this is exhausting

Single Parents Don’t Get A Break

I felt like the default parent when I was married; nothing has changed now that I’m divorced.

Originally Published: 
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My ex and I split custody of our kids when we divorced, and we’ve followed that pattern ever since. I have them four nights a week to his three, but they’re with me about seventy-percent of the time overall since I have the more flexible schedule. Plus, I still live in their childhood home, and it was important to us both that their lives remained as normal as possible. I know that you might be thinking that the days I don’t have my kids are a “break.” Well, let me set you straight: Single parents don’t get a break. Ever.

I’ve had friends ask me why I can’t just take a day off of work to go shopping and have lunch with them, or why it’s so hard for me to ignore something that needs to be done and tackle it another day. They just don’t get that when you’re a single parent, there’s never just one thing you’ve gotta do. You’ve got to do it all. By yourself.

You have to keep going if you’re sick, if you have a family emergency, if you’re just plain tired. Even if you co-parent well with your ex, even if you have outside help, and even if you can take a vacation. And there are lots of single parents out there who don’t have supportive families or any help (financially or otherwise) from their ex-partners.

When I got a divorce, not only did the workload more than double, my mental load more than doubled too. The to-do lists became never-ending, and I couldn’t shut my brain off to go to sleep at night.

I don’t have a partner to text when I’m frazzled and we’ve run out of toilet paper. There isn’t another adult to discuss finances with; if something in my house breaks, or I have car trouble, I have to fix it or pay someone to take care of it. (And call them, too, and show them the problem when they arrive.) There’s no one to share any of the responsibility or to step in when I need a break. There’s nobody to notice that I’m spiraling and help me come back down to earth.

The mental load doesn’t disappear when my kids are with their dad, either. Maybe my house is quieter, but not necessarily in a good way. It’s not like you can just turn off the part of your brain that’s dedicated to your kids.

I felt like the default parent when I was married; now that I’m divorced, nothing has changed. I’m the one who makes all their appointments and takes them shopping for clothes and school essentials. Because they’re with me more, I’m more in tune with their moods, and I’ve been the one to have the sex talks and the relationship talks. I’m the one they come to when they are having friend problems or feel stuck with their school work.

The guilt creeps in when I try to take a break; there’s just so much I could or should be doing. Plus I want to hide the stress from my kids — I don’t want them thinking any of this is their load to carry. I don’t ever want them to feel like a bother or that they are too much for me, because they absolutely aren’t. It’s just constant, and exhausting, and I feel like I’m failing all the time. So if you’re single — whether it’s been months or years — I feel you. You’re so not alone in the struggle.

Diana Park is a writer who finds solitude in a good book, the ocean, and eating fast food with her kids.

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