As a single parent, I regularly encounter the struggle of having a coupled parent tell me about my experience of single parenting.
Since becoming a single parent over a year ago, I’ve met with a great deal of unsolicited advice about both my dating life and raising my children.
When sharing my challenges or feelings of anxiety, I’m often reminded that all parents are busy, stressed and overwhelmed. I’ve been told that some single mothers don’t receive child support or don’t have spouses who regularly maintain custody visits. In these instances, I leave feeling as if I’ve been told that what I’m doing is wrong. There are often suggestions for improvement and the advice is to be grateful for what I do have going for me.
All of the advice, however unsolicited, is well-intended. I also remind myself that we can’t fully understand the struggle unless we’ve been through it ourselves—and those giving advice are not usually a single parent themselves. And, no—it’s not the same thing as having the lion’s share of the responsibility in a house with two parents.
It isn’t that we’re not grateful for what we do have going for us, but here’s what coupled parents don’t seem to understand about single parenting:
As single parents, all of the responsibility for raising our children, taking care of our homes and yards and managing the finances falls on our shoulders.
We make sacrifices so our children have what they need. We get up in the night with them when they are restless. We clean up vomit and diarrhea and are constantly overwhelmed by an ever-growing pile of laundry that never seems to shrink. There’s no one who can tag us out when things get tough so we can take a breather. No one else takes out the trash or runs a vacuum. No one else helps with the bills or lessens the burden on our shoulders.
When things get tough we can’t just walk away. Some of us don’t even have the kind of support system where we can call someone and say, “I’m about to lose my sh*t! Can you please come take the kids for a couple of hours so I can calm down?”
On a good day, we don’t have a significant other with whom we can share the glow of that special parental pride. And when the children have a bad day we don’t get a break or someone to talk things out with to decide how to handle it. On days where we feel like we’re failing as parents, and we all have them, there’s no one to support or encourage us. We have a fierce love for our children, and we have no one else with which to share our fears, hopes or dreams for our children at the end of the day. This can be particularly difficult to deal with as a single parent.
If we’re uncoupled, we don’t have anyone to give us a hug on those bad days or who will just sit with us to decompress after the day is done. There are days when the only physical touch we receive is from our children, and all of our conversations are about cartoons and toys.
Most days of the month it’s only us, all the time, with no rest and no break.
It’s just us.
Forget about sex. It’s a little difficult to manage around a single parenting schedule with little support. And we’re well aware that all of our dating options are limited because we have children. Even if we can find a date who doesn’t mind that we have children, and we can find a babysitter we may still not go out. The truth is that sometimes we can’t afford one, and the sitter can be more expensive than the cost of going out. So we stay home and we watch TV—if we even have the energy.
We aren’t trying to invalidate the experience of coupled parents who experience similar parenting stresses. We just want it recognized that our struggle isn’t the same, and we want the same opportunity to vent or cry on your shoulder as anyone else. We’re not saying you’re less of a parent or that we’re more of one. What we’re saying to you is this: it’s hard. It’s so f*cking hard, and we just want to express that without feeling judged.
If we trust you enough to come to you with our concerns it’s because we love you and we need your support. While it may take a village to raise a child, we might not feel like we have a village.
We are the f*cking village.
Our lives are filled with such joy. We have beautiful babies, and we get to watch them grow, learn and become who they’re meant to be. We get the sleepy morning cuddles and good night kisses. We are grateful and blessed every single day, and we know that our children are the best of us. Yet, some days it’s still a struggle to be that whole village for our children. We struggle with the sense of not being good enough, and we just want a little understanding.
Perhaps as a coupled parent, you’re struggling with how to show support or empathize with something that you can’t really understand. If you’re not a single parent but want to help one out, here are some quick tips:
1. Please don’t offer unsolicited advice—pretty much ever. If we ask for your advice, please, by all means, help us out. However, if we don’t ask, please know that we merely want to feel heard. Kindly listen and support us by simply being there.
2. Offer encouragement rather than criticism. Instead of pointing out our failings, try to point out the things we’re doing well. Instead of drawing attention to a messy home or a pile of laundry, maybe remark on our child’s manners or the fact that we try to feed them a balanced meal. Look for what we’re doing right and tell us that because that’s what we need to hear. We already know all of the areas where we’re struggling, probably better than you imagine.
3. Ask how you can help when you recognize that the single parent is feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Offer support by listening or by helping out in some tangible way: babysit, cook a meal, offer to take some responsibility off our shoulders.
4. Please don’t complain if you do agree to help. Complaining takes away the gift. If you want to help, do it with a good attitude or please don’t do it at all.
5. Remember that single parents often go unrecognized. Help the child make a homemade card when Mother’s Day or Father’s Day rolls around because there’s a good chance that there won’t be much else to make the day special.
6. Accompany a single parent on an outing so that they have help with festivals and activities (this is particularly helpful with single parents of small children).
7. Become a part of the village. Be there. Let the parent know that they can rely on you for support, and support and encourage the children as well.
It takes as much (or as little) effort to offer encouragement and support as it does to dole out unsolicited advice and criticism. Single parenting can be tough, and while we’re grateful for our children and love them with all of our hearts, we’re also tasked with being everything and everyone to them—all the time. It’s exhausting, and please don’t tell us that it’s not.
More love, less criticism. More support, less judgment. That’s really all we need.
A Single Parent
Author: Crystal Jackson
Apprentice Editor: Molly Murphy/Editor: Travis May