The Choices We Make As Single Parents

by Stephanie Riley
Originally Published: 
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There’s something I’ve discovered about single parenting over 40. It’s about choices. I call it “OR.”

No, I’m not talking about the operating room. I guess the second half of life may include a visit or two, but I’m talking about the conjunction “or.” You know how they read Miranda rights when someone is arrested, and there’s that part where they say the perp has a right to an attorney or one can be appointed for them? That’s OR.

When you get divorced, typically you have to make a choice between time OR money. Most often, it’s not really a choice, and sometimes you get neither. I imagine it’s pretty rare for both parties to end up with a sizable amount of time and money, unless they’re celebrities with deep pockets. Even then, parenting solo pretty much ensures that your time will be strained (at least during the days when you have the kids), and with that whole 50/50 financial split in many states, you can count on having less in your bank account, or your retirement fund, or in your living room.

Sigh. I really miss that antique chaise.

In our divorce, I was the one who got “time,” while he got “money.” I have the less stressful work life. Well, at least I did before said work was needed to pay the mortgage. Now I get to choose between paying for extravagant birthday parties or shelter in a decent neighborhood.

Nevertheless, the former spouse with the more flexible (read: lower paying) job gets to take the kids to meetings with the school counselor and doctor’s appointments on weekdays when the other party is at the office. Hey, wait, isn’t that what happened when I was married?

As the winner in the “money” category, he is the one who gets to take them on fancy vacations, buy them bicycles, and play hero when the kids want impractical new shoes or the latest version of Grand Theft Auto. Perhaps with a little more time on his hands, he could have researched the profanity and debauchery he just handed to our tween when he bought said Xbox game.

Another OR: Women over 40 usually have to choose between their face or their butt. This is true for married women too. Gravity does not discriminate.

Seriously, at this age you don’t get to have both parts looking good—not without medical intervention, anyway. If you hit the gym religiously and earn a great looking rear end, you’re bound to get a little thin in other places. This is all well and good until you look in the mirror. All that fitness and weight loss crap has left you with a thin, sagging face. What a drag, right? I like to think the fact that I’ve only taken a passing interest in fitness all these years has left me with a decent-looking face. A little fat can go a long way on a face that is pushing 50.

As a single, working mom, I’ve found OR to be a factor in a lot of things I do. I get to cook a lovely dinner OR I get to catch up on my email. That hour between 5 and 6, when the homework is generally finished, is prime time for getting shit done. But it’s always a choice. Some nights, I have to forgo the coq au vin in favor of an inbox that doesn’t look like I’ve been on vacation for a month. Some nights, OR turns into NOR, and we find ourselves eating takeout Chinese in the living room.

Speaking of vacations, there are some big ORs associated with vacations. When I can afford it, I’m now free to take my kids on trips to places of my choosing. (For more on “when I can afford it,” see time or money, above.) I’m so happy snowbound cabins are no longer on the list of what constitutes a “vacation.”

On the other hand, a 1-to-3 adult-to-kid ratio isn’t that relaxing, even if you’ve got a beautiful rental overlooking the beach. I’m always on the lookout for vacation properties that have a spectacular view from the kitchen, because that’s where I’ll spend the majority of my time. Not only do you get to do all the cooking and cleaning on the trip, you get the joy of the laundry when you get home. I get to go on vacation OR relax. Sometimes the trade-off isn’t worth it.

Come to think of it, this stage in life is also fraught with many ANDs. You get the laundry AND the dishes. For many of us, that’s true throughout our marriages. But honestly, we like the idea that someone will get up and help us, even if it’s just a fantasy. Just the idea of another adult putting on a cape to play housework fairy is enough to take the edge off—that and a second glass of wine. That helps.

That’s a choice I can stand behind. Finally, I don’t have to choose one or the other. I’ll take the first glass AND the second, thank you very much.

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