Just like many earthly duties and responsibilities, single parenting is hard.
On the days I want to forget this, something or someone appears to remind me.
Just last week, I was at the park with my two daughters, and a young (seemingly more overwhelmed) mother approached me with sympathetic eyes: “I don’t know how you do it,” she offered kindly.
In a lot of ways, I appreciate this sort of recognition. There’s a particular form of hardship and loneliness that only us solo-parents can put words to. I imagine life would have a richer feeling with another adult (ideally a lover) accompanying me to the park. We could sneak kisses and lock eyes from across the monkey bars, making saucy promises for later. Or, more simply, I’d have another set of hands and eyes to help and I wouldn’t be outnumbered.
Nights alone tend to be harder. The routine of dinner, baths, and pajamas can be fun but mundane. As winter creeps in and the days become shorter, a feeling of dread can wash over me. After I’ve put everyone to sleep, I yearn to fall into the arms of someone who cares for me just the same.
I’m a loyal, cuddly, and romantic person, and I’ll let you all in on a little secret: I never thought it would be this way and it can be rough. I yearn for the touch, care, and connection that only an intimate relationship can provide. Biologically, it’s not meant to be this way.
So, now that I’ve validated the tough parts of this life, I can focus on the opposing side. Over the last few months, I have had handfuls of young mothers approach me. They are experiencing pretty awful things with their partners—I’m not talking about spouses being messy, grumpy, or lazy to help with the kids—I am talking about things like verbal abuse, cheating, gambling, and alcoholism. You wouldn’t be able to point these couples out; they seem beautiful, happy, and aspirational.
These moms are approaching me for validation—they want to know that their life can be full, meaningful, and happy if they decide to do it on their own.
I firmly believe that life can take a beautiful turn when you make this change. Before you do this, I suggest really working on your relationship. Go to therapy, work on yourself, and don’t just give up. But if you do, I promise you can be happy in this life too.
Here’s how it can be better on the other side:
It’s not uncommon for married folks to know their relationships were over in the earliest stages of union: during a fight on the honeymoon. While birthing children. In the midst of heated disagreements about potty training, private preschools, and sports teams. Even with this knowing, couples can stay together 10, 15, 20 (and so on) years.
It doesn’t matter how strong you are, separating physically, emotionally, and financially will most likely prove grueling, heartbreaking, and difficult.
While breaking up is hard, experiencing prolonged ambivalence about your relationship can be harder. Married couples will commonly make gigantic plans together: booking vacations, buying homes, having children, having more children, taking and leaving jobs, or moving across the country. If your relationship feels terminal, but you are making significant life-changing plans within that relationship, your world can begin to take on a surreal, ominous quality.
When I decided I couldn’t tolerate certain things and there was no improvement in sight, a huge burden lifted. Don’t get me wrong, I experienced some of the hardest feelings and circumstances when actually leaving the marriage. Still, I achieved a kind of clarity and certainty that was fundamental to my own health. Now, on solid ground, I am finally able to fulfill my own potential.
You may have more free time.
For some of us single parents, we have a former partner who wants to play a significant role in our children’s lives. This is a gift for everyone involved. Though I am the custodial parent, I still have every other weekend off from parenting, and some days in between.
That means I have a bunch of mornings to sleep in. I can sip my morning coffee slowly, enjoying the 9 a.m. sun streaming through the curtains. I can run errands without managing two rambunctious toddlers, and then I can reward myself with a night out.
While in my marriage, I never got a true break from parenting. We live in a society where parents are commonly working out of the home equally, but the division of labor inside the home hasn’t necessarily caught up. I have a level of autonomy and equality that was never accessible to me while married.
This arrangement has also unlocked the potential of my former partner. Without me taking over, he can lean into his own gifts and strengths as a father, and he’s doing wonderfully.
Your authentic, higher self can bloom.
I’m a recovering people pleaser. I love relationships. I love love. I have a certain proclivity toward domineering personalities. These factors led to my insidious demise; I was a shell of my former self, yearning for wholeness.
While leaving a relationship is hard, I’d like to reframe the experience as a tremendous chance for metamorphosis. Self-work is easier to do when free from a lover’s influence. Similarly, growth requires discomfort.
So consider this scenario: you are a single person with children and that’s a hard thing. You can no longer distract yourself with your partner’s problems to avoid working on your own. Congratulations on this discomfort—you are ready to bloom.
There’s a lot of ego tied up in society’s normative view of family, and there’s a ton of pressure for material wealth and possessions. We cling to extreme expectations of our children without realizing it, and we set ourselves up for disappointment when we color inside the narrow lines that society has drawn for us.
I spent so many years building a particular life, and even with my best of intentions, it collapsed. Now that I’ve mourned, I can see beyond the wreckage and trust that I’ve created a sacred clearing for something more real to stand upon. I had spent years wearing a mask to hide from the darkness of being “alone.” Little did I know, the mask wasn’t protecting me, but serving as an obstruction to my own light.
So don’t be afraid, my fellow single parent. See this as your chance to measure yourself with a completely new set of standards. You’ve broken many of the rules already, so why not step into your full, undefined potential?
See this as your initiation into your beautiful, higher self. Make you and your children proud.