mom life

Single Parenting Made Me Closer To My Kids

The sheer logistics alone built a special, lasting bond.

by Julia Williamson
Mother and teenage daughter enjoying summer vacations in Ligurian town of Rapallo. 
Summer day in R...
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My daughters and I are close. Like, really close. There are plenty of reasons we’ve stayed tight into their twenties, like temperament, shared interests, and parenting style. But I keep coming back to simple logistics. For most of their childhoods, I was a single parent.

Being the only adult in the house is its own kind of difficult even if, as in my case, the kids spend equal time at their other parent’s house. When my daughters were with their dad, I missed them terribly; when they were with me, I was often overwhelmed and rushing through life. It’s utterly exhausting, and it can change the way parents and kids interact. But over the long term, for us, it created a really strong bond that has endured into their adulthood.

Single parents depend on their kids in a special way. It’s hard enough to keep a household running with two adults there to manage it all. I expected my children to be in charge of their stuff, and while I was never organized enough to create an official chore chart, I expected them to help me keep the house from falling into ruin.

Not that we lived in glorious harmony with everyone cheerfully pitching in — far from it. There was shouting and tears and grudging cooperation on plenty of days. But I was adamant about them helping, and there were many times I straight-up told them, “I can’t do this by myself!” I’m pretty sure their dad was saying the same thing across town. And I think it influenced the way they viewed us. We were humans who sometimes struggled and needed help. It inspired their empathy, if not their desire to vacuum.

Then there was the concept that the three of us were a team. In two-parent households, the parents tend to present a united front to the kids, which is great for setting expectations and managing discipline. But it can also lead to a subtle kids vs. adults vibe. We didn’t have that dynamic at our house. It was more of a we're-all-in-this-together type of situation, for better or for worse. When they were with me, we did everything together, from grocery shopping to rearranging the furniture. They didn’t have the luxury of staying home when there were errands to be done, much as they may have wanted to.

I was keenly aware of the time we spent apart, and I was anxious to really know them as they grew from one stage into another. There’s this terrible realization that hits once the custody agreement is signed: You’re going to miss half of your kids’ childhoods, so you’d better make your half count.

When I was growing up in a two-parent household, my parent’s questions could feel like interrogation — why were they up in my business? I wanted a little breathing room. But when my daughters and I reunited after five days apart my curiosity felt like interest, not micro-managing.

Without a partner, it was my kids that I hung out with and talked to at the end of the day. And though I tried not to burden them with adult concerns, they heard about my issues with friends and stories from work (at an age-appropriate level). They got to know me as a person as well as a parent because I shared a lot about my life with them. They heard all those little bits and pieces of the day I might have shared with a partner, had there been one handy. When they were kids, they kept plenty of details to themselves, and even now that they’re adults, I don’t know everything about their lives. Boundaries are important, and who would want to? But I feel like we know more about each other as people than we might have otherwise.

Because the kids spent half their lives at their dad’s house, I had a lot of free evenings. I could dedicate myself to spending time with other adults when I was home alone. Then when they were with me my full focus was on our little family. At the same time, I was busy! They learned to entertain themselves and one another, which I think is a healthy state of affairs.

These days we talk frequently, in addition to sending one another memes and TikToks and Instagram posts. They call me when they need advice, or when it feels like the ground is shifting underneath them. I’d never refer to my kids as my friends. I’m still their mom, and the parent/child boundaries are still there. But what we’ve got is better; the deep bonds of family plus legitimately liking our time together. Our relationship has been tested and polished and scraped and honed, and we still continue to choose one another.

Julia Williamson is mother to two very nearly adult daughters. She’s a freelance writer, a decluttering wizard, and an inveterate optimist, regardless of reality. Visit her at