In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

January 20, 2022

Mayo Clinic Employee Experiences: On balancing challenges of life, work as a single parent

By In the Loop

Mayo Clinic is a unique place: the culture, the values, the people. "Mayo Clinic Employee Experiences" explores the experiences of Mayo Clinic staff as they navigate life personally and professionally. Sharing these experiences increases understanding of others and ultimately contributes to finding connections, belonging and inclusion at work.

In this episode of "Mayo Clinic Employee Experiences," Hilary Seltun, a financial counselor, and Edgar Mtanous, a principal gifts officer, discuss the ups and downs of being a single parent. Seltun talks about co-parenting two of her children and being the only parent for her youngest child. Mtanous shares his experience of having full custody of his three daughters from a young age.

Listen as they discuss the joys and challenges of being a single parent:

Read the transcript, edited for length and clarity:

MTANOUS: I wish would have been more forthcoming, particularly with mothers, about the fact that I was a mother and a father.

NARRATOR: In this episode, Hilary, a financial counselor, and Edgar, a principal gifts officer, discuss their journeys of being a single parent.

SELTUN: I have three kids — a 15-year-old boy and then 13- and 9-year-old daughters. I have been single now for about 5 1/2 years. I left a domestic violence situation with my kids, and I went back to college. I'm just about to finish up a master's degree in June. So, it's a very busy, single mom life, but a really happy one. 

I co-parent my older two almost equal time, and the younger one is with me full time. I'm adjusting to the dynamic that my daughter doesn't see her father, but the older two do. There are lots of big feelings that come with that. And my older two's father has remarried, and they have a very cohesive marriage. They're a great unit, but it is hard to co-parent when there are two of them and one of me. They have children of their own. 

I obviously have a child of my own, and the dynamic of blending families is really incredible. You don't realize when you become a single parent that you are still tied to that person, and now their new spouse and all their new children. It almost just becomes a much larger extended family.

MTANOUS: I'm a Texas transplant. I was married young, and after five years, the marriage ended. It did produce three beautiful children, whom I got full custody of. 

My youngest daughter has hydrocephalus. That's a neurological condition — swelling of the ventricles in the brain. Upon being a single dad, having three kids to your knee, I was a little bit overwhelmed.

I just thought my primary purpose was to ensure that she had the best quality of life going forward. So, at that point, I picked up our bags from San Antonio, Texas, and moved to Rochester ― never expecting to be here more than 18–24 months. The girls call this home. And Rochester, particularly Mayo, has been very good to me over the years. 

What have been your joys of parenting? 

SELTUN: I think every day brings some kind of joy. We keep a big binder notebook in our house of all the really hilarious things that our kids say. And I love to look at the very hilarious things that come out of my kids' mouths. 

My two older ones are turning into young adults and teenagers. My son got his driver's permit this year. My 13-year-old daughter is overcoming some mental health issues and is really learning to live her authentic self. I am so proud of her and who she's becoming, in growing and developing. Just seeing them become young adults has been very exciting. 

My 9-year-old is with me full time. I think as single parents, sometimes we don't give ourselves enough credit and see the fruits of our labor. Seeing my little girl and the older two develop into really great kids is an amazing, joyful thing.

How about you? 

MTANOUS: I knew I wanted to be a dad when I was in grade school. A lot of that had to do with my mother being a single, full-time parent. My father was not in the picture, and I'm an only child.

I always thought about what was always difficult growing up in that environment. While you have all this attention — that's what everybody externally always thinks — the reality is I never really knew where home was. I wasn't in a blended scenario. My children aren't in one either, so I can't appreciate even kind of those semantics. But I do feel that for me, that was the origin and being able to look at my daughters now and see that maturation from grade school, middle school to young adults. 

But now every boyfriend I see is a potential father of my grandchildren. What a journey, right? Often, we tell ourselves, "I wouldn't do that if I were a parent." And to have more empathy with our own parents has been one of the joys, too. Frankly, being a parent has helped me probably be a better son, or at least strive to be a better son. It's helped me close a gap between the generations. 

SELTUN: I love that. That's awesome.

MTANOUS: Yet this can be challenging work. 

Can you tell us how you balance parenthood and your professional life? 

SELTUN: Balance is almost like a curse word in our home, just because I probably have none. As I said earlier, I am a full-time graduate student. Then I work full time at Mayo, and I am a full-time mom, as well. So, it's hard to balance all the time. 

It is a constant struggle of feeling guilty. Am I giving my children enough time? I'm a single-income person, so am I making enough to support them financially? And do I have enough brainpower left at the end of the day to turn in homework assignments? 

It is a daily check-in with myself of how things are going and being willing to ask for help when I need it. Everyone knows that a master's degree is really important to our whole family and to mom. I'm trying to lead by example, but it's very difficult. I say I can't live my best life right now because I'm really busy giving my kids their best life. I know my time will come.

