Lessons I’ve Learned from Being a Single Parent

Catch me on any given day, and my take on single parenting has various versions.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my daughters, and I never once regretted these little creatures drifting into my life.  Let me just state that for the record, being a single parent is the hardest thing that I have ever done.  I never planned on being both mom and dad, and believe me, it’s not easy wearing the hat of good cop and bad cop (mostly bad cop), being on call 24 hours a day with absolutely no breaks, and let’s not even start on the financial challenges those of us face doing it alone.

Parenting has many different faces. There are those who choose to become single parents, those who split up and co-parent, those who lose their parenting partner due to death, and then those like me who start out making the choice to parent with another person, and then one day just getting bailed on, leaving us to go it alone.

If you’re lucky enough to have family support, awesome! But not everyone is fortunate enough to be blessed with that kind of resource.  So for us lone warriors, we have no choice but to take on that second (or third) job to support our children and be willing to make any other sacrifices that we have to in order to be the sole protector, provider, and nurturer of our precious babes.

When I hear the term “single parenting” misused, it really irks me.  Just to set the record straight, if you and your ex-partner are “single” but sharing the responsibility of raising your children, that’s not the same as being a “single parent.”  A single parent means just that – you are a solo act, doing it on your own without any physical, financial, or emotional support from the other parent.

Everyone who knows me would collectively agree that I am a very positive person, and I wish that I could write a nauseating uplifting piece like “10 Reasons Why Being a Single Parent is So Wonderful,” but that would be a total load of poo. There is a reason movie stars with obscene amounts of money and high-paid nannies choose to become single parents, because they ARE movie stars with an obscene amount of money and high-paid nannies.

For those of us without an obscene amount of money to pay for nannies, we are faced with the day-to-day struggle to make ends meet, the endless shuttle of our kids to the places that they need to be, time spent supporting their emotional needs, time helping them with their school work, and then the effort to try to squeeze in a few minutes for ourselves before we fall into a coma, only to have to get up in a few hours and do it all over again.

We can try to convince ourselves ad nauseam that being a single parent really isn’t that bad for our little ones, as long as they feel loved and wanted by one parent – but that’s simply not true.  It’s hard on us, and even harder on them.  A single parent is only one person, and therefore not able to give her children what they need and deserve emotionally from the missing parent. 

Yes, we can try to love them enough for both parents, but the reality is that twice the amount of our love can’t and won’t compensate for the deep sense of abandonment and unworthiness they feel from not having the love of their other parent. We can deny it, candy-coat it, gloss over it, and even try to Feng shui it away, OR we can face the ugly truth square in the face and accept that we are in an impossible and awful situation that we don’t want for ourselves or our precious babes.

I’m pretty sure that when most of us single parents signed up for kids, we never thought for one minute that someday we’d be struggling to do it alone, or that our children would end up crying themselves to sleep at night because one of the people who was supposed to love them decided that he wanted to quit his job as a parent.  The truth is, as SPs, we can work to put shoes on our kid’s feet and a roof over their head, but no matter how much that we try, we won’t ever be able to heal the legacy of pain that absent parents leave in their wake.

Before this ends up sounding like just a bitter diatribe, let me brilliantly work in my profound and life-changing message here (drum roll, please): As single parents, when we stop fooling ourselves that going it alone isn’t so bad, and instead find the honesty within ourselves to face just how awful and wrong that it is for both ourselves and our children, the truth has the power to set us free.  I am grateful that I have finally evolved in my life enough to realize that I don’t always have to add sugar to lemons to get rid of the tartness. Sometimes all that I have to do is learn to acquire a taste for the bitterness.

Are you a single parent? Share your stories– joys and struggles– in the comments below.

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Tags : confessions   single parents   parenthood   

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