Going It Alone

I have tremendous respect for single parents.

A few weeks ago, my husband had two work trips stacked back to back. These trips don’t happen often, but when they do, I am reminded of all my husband does to help with our family. Every time I turned around, I saw something else he would have done if he had been there. That laundry would be folded, those dishes would be put away, the mess in the garage would have been organized, that relationship between brothers would have been mended sooner. I am blessed to have a thoughtful, perceptive, willing helpmate.

My stints in the single-parent world are brief. Hardly worth mentioning except for the awe they stir in me for moms and dads who do the single parent thing on a daily basis for years and years. Each time I’m on my own, even briefly, I feel like I’m thrown into this new world with new demands and new pushes on my energy and emotions. And then I’m reminded that there are men and women who know nothing other than this reality.

I’m struck by how little buffer there is between the boys and me. Like two bones grinding together with no protective cartilage, solo parenting is a space-less existence. I have little space for anger or frustration, or disappointment, or hormones before my emotions begin to affect them. They see it immediately. They pick up on the change in my tone, on my heavy sighs, my inability to make eye contact. And because it’s just me, there is no hiding. No one to say, “Give your mother some room. She’s fine.” (Because really, I am fine, but I’m not fine right now and I won’t be fine until I can have some space to think about what’s bothering me.) I take this margin for granted daily. Single parents have no one to step in and be the buffer. Sometimes when my husband is away, I’ll send a desperation text to him. “Pray for me. I’m so frustrated with all of them.” Who do single parents text when they feel like they’re losing control? Friends? Parents? Coworkers? A neighbor? These people in a single parent’s life should be applauded as well.

I’m struck by the responsibility of making all the decisions. I decide when we eat, what we do, how much fun we have, how much money we spend, when we go to bed, who takes a shower first, how long privileges are lost when there’s been disobedience. I even decide what is disobedience! There are no other opinions to consider beside my own. Single parents chart the course and feel the weight of this responsibility, some of them for the entire duration of their children’s lives. To feel the dual responsibility for these boys is weighty enough. The thought that there are parents who never have someone with whom to share the burden is almost incomprehensible.

My mother wore the single parent cape often due to my dad’s job. This arrangement is unique because these parents are sometimes alone and sometimes not alone. My mother disciplined according to her ability and preferences during the week, but then had to make adjustments to my dad’s wishes on the weekend. The mood changes, the expectations change, the whole vibe changes when the family goes from one parent to two parents back to one parent, over and over again. Cohesiveness is hard enough when a family has frequent, predictable interactions with each other. Keeping everyone up to speed and in the know when there are basically two sets of lives being lived? How does that work?

And then I consider widows and widowers. My dad faced this reality after my mother passed away and the stress was insurmountable. Grief, coupled with demands from work, coupled with raising two children who were also dealing with grief and the demands from school and work…those memories are hard for me to look back on fondly. I remember catching my dad in quiet moments and asking him what he was thinking about. He’d say, “I just miss your mom so much.” Even with the best team attitude, families struggle to grasp the new normal. I know we did.

I remember one night in particular during this most recent trip. We were winding down from a busy day; I had put on my A-game and done all that I could to have a fun Saturday. We’d seen friends, been to a little festival in our town, gone out to lunch, made a trip to the bookstore, played outside. I was exhausted. I threw some frozen pizzas in the oven and made the mistake of sitting down with the kids to watch a few minutes of Star Wars. The longer I sat, the sleepier I got. And as we all sat there, I realized…I still have to clean up the kitchen, get everyone through the shower, take out the trash, follow through on letting them have a living room camp out, wash my face, put away the laundry. And the boys are good to help, but oh, how I wished for my helpmate to sweep in and take care of it like he always does. The “always does” blessing that I too quickly overlook.

I think of my long-term single parent friends who are raising or did raise their children alone…Amy, Myki, Lou Ann, Brandi, Angie, Amanda…what strong women you are. I see you loving your children, providing for your families, carting your kids to lessons and practices, figuring out meals, and taking care of your homes…doing all the thankless tasks of motherhood and fatherhood and I’m amazed. I think of you and know that I need to complain less.

I think my friends who have parented alone for long stretches of time due to their spouse’s job or deployment or other crisis…Traci, Meredith, Carmen, Carol, Jamie, Laura, Ryan, Andrew…what grace it takes to adjust well to having your spouse there and then not there. You pulled up the reigns, relied on Jesus, and got it all done because that’s what you needed to do. I am so thankful for the example you’ve set for me of persevering and pushing your needs aside for the sake of your children.

To my friends who have lost their spouse…Stephanie, Stacy, Terry, Shawn, John…you’ve experienced grief more encompassing than any emotion I’ve ever experienced. You stood in the middle of the pain and let it reach you and fill you and depart from you only to have it come back around and meet you again, yet you survived. You’re still here and you’re still thriving and we are wise to look at the example you’ve set of living well in the midst of sorrow. It might have felt like you were dying too, but as far as I am concerned, you have never been more alive than you are now that you’ve experienced grief so real it suffocates. Your lives are a testimony to us all.

Parenting is challenging. Even with healthy, intelligent, well-behaved, school-aged children, it’s challenging. My hat’s off to single parents. You are part of an army who marches daily through battles many of us gladly pass along to our other half. While the rest of society pines away over such trivial things, your emotional energy is spent figuring out how you’re going to be two places at once on Thursday night, whether or not the pants from last year will fit until Christmas, and if it’s even marginally healthy to eat mac and cheese more than once a week. May your steps be easy and your burden light because you are making such great sacrifices for your children. I am inspired by you. You are the unsung heroes of our children’s generation and generations to come.

…words are a form of action, capable of influencing change. Their articulation represents a complete, lived experience.” — Ingrid Bengis (American writer)

Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” (Alexander Pope, English poet)

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