MTANOUS: It's sacrifice. At some point, you understand that there are 24 hours in a day and try to use it in the most efficient way possible, especially when someone doesn't have that partner there. 

For me, it has always been: "Am I doing the right thing? Am I doing enough?" on behalf of these babies and kids ― adolescents, young adults that you absolutely love. They're your life. And every decision for the first phase of their lives impacts them. 

It was always kind of that constant questioning of what is my parenting philosophy. Where can I be strict, and where can I be more lenient? What is appropriate? 

Also, with trying to, as a single parent, carve out one-on-one time for each one of them, especially as they are aging and their individuality, which you're trying to help mold. So much of what we have to do a single parent is collective because of that limited time. That's been most difficult.

I have tried to integrate as much as possible work-life where my children are familiar with what I do and who I do it around. I'm comfortable sharing the fact that I am a single parent of these wonderful daughters. But there is a lot of nuance there as far as the day-to-day things that you do on your own. And I think that's constantly that inner battle that we have.

I remember the first time my children were asked, "Where's your mom?" And I think, "What?" I had to address that with them. They were 18 months to 27 months at that time. 

I've been trying to figure that out, and I understand that they are going to be asked that question for the rest of their lives. I needed to be proactive and have those conversations.

What kind of support have you had in the workplace as a single parent? 

SELTUN: I started a new role in March and, at the end of July, my daughter had a suicide attempt while I was at work. I hope I don't cry because I don't talk about it very often. But she was in the hospital for several days and spent some time in Generose. And I did get her permission to share, but it was terrifying.

I knew I needed to take some time off to be with her, but I was very new in my role still within the 90-day period. And the amount of unending support that I got both from my leadership and my co-workers — it really blew me away. Several months out, I still have co-workers who are texting me, just checking in to see if we need dinner, seeing how things are going. 

It was so uplifting to know that I belonged in a place that really just rallied around our family and was so supportive. And I don't know that we all would have gotten through all of that so well if I didn't have such support within that department. It really opened me up in a vulnerable way to my co-workers that I was going through something deeply personal. But I felt like I was getting a hug from everybody all the time, and it really brought us all closer as a department even. And I'm forever going to be grateful for that guidance and support from everybody. 

MTANOUS: I'm in my fourth department at Mayo and my sixth role. So I've had a lot of different managers over the years. Mayo and these departments have always been very kind to me. 

About six years ago, my daughter was hospitalized from Halloween to Thanksgiving, with multiple surgeries. When you have financial hardships, as well, — it is a single-income household — you think, "What am I going to do for the holidays for my daughters?" Thanks to our colleagues, they gave us a significant amount of money and a gift card for them.

The girls and I were able to have a very nice dinner. But what it meant — not just the monetary figure, but the notes and the admiration, the respect they had for me — that was profound. That helped me a lot from a workplace perspective, just that humanity. I can't imagine having raised my children anywhere else. And I'm thankful for that ― very thankful. I feel indebted. 

Hilary, any advice for other single parents? 

SELTUN: Being a single parent is probably one of the hardest jobs as human beings. We never know if we're doing the right thing. And it's so hard.

When you have to walk away from a relationship or a marriage, not knowing if you're doing right by your children or if you should be sticking it out, all of those questions of insecurity and uncertainty arise. I felt a lot of fear doing that. And I didn't have an education. I didn't have a lot of my own money. I worked for my ex-husband at the time, so I wouldn't have even had a job walking away. 

If there's one piece of advice, it would be: Just do it. Go for it. You are capable of far more than you ever think you could be. You will get through it. You will accomplish what you need to accomplish, and you will come out the other side a bigger, better, brighter person. 

I have felt strongly that if I could lead by example, they will follow me. I have lived very authentically with them and partnered with my kids in our home. They saw their mommy rise out of a really ugly situation and turn it into a really great thing. We bought our first home, and this is ours. We did this. They know every penny that went into this house came from hard work ― from mommy. We've made it, and it feels like we're a whole family altogether, just the four of us. And it's enough. You will be enough as a single person raising kids. Just be willing to step out in faith and do it.

MTANOUS: For single parents, it's often trying to figure out how we adapt ourselves to not just the situations, but what our children need from us. It can be difficult. But if you expect your children to grow and develop, it will be necessary for us to also grow and develop.

SELTUN: Definitely.

MTANOUS: One thing I would also tell single parents is learn from their resiliency. They can endure, as well. By no means am I implying that you give them hardships, but understand that those hardships can cultivate them to becoming the humans you're trying to raise.

NARRATOR: How do you balance work and making time for your family? Share in the comments below or with a colleague.


Tags: Mayo Clinic Employee Experiences, Staff Stories, Working at Mayo Clinic

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