My husband Jake left our home in early July to attend military grad school for a year while I stayed home to raise our two kids alone. This is the first I’ve worked up the gumption to write about it.
The reason I haven’t opened up about it is because when I read most things from a parent saddled with sole parental duties, whether it’s a permanent or, like mine, temporary situation, the write up – like this much commented post on Slate — has a tendency to come across as a cranky humblebrag: “I have it so much worse than you, but I really don’t want your pity, wink, wink…”.
Then there’s the whole semantics of it. Who gets to use the label “single parent?” Does the designation only and exclusively apply to a widow(er) with kids? The woman whose long ago one night stand resulted in a bouncing bundle of joy? The divorcée with shared custody? The military spouse who raises kids solo through a partner’s multiple deployments? Or the dad who uses the phrase offhandedly to describe himself when his wife goes away for the weekend?
The phrase itself has somehow become so delicate, I end up not wanting to talk about my specific experiences at all for fear of offending the myriad of legit permanent single moms and dads out there.
But why? My experience is my experience. Single parenting – whether permanent, temporary, or even for a couple of hours – is tough. Why is admitting that in a public way so often misconstrued as a bid for sympathy or a cheap claim for martyr-dom? I’m not comparing my hardship to anyone else – so why can’t we talk about these things without being criticized for sounding “mopey?”
When people ask me my status, I use the more politically correct “solo parent,” though please do not ask me to explain the difference between solo and single, I could not tell you, except the former sounds to my ear somehow less biased and weighted than the latter. (Can you tell I’ve thought way too much about this?) I’ve also used the multi-syllabic “temporary single parent,” which seems like an unnecessary mouthful. I usually don’t say anything. When people ask me how it’s going, I just say, “Oh fine, it’s not that bad.” Or, “So how about those Mets?”
I’m lying through my teeth, of course. Single, solo, solitary, whatever adjective you want to use – taking care of little kids for an extended length of time by yourself is tough. It’s given me new appreciation for all the parents who do it every single day, year in and year out.
Here’s what I find the single hardest thing about being a (temporary!) solo parent: coming home and having no one to help out during what I like to call The Witching Hour, that magical time of day when everyone is tired and cranky and desperately needs a meal and a nap. And that includes the kids. There’s no one there to help unload, console, feed, bathe, play, jammy, read and tuck the kids into bed. Day in and day out, those responsibilities fall solely on you. And you still haven’t tackled the dinner dishes yet.
I’m not comparing my adversity to anyone else’s. It’s just “Jessie tough” and that’s tough enough for me. On the spectrum of human hardship, this is not even that difficult. If you want to get virtuous about it, it’s actually a blessing. I get to be with my kids! We’re all alive! Whoo hoo! But it’s still demanding. It’s still stressful. It’s still lonely. Even if it’s only temporary.More On