When a friend recently complained to me about having to watch her kids for a weekend by herself while her husband traveled for work, I rolled my eyes. “Don’t even go there,” I started to say, before she suddenly remembered I’d been doing the same thing — only my solo parenting tenure is now in it’s 11th month while my husband is in another state earning a master’s degree.
“I mean,” she quickly added, “I know I don’t have it anywhere near as hard as you.”
I felt like a fool. I was doing that thing exasperated parents do sometimes — comparing hardships like battle scars. As if my time in the trenches of single mommyhood put me in some sort of special category of human suffering.
But, holy crackers, has it been a long year. A very long year. Single parenting two kids under the age of five for these past 12 months has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. All the tears, Dora, diapers, laundry, meals, baths, dishes, driving, sick days, and, oh yeah, that pesky paid work thing, fall on my shoulders.
So many people can’t grasp how difficult single parenting is. How difficult it can be when there is no one there to pick up the slack after your willful toddler tries to work your last nerve during bath time. There is nowhere to turn. No time out. No “you take the kids, honey, I’m peacing out of here and going for a run.” You look back over the course of your Saturday and realize you’ve done nothing but prepare itty-bitty meals for little people who don’t even want to eat what you set before them. How many times can one mom load the dishwasher in a single afternoon? Four? Five? The thought of reading a bedtime story to your eager four-year-old makes you feel 1,000 years old. That’s when you know you’re exhausted — when you can barely muster the energy to lie down in a bed with your child.
I’ve felt grumpy, tired, lonely, and frazzled so often this year that I think it’s just my new personality. Yet these feelings of exasperation are always enveloped in a nice, warm shawl of guilt because my daughters are so young and innocent. They don’t deserve a cranky mom. It’s a constant battle to rally for them.
But then a couple of months ago, something clicked. Maybe it was because I’d finally established somewhat of a manageable routine — weekly, not nightly baths, iron clad bedtimes, group dancing in the living room on Wednesdays. I felt like I had kind of hit my single-mom groove. I was actually kind of digging it.
Did I just write that?
The bulk of this attitude change stemmed from a gradual yearlong loosening of rules and routines (see: weekly baths). Last night, we had cold cereal for dinner because I simply couldn’t bother with another dirty dish. I’ve been skimping on bedtime stories — a violation of every “good mommy” rule out there — because I’ve finally acknowledged (and accepted) that it’s impossible to perform every “good parenting” routine perfectly. And hopefully, my daughter June’s brain won’t coagulate into pudding because of it. I let her pick out her own clothes because I can’t be bothered. She comes downstairs dressed like a clown’s sideshow reject, and I’m totally chill with it.
Splurging on the occasional hired help has also been great for my sanity. I cannot put a price on dropping $70 — wait, I did just put a price: $70 — on a sitter to spend a few hours with my friends, and remind myself that I’m still somewhat interesting to talk to, even if all I talk about is what it’s like being a TSM (temp single mom).
Throwing myself into more work — not less — during this hairball time has provided the greatest distraction. I don’t have time to mull over all the fun and excitement my husband is surely having, all the new and interesting people he’s meeting, while I’m home changing diapers, playing princess fairy, and juggling six work assignments.
But most of all, I just try to keep the end in sight. I remind myself that in eight short weeks we will be reunited as a family again. I cannot wait for that day. I will have accomplished something I really wasn’t sure I was mentally and emotionally prepared for. But I did it. I am doing it. My girls did it with me. We survived this sucky ordeal. There’s a weird sort of satisfaction in that.
And when my husband comes home? We’ll spend a few nice days together, then I’ll hand him our kids, say, “good luck!” and head out the door for a long vacation to Europe — no kids, no husband, just girlfriends. I deserve it.More On