I never planned on being a single mother. Truth is, most of us who are never imagined being a single mother. But it’s so much harder than you can ever imagine it to be.
While I love my son more than life itself, there are so many days where I feel like I’m the shittiest mother on Earth. It’s just one of the realities of being a single mom — the day-to-day part of the gig is totally soul crushing. You never feel like you’re doing enough. You never feel like you are enough.
Actually, being a single mother is a million times harder than I could have planned for.
I’m always tired. I honestly can’t remember the last time I wasn’t utterly exhausted. At this point, my body has learned how to function on little to no sleep. After working most of the day, then doing dinner and bedtime, though I know I should go to bed, I don’t. Because that’s (literally) the only time I get to myself, the time after my son has finally gone to sleep. Sure, I’m dog-tired, but nighttime is the only time I can get more work done or listen to music or watch TV that’s not cartoons. Those hours heading into the middle of the night are the most silent hours of my day. I need that silence.
Yes, I’m lucky my son is in pre-school for a portion of the day, but that’s not a time to do anything relaxing. Those few hours are for running errands without a kid, cleaning my apartment, working from home, making dinner, and maybe squeezing in a quick cat nap when I literally can’t keep my eyes open. When you’re a single mother, there’s no one to outsource to, no one to share the workload with, nobody to swing by and pick up the kid so you can rest.
Sometimes I wish I had a different life. I’ve had days where I’m too tired to stand up and take a shower because I was up working late again, or trying to get my kid to go to sleep was a brutal fight. I wish on those nights when he wakes up and can’t get back to sleep, or the mornings he wakes up early, that someone else would be there to say, “You stay in bed, I’ll deal with him.” I wish I could just relax every once in awhile without thinking the other shoe is about to drop. I can never rest my mind, or head out with a friend for dinner, or have a self-care day.
My son sees his dad a few times a week for a couple hours at a time. He doesn’t take our son overnight, and I have to spend those precious few hours meeting deadlines for my job. My ex works a lot and spends time with our child when he can, but of course I wish it were more. I know I’m lucky that my ex is even in the picture. But when I’m still doing 90+ percent of the parenting, I don’t feel all that lucky. There have been a couple times where, at the literal end of my rope, I’ve texted my ex, practically begging him to come pick our kid up for a few hours so I could regroup.
There’s that saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” And yet, that’s exactly what being a single mother feels like most days. You’re completely depleted, and yet, you’re still going. Still getting up and working, still going to the grocery store. I’m making dinner and kissing boo-boos and doing laundry. And even though I’m still doing it, I have no idea how. My cup is empty, but I’m still going. Because I have to keep going, because my son needs me and he’s my whole world.
As much as I want to sit here and say I’m strong and independent, I don’t usually feel that way at all. Of course, there are moments of joy, but when the weight of the world is literally resting solely on your shoulders, it’s so hard to take pleasure in them. Some days I’m mere seconds away from bursting into tears most of the time. Not for any particular reason, but in the still moments, the weight of my reality comes crashing down on my head and the only way I can get out is to cry. I hate that feeling.
My son is a really great kid, and I feel like I’m always failing him. Because he usually gets a mom who is being pulled in a thousand different directions mentally. All he wants is for me to play with him, and when I finally get a chance to sit down for a few minutes, I just can’t bring myself to sit on the floor with him and build Legos or play trains. He’s five, so he doesn’t understand how my brain is always going a million miles an hour. My heart breaks when he angrily leans over my laptop and yells at me to stop working. Of course, it doesn’t matter to him that I have to work to keep a roof over our heads. That our income is literally dependent upon my being on my computer. He just wants a mom who will build train tracks with him and play tickle fight.
Single mothers often suffer in silence. Most of the time, as much as our friends and family may want to empathize, they just can’t fully grasp what it’s like. They’ll say things that are meant to uplift us like, “You’re so strong.” But really, we’re sitting there thinking, “I’m not, and my life feels like it’s falling apart all the time.”
As bad as it sounds, saying “I don’t know how you do it” doesn’t make us feel better. We don’t know how we do it either. Hearing those words just drives home the fact that we have to do everything and increases our anxiety.
We put on a brave face and go on.
But inside, we’re breaking. We’re broken. We’re in pieces. This life is hard.