What's so hard about solo parenting? I get asked this a lot. Mostly by people with good intentions – maybe they want to know how to help. Some people think doing it alone should be easier, and in some ways, it is. But, there is more to the story …
Some would argue that the most difficult part of being a single parent is worrying about money. Will I get child support this month? Or ever? Can I afford school supplies on a single income budget? What are we going to have for dinner tonight if payday is still two days away?
To me, the money issue can be lessened (though granted, not solved) just by sticking to a budget. It's not always easy, but at least it's manageable with some planning (and paying attention to which nights kids eat free at which restaurants and making creative use of leftovers, which is not one of my better skills, I admit).
Others say the most difficult part is never getting a break. It’s rare for a single mom (or dad) to get time for herself. Once the kids are in bed, I’m usually cleaning up after the day, doing laundry, perhaps even working to finish what I couldn’t get done before it was time to leave the office. The same book has been sitting on my nightstand, partially (barely) read for months now. And when in the world do you go grocery shopping????
Breaks are rare, and, honestly, I’m grateful having my kids around (almost) all of the time. I’ve tried to teach mine some skills to help out, so I’m not the only one cleaning up or even cooking.
This isn’t possible in every family, of course – younger kids probably aren’t quite ready to cook dinner. Some nights, I count the minutes until bedtime when I can just sit on the couch and do nothing (until I pass out from exhaustion and drag myself to bed).
In my mind, the most difficult part of parenting solo is not having that constant supporter in your corner. There just isn’t anyone else in the world with the same vested interest in your kids’ well-being.
We make decisions for our kids every day – some minor, but others quite important – and no one is there to say “yeah, I think that’s the right thing to do” or “wait, that’s really going to mess him up.” Naturally, we try to do what is best for our kids, but it would certainly help to have another brain to bounce ideas off of sometimes. Or just that reassurance that we’re doing OK and everything is going to turn out fine.
This is not a personal rant. I have great support in my life. But, just in case you want to know how you can help out that single parent friend of yours – be a sounding board, a crutch, tell her she’s doing a great job, that her kids are fantastic people, listen when she doesn’t know what to do about her daughter’s behavior or her son’s falling grades.
That’s not to say you can’t also offer to take the kids out to dinner so she can have time for herself, of course. I’m just not sure what I would even do with that time anymore. Ha!
Stacy Lamb of Apex is the divorced mom of two. She is an active member and former organizer of Single Parents of the Triangle. Find her here monthly.