There’s no secret life of a single parent. Raising kids is messy, exhausting, and generally the same journey for anyone. Sometimes I even have friends whose partners go out of town and they’ll say to me, “I’m just like you! A single mom!” I smile and nod, like I did with those ladies in the grocery store telling me how to eat when I was nine months pregnant. No. No, no. Doing this gig alone isn’t just being alone with your kids. It’s harder than that. But sometimes it’s easier, too. Here, let me explain why:
1. We Can’t Tap Out.
My married mom friends often send me messages when their husbands are out of town, saying something to the extent of, “I never realized how hard you have it! You really never get a break!” and so on and so forth. It’s true. I can never say, “Hey, can you take her for a minute? I really need to poop/scream/sob.” I do those things with an audience.
2. We Have No Back-Up.
My older daughter is, how do you say, incredibly smart. She tests my boundaries like a wild horse tests an electric fence, looking for that one sweet spot to break through. She also does not take my word at face value. I once saw an interview with that Pam Gosselin lady, speaking of dating as a single mom. She said something like, “All I’m looking for is a man to stand behind me and say, ‘Would you listen to your mother?'” Hit the nail on the head.
3. The Questions.
OMG the questions. My personal life gets picked apart by the general public. Potential landlords, hair dressers, school secretaries, and older ladies in the park delve into my life like it’s their business. They’re well-meaning, and maybe feel helpful. I even had an old couple tell me “You’re welcome” in line at a grocery store when they noticed my W.I.C. checks. I get asked:
“Is the father involved?”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Do you get child support?”
“Are you guys in therapy?”
“Is she doing OK in school?”
And my favorite, “Have you tried online dating?”
I could ask the same questions to any single parent alone with their kid, but I don’t. Because it’s none of my business.
4. Can’t Give the Pinterest Party.
On that note, between working around available child care (I actually work from home with an infant, so I end up working at night after she crashes in my lap) and being the only one to pick up and drop off for every activity, I don’t have a lot to give at the end of the day. I do my best, and sometimes that is enough. But forget about special art projects, baked goodies, bento boxes for school lunches, or Frozen-themed birthday parties. I see disappointment on my kid’s face all the time over not being able to accompany her on field trips or make a special Halloween costume. I don’t even look at Pinterest. Who needs that kind of guilt?
5. There’s Always Someone Talking, But No One To Talk To.
I said to a friend once that I felt lonely, and she said, “But you have Mia with you.” Oh, you mean the kid? Yeah. She’ll totally fulfill my need for emotional support.
6. A Word On Loneliness.
This isn’t just feeling lonely after the kids are asleep. This is watching your baby crawl or walk or eat or talk and not having someone to share it with. This is being the only one at the dance recital, the teacher’s conference, the student of the month ceremony, and the emergency room. This is seeing all of this glorious shit and crying from the beauty but also anger because some dude is totally missing out and your kid knows it.
7. Another Word On Loneliness.
My daughter has a detailed calendar on the wall. At the end of this month, she wrote “Wont Being Here” on several of the days when she’ll be at her dad’s for a couple of weeks. I often close the door to her room when she’s gone. She leaves, creating this black hole of silence and an absence of things to do. I usually mope on the couch, trying to sound upbeat when she calls, lying about things I’ve done. My whole life is wrapped up in caring for her, and she leaves. She leaves me with an ache that only the smell of her unwashed hair would cure.
8. But … There’s No Horny Partner in the Bed.
I get to choose when and if I want romantic company. I never worry about looking nice at home to appease someone. My affection’s for my kids and the dog. After that, well, I don’t even have any for me, let alone a suitor. And I’m not complaining.
9. But … I Get to Decide Things.
When I wanted to name my baby last year, did I have to go through a long list of yeas or nays over family-friends-exes-most-inspirational-mentors-and-former-dogs names? No! I picked a name. Actually, I picked the middle name. My daughter picked the first name. I picked the pediatrician. Both times. I decided I wanted a midwife. I decided I wanted to know the sex. I decided what diapers to use, what baby carrier to wear, and if I wanted to co-sleep without any conversation and compromise.
10. But … I Don’t Miss Much.
Granted, solo parents bust their asses working, going to school, and still make it to soccer games. But often because I see the heartache over a parent’s absence, I make sure to show up. And I do. And because of that, I am the confidante. I am the one who doesn’t let them down.
Raising kids is hard, there’s no doubt about that. Raising kids on your own has an extra special, messy sauce added to it. We have this beautiful life of one precious moment after the next. Parenting is offered to us freely.
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