So you’re still at it, huh? You’re still married or living with your partner, and now the two of you are raising at least one child of your own, living out that age-old American dream of family life.
I know, I know, it’s not easy at all (there are days when you SWEAR there has to be a better way!). Yet, look at you guys. You’re doing it! You’re making it happen. That’s something to be proud of. You know that, I’m sure, but still … I gotta say it.
I get jealous of married parents sometimes. I’m divorced now, helping raise my three little ones (ages 7, 5, and 2) by having them half of every week. They’re my life, my heart and soul, and I’m happy to report that they’re doing fine, too. I’m proud of that. They’re awesome kids, they are. They’ve been through a lot obviously, but they never lose that certain kind of grace and strength that only young children ever seem to possess.
Not me though. I’ve struggled like hell. You know how it is, trying to keep toddlers alive and kindergartners happy: it’s an emotional swamp, a twisted galaxy of tears and exhaustion and crying big fat tears when someone is getting hungry. (And I’m talking about me there.)
The thing is, through all that has happened in my life over the past few years since our family broke apart, I suspect that I’ve grown to really appreciate the value of families that haven’t split apart. In looking back on the past few years, I’ve noticed and learned a ton about the difference between raising kids with a partner versus raising them on your own.
So here I am, hoping to give you some advice and support from the other side of the parenting fence. I’m a solo parent and that’s an entirely different animal. And because of that, I’ve got some stuff I want to say to those of you still bringing up kids together. Even if it’s just to remind you guys that two really is better than one in a lot of ways you may have forgotten about. Or in ways you may have never even noticed before at all.
There’s two of you — don’t ever take that for granted
There’s two of you. That’s twice as many as the one of me. And I admire that so much; I’m envious too. Even when you’re exhausted or blue or just done with kids making you crazy in that time of the evening when our steam runs low, there’s someone else there to help out a little.
Don’t ever take that for granted.
Okay, I get that it’s not some kind of tiny mantra you’re going to walk around saying to yourself all the time. That would be stupid. But whether you’re a mom or a dad, and no matter if you’ve worked your ass off all day at an office or chasing around a toddler and doing housework, don’t ever stop being the one who steps in to help out with the kids when the other person is down for the count.
It sounds so obvious, but how many couples have that going for them?
If you never do bedtime duty, start now — start tonight.
If you never give baths, get off your bring-home-the-bacon ass and give baths.
If you never make dinner for the children you helped create, you should.
Not because I’m telling you you should, but because you are going to make your marriage or partnership so much stronger when you do. It doesn’t have to be your regular thing. It doesn’t matter at all. Just move out of your comfort zone and step in and save the day. As often as possible.
I do it all myself. I don’t need a pat on the back for that; I got myself into this position and to be honest, I don’t even regret it, really. I dig being a dad. I love being all up in my kids’ lives, immersed in every nook and cranny of their time with me. But I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that there are days when I squeeze my eyes and click my heels and try to make someone else appear there in the kitchen to help me make it to bedtime.
They never do though. There is no magic coming down when you’re all alone. But you guys, you have magic on tap. So never forget that. And be magic for your partner.
Argue for what you believe is right, but give in half the time
You know how you sometimes have these heated conversations about how you want to raise your kids? It can be anything from arguing about letting your son play football to how much TV you think is too much. Imagine having that argument with yourself all the time. No resistance, no support, nothing. It’s just you and your parenting idea and all the unchecked doubt that comes along with it.
That’s what being a single parent is like. There’s no one else with the same vested interest in the argument you’re having with yourself. There’s no one else to bounce crazy notions off of or to share your insecurities with. It freaking sucks a lot of the time, too. And sure, I have an ex who cares enormously about our children and who is an incredible mom too, but it isn’t the same thing anymore, trust me. It isn’t the same as what you couples with kids have.
We share ideas about parenting via text messages. Sometimes over coffee. But there’s no nightly back and forth. There used to be, but that’s gone now, and I miss it so much.
Recognize that advantage for what it is. Argue for what you believe is right, but at the same time, let half of your ideas die on the vine. Let your parenting partner have their way half the time. It’s actually a really good feeling to be able to let go of a bunch of the concerns up in your head. And it’s a beautiful thing to give in sometimes, too. To concede to the only other person on Earth who cares about and loves your kids as much as you do.
Trust me. I win all the parenting arguments in my place. And I suspect we’d all be better off if I didn’t.
Share each other’s joy and happiness
This is the hardest one for me to write about. I miss sharing the joy. I really do. Share your joy — smile at each other when your kid rips off his diaper and has a wizz on the living room carpet. First words, first crayon drawing on the kitchen wall, every time your daughter asks you if she can sing you the song from Frozen — look at one another and soak it in together.
I rarely have that anymore. All of this magical beauty goes down in front of my eyes, one wonderful moment after another where my three kids prove how soulful, sharp, funny, and loving they are, and there’s never anyone for me to look over at and smile at as it happens.
It’s as simple as that. Single parents horde all the joy to themselves, and that hurts sometimes way more than you could ever possibly believe. Happiness is meant to be shared, you know.
Please don’t forget that.
You don’t need to feel sorry for me or anything. I’m fine. We’re awesome. But you guys. Look at ya. Sharing the joy. A two-smile collision. Sounds hokey, but I know I’m right. I’ve been in both places. And I know.
You lucky bastards. Don’t blow it, alright?