Adventures in Single Parenthood

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are both good and fine, but I am a staunch believer that there should be another dedicated parent holiday: Single Parents’ Day. On this proposed holiday, all the parents who are in a couple will be forced to separate for a day, with one parent taking care of his/her own kids, while another parent will take care of a single parent’s kids for the day. And when I say day, I mean from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., none of that I’ll-watch-your-kids-for-three-hours bit.
I am happy to say that I’m part of a happily-married couple with child, but recently I had to live the single parent lifestyle. My husband ended up going across the country for four months for work, leaving me with our then one-year old.
A disclaimer: I’m also lucky in that I have my parents nearby. At least I didn’t have to shuttle the wee one off to daycare before heading to work—I was fortunate that the daycare came to me. So really, my only single parenting came after work and on the weekends.
After work, the routine involved frantically making dinner for P, feeding her, Skyping with the husband so P wouldn’t forget his smiling face, giving her a bath, putting her to bed, eating, showering, and sleeping. I just got exhausted writing that sentence.
The weekends, though, oh the weekends. Talk about no down time: Up at the crack of dawn, running errands, laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning the house while P slept, cooking, etc. You get the idea. One day P was bouncing off the walls with energy, and I was so exhausted I just put her in her crib for ten minutes while I collapsed on the bed. It was a sweet, sweet ten minutes. I love my daughter, but going to work on Monday morning was like going on vacation.
The worse, though, was how I figured out that she could open the front door by herself. We live on the second floor of a duplex, so there is a precipitous flight of stairs right outside our front door. One Saturday morning, I was running around as usual, trying to get out of the house. I slipped into the bathroom for a second to brush my teeth while P was playing with my keys in the living room.
I spit out the last bit of toothpaste and rinsed, and was finally ready to head out. P looked up at me angelically…and the keys were nowhere to be found. Toy box? Check. Behind the couch? Check. In the trash? Check. Nope, no keys, nada.
I figured that I would just find them later, and grabbed an extra pair. I opened the front door and had a mild heart attack: The keys were sitting outside the door.
That’s how I figured that my little precocious P could open the front door. She opened it, threw the keys out, and closed the door. I don’t even want to think about the what ifs in that situation, and needless to say, I was up until ten that night installing a safety gate—while cursing the state of the California economy that had sent the hubs 3000 miles away.
Thinking back, I probably should have taken up my wonderful friends’ offers of looking after P a little more often, at least so I could use the bathroom in peace. At the same time, I felt guilty about the fact that she couldn’t spend time with one of her parents, and that spending all her time with me would somehow make that better. Silly, I know, but sometimes there’s no logical explanation for the way we think and react to situations.
Now that the four months are up, I am so grateful that my husband is back and that he washes the dishes while I give P a bath, and picks up the toys while I put her to bed. And watches her as I brush my teeth.
And if you know single parents, don’t wait for them to ask you for help. They need it. They want it, but may be too shy to ask. Show up with some food. If no one answers the door, leave on the front steps. Go hang out on a Saturday and let them enjoy some adult conversation. Go hang out on a Sunday and let them take a nap. Whatever you do, don’t take no for an answer. And until the Single Parents’ Day is instated, your friend can have five minutes to herself.

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2 thoughts on “Adventures in Single Parenthood

  1. There are 2 conflicting sides to me with this story. One is that this is a sincere article stating that if you know a single parent, lend them a hand. That is awesome, yes any help is needed and appreciated. The second, is that the word “single parent” is overly-used in our society. It is often that a single parent uses the term as a dating status and is able to lead a half life of parenting and a half life of socializing (or for whatever momentarily-child-free activity they want, I understand not all co-parents choose to socialize on their days off as a parent). Then there are the parents who use single parent as a term to convey that parenting is done by one single person with no help whatsoever. No “break” to socialize, no opportunity to take the little one(s) child support and put it in a college fund, no moment to sit in a bathtub alone and read a book, etc. While I admire the hard work that was put in while your husband was on a 4-month business trip, at the end of the day his paycheck contributed to your total income. In a single parent’s world, more times than imaginable there is no child support given. Such as in my case where I have never seen 1 penny of child support in 7 years. Now, I have accepted this because he went the route of giving up parental rights. At the end of MY day, I get my child up, cook breakfast, bathe him, get him to daycare, am gone to commute to/from and work for 10+ hours, pick him up from daycare, get home and do homework, cook evening the meal, take him to activities, come home do laundry, clean up the evening meal and anything else that needs to be cleaned for that evening, read him books, get him to bed and then by that time I have a mere few minutes before I, too, fall asleep because the thought of getting up to do another thing is… exhausting. There are no in-laws to assist, or more importantly, to show love to my child and be a solid role model for him, no cousins for my son to know, no security in knowing when he goes to college that I will be able to afford it on my OWN salary. And dating… that doesn’t really happen in the life of a “single parent” (of my definition). Sure it might in the lives of those who have a their ex to pick up the parenting role however many days a month they are involved. But in the other world… not so much. I had a mom at the daycare stand and talk with me at the play area and share with me how she wasn’t quite sure how she was going to survive the weekend while her executive husband went out of town. She didn’t know how she was going to be able to do all of the feedings, bathing, getting ready for school, etc that he normally shares in. Yes, it must be difficult to have time to take a break to pay the bills with the extra continual income your executive husband contributes while trying to get your kids ready for school. It’s hard to pull out any sympathy. Try paying bills when your a single mother who doesn’t get child support, nor alimony and you’ve just been laid off and not sure how the mortgage payment is going to be made, daycare is going to be paid, or how long you’ll be able to live on the measly savings you’ve built up (trust me, it doesn’t last long). Unfortunately, if you have more than $2,000 in total savings, then the government doesn’t deem you “worthy” of receiving assistance. Yes, $2,000 is going to get my child and I far… The moral of my comment, being a single parent is far more than having to physically take care of the kids solo, it’s knowing that their existence relies solely upon YOUR ability to take care of them physically, financially, emotionally. And it’s also the most rewarding and important job I have ever had. To see my child exhibit love, kindness and compassion or to excel in something he’s worked hard for is a direct result of what I’ve instilled in him, alone. Do single parents need help or a break… you bet. But, don’t be surprised if it’s difficult for them to have a moment alone or accept the help… those are rare moments that are difficult to go from GO GO GO mode from 4:30 in the morning to 11 pm to, ahhhhh calgon take me away. That doesn’t mean we don’t need it or don’t appreciate it, it just means it’s hard to flip the switch. It is, unfortunately, not a luxury we can get use to having. I really appreciate the last paragraph of your article…you would be amazed at what a few hours a sleep or an adult conversation (outside of work) can do for a single parent.

  2. Thank you so much for taking the time for such a thoughtful response. Of course there are many parts of single parenthood I wouldn’t dare comment on, especially the financial strain it must take on the single parent in question. I guess the whole point of the post was that before I was forced to deal with the situation, I had NO idea what it entailed on a day-to-day basis. After the experience, I have complete admiration for, and am in complete awe of, all single parents who are doing this day in and day out, every day. You guys are ALL heroes.

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