My Year as a “Single” Mom Has Been the Hardest of My Life

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

This has been a doozy of a year for me — among the hardest of my life.

No, I did not barely survive a hurricane or live through some other epic natural disaster. No one in my family succumbed to disease. My health is good. I have a roof over my head. I am in all ways quite comfortable.

What I endured — or should say, AM enduring — is a year of single parenting two small children under the age of 5 while my husband is away in another state earning a Masters degree (technically nine months so far but it’ll be a year when he returns home mid-June).

Is this cataclysmic? No. Is it the worst thing ever to befall a person? Not even close. In some ways, it’s been amazing (I’ll get to that). But it’s been weirdly challenging in ways I never expected. I mean, taking care of two kids by myself seems like something I should be able to do with both hands tied behind my back. After all, these are my children and I am the primary caregiver in our household anyway, so what exactly about this current situation is so hard?

It’s a narrative that plays repeatedly in my mind: why is this so hard? Why do I get so down about this situation sometimes? Why do I occasionally grumble over my husband getting to take off for another state where he gets to live like a “GB” — shorthand for a “geographical bachelor,” an acronym I find intensely grating because of the carefree schmoozing it implies — and have his mind and spirit nourished and all of his nights and weekends free to do exactly as he wishes, while I am home by myself with the kids?

Gee, whatever could be the problem?

It’s so hard, I’ve realized, because long separations put strain on a marriage, even a strong union like ours, which must have a corresponding impact on how I parent.

I’m supposed to be bigger than this, I tell myself, my marriage is supposed to be strong enough to endure a temporary separation. Yet, what happens is that we end up living two separate lives. We don’t mean to. We want to be there for each other, both in mind and spirit, but it’s a hard connection to maintain when our respective day-to-day grinds are so utterly different. I don’t know who he’s talking about when he relates what he’s up to over the weekend. I don’t absorb every fascinating nuance of what he’s learning in class. He doesn’t quite grasp all the amazing, incredible milestones of our daughters — four-year-old June’s hand-writing, baby Katie’s first steps, June’s singing, Katie’s first word “hi” — because he’s not around to witness the progressions. He hears about it all secondhand from me, and something always gets lost in translation.

We end up trading superficial chitchat over infrequent phone calls. We don’t bother to email much anymore because there’s not a lot to convey or comprehend about our disparate lives. Our communication is primarily limited to texts. It’s all so 2015.

But we hold on because we know it’s only temporary. Besides, we’ve been together twelve years and my husband, a Major in the Army Reserves, has been deployed three times; we know the drill. We know how it goes. But this time, with two little kids, it’s different. It’s much more real somehow. My daughters have gone nine months without a father. Nine months without regular tickle fests, piggyback rides, and bedtime stories from Dad.

Tomorrow afternoon, he arrives home for a week for Spring Break. I am so thrilled to see him, and I know he’s excited to see me, but I notice a certain casualness has crept into the anticipation of his homecoming. I’m not making a production out of it. I haven’t planned a “date night.” I haven’t cleaned the house, gone grocery shopping, or really thought much about cooking a special meal to celebrate his return.

I guess that’s one thing these long months apart have taught me — all those dumb domestic things we do to keep the marriage humming along; they don’t matter. Who cares? I know he doesn’t. And — newsflash — the house just gets dirty again.

Do I sound over it? Probably. Definitely. But I’m also, finally — nine months in — at peace with the situation.

I came across a quote the other day that resonated with me on a deep level, “Be a warrior, not a worrier.” I can’t explain why. I suppose I was just ready to receive it.

It’s so simple and so perfect. Every moment I spend fretting about all the crap that isn’t going exactly my way in my life is another moment I don’t get to love being in love with my daughters.

Time tumbles forward. It feels like tomorrow June will be leaving home and Katie will be following not long after. This year really is a blip in a much larger, fascinating, and wonderful story. I just have to try to hold on and not let the pages turn too fast.

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