Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Things They Don't Tell You About Being a Single Parent

A single parent (or solo parent) is a parent, not living with a spouse or partner, who has most of the day-to-day responsibilities in raising the child or children.

Sounds fairly straight-forward doesn't it? Oh, what a short and neat description for one of the most intense, difficult jobs I could've ever imagined having.

I didn't sign up for this.

I didn't plan to be a single parent. I didn't get "knocked up" and plan to raise children by myself. I thought I was going to have help. I got married almost 20 years ago, had two planned babies and one surprise (er, blessing) and then, when my youngest was two and a half, and the other two were nearly teenagers, I left my husband. What. The. Fuck. Was. I. Thinking? That is a thought that has crossed my mind often in the last four years. Followed quickly by a remembrance of some dumbass thing my ex had done and a sigh of relief I didn't have to live with him on a daily basis anymore. Honestly - three children is enough.

But really. The realization that these little humans are, like, my responsibility. That gut-wrenching "I took them from their father" thing that happens (still) in the middle of the night sometimes. The constant questioning of whether I could've sucked it up for another 15 years so they could've had the illusion of a happy childhood.

Yeah...no. I was dying inside. So, I left.

Seven years prior to my actual departure, we had had the "I'm leaving your ass if you don't knock your shit off" discussion and I almost left him then. But I gave him about six hundred second chances. Also, I didn't want to be alone. Raising (at that time) two babies. By myself.

This time shit was real. I fucking did it.   Damn, I really did it.  What the hell am I gonna do now??

The first night alone in my new place, when he picked them up for their first "overnight" visit, I cried for pretty much the whole night. That sucked. It got better but not much. Nothing prepares you for that feeling. And, nothing can prepare you for the job of being a single parent.

Here are some things I didn't know:

Nobody understands - unless they are other single parents.  Other parents will judge you immediately. They will question why you didn't suck it up for the sake of the kids. (Never mind that you didn't tell them the dirty details of it all to spare HIM) They don't understand why you are so tired and stressed out all the time. They have NO idea what that extra warm body at home means. And your married girlfriends bitching about how their lazy ass husbands fed their childen FROZEN PIZZA that night for dinner? Well, they are gonna make you want to punch them in the throat. You had help? You selfish.... Ugh. They just don't get it. Don't expect them to.

 There really are NO sick days. Or tired days.  After working for 9 hours a day (plus my one hour commute each way to and from work) I would pick up the little one from day care, go home and start my second shift "job". The thing about kids is they need to eat every single day. (They don't tell you that shit in the hospital). Also, dishes and laundry need to be done. Every day. And bath time. And general house cleaning. School papers need to be signed. Field trips need to be noted on the calendar. Checks for lunch money need to be written. There is no handing this stuff off to anyone. It's all you. Maybe you can make time for the flu this weekend. Right now, suck it up and let's do this. Pansy.

Your friends aren't going to see you. Ever. Especially the single, kid-less ones.   Remember how, when you were married you could go out for girls night every now and then, have a drink and know that the kids were taken care of? Remember when you had money to buy new clothes, matching undergarments, and beer? Forget it. You don't have any extra money. And you can't afford the recovery time a night of drinking will require. Even if they are at dad's that particular night, they will be back tomorrow. And, tomorrow? Well, you're pretty much fucked. Kids don't care if you have a headache. They have shit going on and it's important and you better listen. Dammit. She just learned how to sing "Wheels on the Bus" and that shit rocks and if you don't sit there for an hour listening to it fifty times in a row you suck as a mother. Haven't they already been through enough?? (Yes, you will put up with some crazy ass shit because of that sentence)

Your ex is going to drive you insane. One of the most difficult things for me was not bashing my children's father in front of my children. When he doesn't make child support payments on time and/or doesn't help pay for school activities or lunch money, or winter coats. It's really, REALLY, difficult not to go on a total psychotic rant about what an irresponsible fuck-wit he is. When your child tells you they NEED money for band shoes for a performance tomorrow and you don't get paid for two days and you write a check hoping it clears .... Yeah, you kinda want to bad mouth him a little bit. When he responds to any message you send him - UNLESS it has to do with money or stuff the kids need - and you want to strangle him. Or scream. Don't do it in front of your kids. As much of an ass as he can be, he is still their dad and they need to hold on to some semblance of their father as being a decent human being. But, DO go punch something after they leave. It will make you feel MUCH better.

Guess who's going to the convenience store at midnight?  You are. There is no one to help you run errands anymore. If the three year old stuffs the last of the toilet paper down the john, not only do you have to do the plumbing repair, you also have to go to the store in the middle of the night to re-stock. That twenty year old kid who is always working at 2:00 a.m. at the Circle K better get used to your disheveled hair/yoga pants/fuck-with-me-and-I-kill look otherwise your relationship is going to be very strained. You will become buddies. Trust me. He will never be out of milk or toilet paper. Or chocolate. Or tissues. He knows.

There are a million and one other things you learn as a single parent but I guess the most important lesson is that you are strong enough to do it all alone.  

Even if you wish you didn’t have to. 


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  1. Amen! I have been there, done that...and dealing with the ex doesn't get any easier after you find Mr. Forever...he still sucks, maybe even more! Oh and funny how those that have never been single parents think they know it all...or think they have an understanding of being a single parent when their spouse is away for a week...really? I so want to tell them to rewind, bitch, last I checked you still have a two income household AND you aren't having to clean up after him. Best of both worlds right there!

    Great post!

  2. I've got a man in my life now and, while we don't live together and probably won't for some time, it is a balancing act incorporating a decent relationship into the stress that is my life. I find myself trying to compartmentalize everything (still) which causes even more stress for me. I really don't know how to NOT do that. And I don't know how to give up the control I've had for the last few years and let someone else help me. I've been independent for what seems like a long time.

    The ex has been very passive aggressive lately. I would love it if he would just accept the changes happening. My new relationship. Kids growing up. Etc... But I can't make him do it.

    As for the other moms wanting to "relate" without actually being in our shoes? They don't get it and never will. Some of them really do mean well - but they simply have no clue. Lots of them also have a great support system of mom/dad/grandparents close by. I have never had that. When I say I have been doing it alone - I really have been doing it alone. I wasn't able to call my daddy when my furnace quit. I had to read the instructions on the damn door and call a handyman. Grown up stuff.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. I split from the ex-hubs five years ago coming up in June, the divorce took two years and no one understood what it was like in the middle of the night second guessing myself "Should I try to make it work?" and "What will I do now?" to the heady high of doing my first car repair without him in ten years "I don't need a man!" to the despair of the time my then 7yr old son looked at me and said "I hate you! Why can't you let my dad come home?!" and burst tears.

    Your married girlfriends don't get it because it's never been that way, the friends that split up before their kids were born: don't get it because it's always been that way and their kids don't know what it is to have dad and mom together. Thank you for being the voice of someone who "Gets it"

  4. Totally true, Laticia. Thanks for reading and sharing your experience.