Sometimes Solo Parents Have To Be Selfish — And It’s Good For Everyone

by Elaine Roth
Originally Published: 
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About nine months into solo parenting during a pandemic, I came across information about an online fiction writing class. The course description noted that the class was time intensive. Indeed, the application was time intensive. And due within the week.

With COVID numbers climbing in my area and no end in sight to the cold, snowy weather, I made the almost impulsive decision to apply. A week later, I found out I’d been accepted.

The warning in the course description proved true. The classwork was demanding and required that I devote several hours per week to assignments and readings. The classwork was also a breath of fresh air after nine months of solo parenting in a pandemic. The instructor and other students were inspiring, the work was stimulating, and for the first time in too many months, I felt motivated to pursue a dream.

But time is a limited resource. Even before a global pandemic brought the world to a screeching halt and turned it all upside down, I added things to my to-do list faster than I could scratch them off. It’s the nature of parenting in the twenty-first century, and even more so, the nature of solo parenting during the twenty-first century. There are just not enough hours in the day. Which means, from the moment I wake up, to the moment I go to bed, every hour is accounted for.

To make room in my life for this class, I had to pull back in some areas — sorry, sleep — and cut corners in others. I also, sliced a little time away from the time I always make to just “be” with my kids. That’s separate from the time when I’m overseeing their homework or refereeing an argument or reading with them at night.

That first night when I was logged onto a virtual class — headphones in, world tuned out except for sounds of an emergency — and told them I couldn’t watch the show we were binge-watching all together on Netflix, I was ravaged by guilt. As far as parents go, I’m all they have. I’d been busy the entire day either working, nagging them to do schoolwork, or doing the administrative things to keep us afloat. Taking the class during my downtime with them felt like choosing me and my dream over them. And I never want them to feel like I’m choosing anyone or anything over them. It felt selfish.

But then they told me to have a good class and disappeared into the world of Roblox, and I was struck by another thought. Yes, technically I was choosing me, choosing my dream, over them in order to take that class. And yes, that is almost exactly the definition of selfish. But it was so much more than selfish, too.

In making my choice, I showed them what it looked like to reach for a dream. In choosing me this time, I showed them what it looked like to strive to get better at something. What it looked like to have ambition. I showed them that even adults have more to learn.

In choosing me, I was teaching them to support me in my goals, like I support them. Because, even though I’m the parent, we are a family, and families support each other in all the ways. Not just parent to child — though, that’s the primary. But also, child to parent and sibling to sibling. Family support is dynamic, and in this way, I was teaching them that.

I frequently get hung up on the word selfish. I tend to fall into the trap of believing as a solo parent, what I want doesn’t matter as much as what my kids want. My kids watched their father disappear, first in mind, then in body and soul. I’ve held them while their hearts were breaking and wished I could absorb their hurt. There is very little I wouldn’t do to protect them from feeling that kind of hurt again — or any hurt. Very little I wouldn’t give to them. So making a choice that might hurt them, that takes something away from them (namely, my time) goes against every instinct I have.

But the truth is, they need to see me be selfish. Selfish, in this small way, isn’t a bad word.

For me, those few extra stolen hours made me feel less invisible during the pandemic, reminded me there was a future outside of the pandemic, and gave me something to look forward to at a time when I’d forgotten how to do that. The class was a lifeline back to myself. Now, weeks after the class is done, I feel motivated, productive, and more present with them than I have in months.

For them, those hours watching me devote myself to a goal, will (hopefully) be the reason they one day know their dreams are worth pursuing, their wants are valid, and their family will always be there to support them in all the ways.

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