When I think back on my life when my first born was in his first year, I recall thinking that I was soooo glad that I wasn’t a single parent. I was in awe of people that were living as single parents.
Fast forward a number of years and I find myself living as a single parent of two spirited boys for half of my life. The other half I am footloose and fancy free (well, not really, for the other half I’m catching up on work that I didn’t get done when the kids were with me).
So I don’t think of myself as a true single parent…except on the days that I am. Fortunately, I don’t have much time to self-reflect on those days but occasionally some thoughts creep in such as “single parenting really sucks.”
On those days I wake up at my usual 5:30am (as my body just won’t stay asleep – darn morning person genes) and I sneak to my work nook and start working to maximize my time. That is, if I manage to sneak quietly enough so my morning child doesn’t hear me get up. He has instant mommy sense and knows when I’m awake. He will follow me down and start pestering me with “can I watch TV?” So if I do manage it, then I work. If I don’t manage to dodge the kid then I get sucked into entertaining him until his late-sleeping brother wakes up. I make their breakfast and lunch and hustle them out the door for school. I come back, work, work, work and then get them from school, make dinner, clean up mounds of detritus that they haul home from school with them, get them to bed and then try to work some more only to pass out and wake up to do it all over again. Was that a run-on-sentence? I think it mirrors well what my days are like when I have the kids.
Occasionally my kids’ dad goes away on work trips and I have the kids for two week or more stretches. It is during those stretches that I realize how well and truly being a single parent sucks and I thank my lucky stars that I will get a break in the near future to recover when my co-parent comes back.
Of course, having a co-parent isn’t all rosy. After all, my co-parent and I could not live together for many reasons and so it is still quite challenging to parent together. Some days when we are having significant differences of opinion I start to think to myself that I would love to be a single parent and be in control of the situation and not have to deal with my unreasonable co-parent.
Then I get the kids back and try to figure out a way to deal with my co-parent again.
My experience is leading me to some pretty set ideas about how to make my life run more smoothly.
The first idea is that single parents need a lot of support. A lot. I have been working at building myself that support.
What kind of support do I need? I need breaks to recharge. These breaks don’t have to be everyday but I need to know that they are coming so I can continue to get myself up everyday to power through when I do have the kids. I also need people who are in a similar situation that I can talk to. It also helps to know that if I do crater, I have a backup plan (i.e. my co-parent).
I have been working at implementing this system for the past few years and it is getting there. Society is beginning to recognize that being a single parent is hard and there is support out there if you look for it. I also build my own and I started to do this because my friends, family and society understand that single parenting is hard and so pester me to find support.
The other idea that has been flitting around in my head is that society tends to talk about single moms but not so much about single dads. They are out there too and they also need support. My brain has been wondering if dads have had this idea planted into their brains enough. We all hear about single moms, but what about single dads? Is there support for them?
The reason I’m wondering about this is because I’m relying on my co-parent to be there when I need that break. I’m also wondering if dads have been hearing the message that they need support. If they are not hearing this message, then they are not going out to get it. I’ve done a brief survey on the internet of support for single dads and the closest support group I could find was in Toronto on the other side of the country. Perhaps this is why dads often seem to jump into new relationships more frequently than women. They need to get another “mom” involved to help because there aren’t societal structures in place for dads.
My last thought on this subject is that for me to rely on my co-parent, I have to get along with him and him with me. I’m not going to ask him for help if I’m not speaking to him.
I have gone through stages where I’ve been fairly angry with my co-parent. I was at my angriest when we first separated. I held myself back from going in for the kill during our divorce process and chose the Collaborative approach to divorce where both parties agree to stay out of the court system. I chose this based on my understanding that it is conflict between parents that affects kids most. I chose the path of least conflict and convinced my co-parent to do the same. It is only now that I realize that this path has benefited me and my lifestyle as a parent going forward. I can talk with my co-parent and through this process we have developed systems and strategies for getting along. What would we have done if we had both gone for the jugular and dragged the other through the court process? One major support system would be gone for both of us. Who suffers? Kids who have burnt out parents and of course parents.
If you are embarking on a life as a single parent, understand it is hard. Try to build in systems that will support and sustain you to live as a single parent.