Every once in a while, one of my married friends will tell me that they are “single parenting” for the week.
Their partner is away, working, and they’re in charge.
Friends, that is not single parenting. I love that you’re trying to relate, or find common ground. But please stop.
So, I get it, I do.
You’re in charge for a week or two. The days are long, there’s so much to do, and so little time. You’re tired because you’re doing two jobs not one. You’re cranky because there’s no downtime. You feel the weight of all that responsibility.
This must be what single parenting feels like, right?
No. It’s really not.
When you’re solo parenting for a week and tell me that you now understand my life, it hurts my feelings. Because it shows me how little you actually understand.
It’s not that my life is harder than yours. It’s almost certainly not. It’s not that I wish I had your life. Almost certainly, I don’t. And it’s not that I don’t love my life – because I really do.
I have a great job, a nice home, the opportunity to travel and have amazing experiences… and I have the best child in the world (obviously).
Single parenting means an amazing amount of freedom and autonomy. Oh, and I have a closeness with my child that comes from years of operating as a unit of two.
I know all families have struggles. But there are some struggles that are unique to single parents.
Maybe if my friends understood those struggles better, they’d stop telling me they “get” what it’s like to single parent every time their spouse leaves town for a week.
Here are a few things about single parenting I’d like my non-single parent friends to know:
To List Never Ends
I had words with my 11-year-old this week when she forgot an extra-curricular commitment for the third time in a row. I sighed and said, “I don’t have space in my head to remember all my crap, and all your crap, too.”
The thing about single parenting is all that freedom and autonomy comes with a heck of a to-do list. Because everything is your job.
Whether it’s shopping or laundry or booking the car service or remembering dental check-ups, or knowing everyone’s blood type, or paying bills, or fixing that leaky window – your job. Someone needs to go somewhere? You’re driving. Someone’s ill in the night? You’re getting up.
It’s being in charge of everything, not for a few nights, or weeks, but for year after year. There’s never anyone else to pitch in (prompted or not) to say, “You do the laundry, I’ll take care of dinner.”
Single parents get tired.
You’re on Duty. Always.
When you’re the sole adult in the household, especially when your children are young, there’s no such thing as too tired, or not in the mood.
You could be exhausted, or sad, or at death’s door with flu, and you’re still needed for packed lunches, nursery run, story time and general entertainment. Suck it up, and get on with it.
When you’re married one of you gets to leave the house at 8pm if there’s no chocolate in the house. Whereas I’m resorting to scrabbling at the back of the cupboard for out-of-date chocolate Horlicks.
You’re Always in Someone’s Debt
Every time I travel for work, go to a meeting that finishes late, travel to London early in the morning for an event – I need to ask someone a favour. And when you’ve already asked a lot of favours so you can work, asking for a favour just so you can go to dinner, or on a date, feels… frivolous.
You’re constantly weighing up how many times Grandma has done the school run this term, what time will she need to wake up if I do this, how many nights will I be away from home? Is there a way to share the load with an uncle or aunt – although that means asking two favours?
I’m not sure I will ever be able repay all the favours I’ve asked since becoming a single parent. Not even close.
There’s no Finish Line
Solo parenting is hard, I don’t deny. But when you’re married, there is always an end in sight. You know that come Friday night, or the end of the month, your wife or husband is going to walk through the door, and you can relax, just a bit. Some jobs, or decisions, can be put off until you’re both home again.
When you’re a single parent, there’s no end in sight. It’s just you, indefinitely.
Oh, the Responsibility
For me, though, the single biggest thing that I wish married friends understood is that single parenting? It’s scary.
It’s terrifying to know that all the decisions regarding your child – big or small – are down to you. If you make the wrong decision about a school, or a medical procedure, or a parenting strategy, then it’s on your shoulders.
There are a thousand differences between me and my married friends. But I will never be able to sit next to someone else who loves my child the way I do and say, “What do we do?”
And maybe that’s the biggest difference of all.