My Facebook feed is regularly filled with friends, mostly moms but the ocassional dad, lamenting that their partner is away on a girls/guys getaway or business trip and they’re having to take on single parenting. Early mornings, late nights, taking on the burden of being the sole source of emotional support, physical transportation, not being able to go out after hours (i.e. school), meal prep and school routines. Bedtime goes on for hours, mornings are a bitch and you can practically hear the kids lining up at school at 2:55 to return home. Kids get injured or disappointed and dad (or mom) is unavailable to talk or soothe. You get stuck in traffic with one kid while there’s another one waiting to get picked up and you don’t have your back up, your spouse, to call for help. You’re exhausted and frustrated and overwhelmed and there’s not another adult in the house to talk to or vent with or co-parent. Forget about washing away the days frustrations with some “adult time,” however you interpret that.
I in no way doubt that my friends are having a hard time, and I totally feel for them. Nothing is less fun than parenting alone (and parenting with your partner can be highly overrated too), whether it’s for an afternoon or a week. It’s grueling. It’s disheartening. It’s a total drag. But, if you’re a married parent unless something goes horribly wrong, YOUR PARTNER IS COMING BACK FROM THEIR TRIP. You’re not a single parent, you’re temporarily a solo parent.
Being a single parent means that it’s me and my children. All.The.Time. Alone. Missing an ingredient for dinner means packing everyone up in the car to go get it, or more likely just changing the dinner menu because it’s not worth the hassle. If someone gets sick late at night then everyone is going to CVS or Urgent Care at 11 p.m. or waiting until morning. If the dog needs to get walked at night then everyone is going together or the dog isn’t getting walked.
A night out with the girls means I am paying by the hour for a sitter to stay with my spawn. A charity event or just a sanity-saving beer quickly can be over $100 before I actually eat or drink anything. Sure, your spouse may be a total knucklehead at getting the kids to sleep when you’re out but it’s free. The stakes are higher when you pay to play: I really am forced to evaluate if that date is really worth it, or if I should just drink at home instead if I can get the kids down at a reasonable hour.
If you are a single parent and have elementary-school and younger aged kiddos, your weekends- depending on the season- may involve running between fields and parties and playdates. I spent last Spring sprinting between the indoor basketball court for the six-year-old and the outdoor baseball field for the eight-year-old, luckily both at the same park. “Luckily.” It was emotionally draining and cardiovascularly exhausting, but at least they were both in the same zip code. Inevitably, the child I wasn’t present for would score a basket or get on base the second I left to go see the other one. Both of my kids have been dragged to age-inappropriate birthday parties because I had no one with which to stash the sibling. As ages and interests change, it gets harder to find activities that appeal to both kids. There’s a lot of compromise. Which is a great life lesson, but it’s also really tiring when you’re the only parent making your kids learn it.
So while I have sympathy for any parent who’s going it alone for any length of time, realize that there is a difference between solo parenting and single parenting. Solo parenting offers a light at the end of the tunnel, the return of your parenting partner. Single parenting is forever, possibly. I can’t say for sure but I don’t think I’d hold my (fictional) future spouse to the same standard as I’d hold the kids biological father. Sure, he’d take on a parental role by being with me, but he wouldn’t be their actual parent. So those of you who are having a tough go at it while your significant other is gone for a signficant time period- or just out late at yet another meeting- good luck and God bless. And while you’re at it throw out a prayer for all us single ladies because you’ve still got a ring on it and help will be home soon, even if it doesn’t feel soon enough.