First of all, to try to remind themselves that they would not be given this job if God didn't have a lot of faith in them. And God knows His stuff.

Moderator: Assuming someone wants a husband, what are some tips for finding a husband?

Karst: Well, carry a lucky rabbit's foot, tell everybody you know, ask them if they know someone who's a great guy. Prayer, I've heard, is a good thing. Obviously, I still haven't figured this one out. But if you have any ideas for me, I'm all ears.

Moderator: How important is setting goals?

Karst: It's really important, but set attainable goals. Little ones, to start with. Baby steps. Maybe a goal is to save up so you can take your kids to Hawaii next year, or in two years. Those types of things Don't get too grand in your goal setting, because then when they don't come to fruition, you'll feel a great sense of disappointment. But I think it's very powerful to write down your dreams. In the back of my workbook, I have a place you can do these things. You can have one list for dreams, and the sky is the limit there, because it's fun to have those dreams, and you never know.

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Karst: But then, to also have another list of your goals, some of your more short range goals that can help take you to your dreams.

Moderator: If you know someone who is a single mother, what are some nice things you can do for them?

Karst: Buy my book. Girls, you've got to be resourceful. Invite her for dinner, or to spend a day with you and your family on a Sunday. Let her know that you're there for her if she ever needs you. Sometimes just that offer, even if she never takes you up on it, brings her a great sense of comfort and love. And if you have a man in your life, a brother, husband, what he is, an uncle, most children from single mothering households -- boys especially, but the girls too, even if they have a father that is still in their lives, they still want more male energy. I know from my own son, even though I got him a big brother (and I do recommend the Big Brother organization) that he sees a couple of times a month, it's still not enough. So whenever I can, I try, for example, if I send him to summer camp, I request a male counselor, rather than female. Any way you can get them to be around males more. Because they've got you, and usually their teachers in school are female, They've got lots of female energy, but they need more male. Find ways of getting that for them.

Moderator: We are almost out of time... are there any last comments you would like to ad?

Karst: Just to know what an important job it is that you're doing.

Karst: Pat yourselves on the back, and give yourselves a big hug from me. And that we're all in this together. When we pass to the other side, there's a special Club Med just for single mothers. And just to know that we're heroes, and I think you're all heroes., I'd love to hear from you, and hope you like the book. We're all connected; we're a tribe.

Moderator: Unfortunately we are out of time. I would like to thank Patrice Karst, author of The Single Mother's Survival Guide for being our guest speaker. Her book is available on line or at your local book stores. Have a great day everyone.

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Reviewed on 3/24/2004 1:50:49 AM

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