Single Parents Are Not Okay During The Pandemic

This Pandemic Is Eviscerating Single Parents

December 15, 2020 Updated December 16, 2020

Mother and son looking out of window
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From last Sunday morning to this Friday evening, I totaled a whopping 18 hours of sleep; that’s just a smidge more than three hours a night, on average. But we don’t live in averages, so it really played out as not sleeping for 40 hours straight, with a couple of five and six hour nights and three hours here and there. I don’t have an illness or anxiety, but just work, and kids. And to be honest, weeks like this happen a lot.

As a single parent, there is no one else in this pandemic to hand a task off to. There isn’t another adult to manage the emotional wounds of social isolation inflicted on my 9- and 11-year-olds, or a partner to take the trash out or make dinner or do the dishes or sweep. There’s no one here but me.

So I stay up late and get up early. I hustle through the kids’ school emails at 3am (why are there so many!?) while waiting for the washer to finish so the laundry can dry while we sleep. I look ahead to plan around what’s next: materials pick-up for fifth grade, the dog’s shots, orthodontist (are they open, or is there another delay?), car registration, the city’s leaf collection, and updating the budget.

I stopped for a moment to point this out because we are all living this pandemic together, each in our own ways, but so often single parents disappear. It’s not because we’re lazy or don’t care. We’re just totally overwhelmed normally — and this pandemic, this is next-level steamrolled. The mess alone that has accumulated while having kids home uninterrupted 24/7 for eight months is something out of my pre-pandemic brain’s worst nightmare, and here we are — living in it.

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I know it’s hard for everyone. And I know I’m very very lucky to have a job from home. But I also know when we get through to the other side of a successful vaccine, we won’t be healed. It will take so much time after that to get better. There’s a lot of recovery and growth and healing to talk about outside of the home. But I’m focused here on inside right now. Because inside, I’m so exhausted, and as I’m facing the prospect of another all-nighter to reconcile last week’s missed deadline, I just can’t see the end in sight. Even knowing a vaccine is coming. Because a vaccine can’t replenish how dry we’ve been drained.

Single parents are not okay. And there’s nothing to really do about it except stay home and mask up. There’s no time to talk on the phone, no meals to send, no hugs or get-togethers to attend. The deep cuts we all feel are eviscerating your single parent friends.

Please remember this when it lifts. Because I won’t be better right away. I won’t call or return to school pick-up or join a bar night or gather around the bonfire. I won’t go camping or be up for a sleepover. I won’t be out there at the park playdates or staying late to sketch out the next PTA fundraiser. I won’t be anywhere but here, still in my robe sopping up the leftover tears of mom-guilt and tween angst, and processing the cost of this pandemic on my life-years (yes, single moms die sooner), and then I’ll just sleep.

And I’ll sleep extra for months, or more. And I’ll go to my sisters’ homes and sleep in Chicago. And I’ll sleep in my parents’ home when I visit. And I’ll sleep through Easter and Memorial Day and the 4th of July. I’ll sleep like the Grinch of daylight. And you all just have to be okay with it, and forgive me — and all your other single parent friends — while we sleep off the pandemic hangover that will likely last for a year or two longer than yours.

And please answer when we call in 2023, because we loved you through it all, but just could not find the time, or the energy, or the daylight to tell you.