I read a headline the other day about a single woman adopting a set of 6 sisters, and I thought, wow, what an amazing thing to do. She fostered them and wanted to keep the sisters together (you know, it’s National Foster Care Awareness Month). It’s a great thing to do. It’s also a very difficult thing to do.
There’s a growing number of women parenting “by choice,” with rates rising in particular for women over the age of 35 (you know, like me 🙂 ). There is no accident or illness or divorce that left us with our hands full of kids. Instead, we decided for a whole host of reasons that we could and should become a parent.
My decision was more a natural flow from having fostered a child for 18 months and being given the option of adopting. I can’t say it required much decision-making. I already felt like his mother. I already acted like his mother. It was the choice that I wanted. I could not have foretold eight years later when I’m now parenting three young boys, that I would spend so much time contemplating my choice.
So here are a few thoughts on the challenges of single parenting.
- You are it. The final word. The absolute decision maker. Whether that’s sitting in your kid’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting and deciding what is the “best classroom” option for your 7-year-old, or deciding whether or not you will move ahead with eye surgery for the 5-year-old who’s eye wanders on oblique gaze, you are it. Figuring out what school district would best meet the needs of the kids. Which toothbrush to buy. What to make for dinner. Do we start karate or not? Replace the TV or leave it broken? Everything. Sure, I have a lot of support. I have many friends and family to bounce ideas off and get advice. But the final decision is mine. Sometimes that’s nice and sometimes that’s scary.
- When you are way beyond tired, have hit your limit, or are otherwise just “done” with the day….there’s still three little boys. They still need dinner. They still have sports activities or homework to get to. They still need a bath. They still want you to read them a bedtime story even if your eyes sting with exhaustion. They’re really not concerned about how you’re feeling. No, they’re not.
- If you want to get away, you have to line up a babysitter. For anything. A night out. The grocery store. A work meeting. Getting some exercise. And finding a sitter can take time and make you much less spontaneous than you’d like to be sometimes. And sitters make every activity or event more expensive as you count up the number of hours you’ve entrusted someone to care for the kids! I used to be a night-owl, now I dash home as quickly as I can.
- Your phone is always on you. Always. If the school calls or the daycare center number shows up on your “silenced” screen, you answer it. Always. If you’re running the marathon relay, you answer it. Always. You never know when one of the boys is heading to the emergency room.
- You worry about getting seriously ill or in an accident yourself and who would take care of the boys. On days when you’re not well, you set your alarm every 15 minutes to get out of bed to make sure they haven’t broken a bone or a lamp. You let them fall asleep with their Kindles in hand as long as they’re giving you some peace and quiet. And, you actually make your doctor appointments and think about your health a little bit (see, there is a benefit!).
- You get to be the “Bad Guy” every….single….time. You get good guy times too, but you are always the Bad Guy. Always the Meanest Mommy in the Whole World. There is no “wait till your father gets home” or “go ask your Mom.” You have to decide in the moment and have your yeses be yeses, and your noes be noes. Constant discipline, constant evaluation of your discipline technique, constant enforcement….it’s pretty draining.
- When you are stressed or tired or happy or sad, there’s no buffer for your emotions. There’s no one to assist with a little “honey, why don’t I take the kids for a bit?” And the kids have started to figure this out. “Hey, Little Guy, you probably want to listen to Mom before she gets really mad at you,” I overheard Super Tall Guy recently advise his little brother. Yeah, think about it little dude, we’re this close….this close…
- You have such pressure to be there at all the kids’ events and activities, because there’s no other parent to make it to the games or the concert, or the school play. I altered my first job as a physician because I was expected to be rounding in the hospital on Christmas morning and that wasn’t going to work for me when I was the only parent the boys had for Christmas morning. There are a lot of sacrifices, a lot of guilt and a lot of trying hard to make it all work, but it doesn’t always.
- You worry about job security even when you’re a well-educated, “marketable” person. You realize that your income alone is spread among you and the kids and mostly your income is for the kids. I can’t remember the last thing I bought for myself other than socks (and paying that “babysitter” to get away for a few hours).
- You have to maintain everything about the lives of three other individuals in your head at all times (this on top of work responsibilities, friends, your own junk, etc). What do they need for school (“a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke, Mom, for the experiment”) and what homework is due when. When was the last doctor’s appointment? Is the prescription ready to pick up? What’s their birth date? Who has soccer, baseball, Tumbling & Trampoline, gymnastics, flag football and karate when? Did they eat any fruit today? Did I RSVP to that party for Super Tall Guy? What’s their shoe sizes for when you come upon a sale? And the hardest thing of all – what “consequence” did I tell which kid that he had after school today?!?!
- Oh, and a “Bonus” one: You are eternally grateful for your family and friends who jump in when you need help. You realize the importance of living in and being in community and the need to nourish and tend to those relationships. Despite being a strong introvert and wanting more “quiet time,” I’m grateful that there’s people nearby just in case….
And lastly, when you’re single-parenting, you just want people to understand how complicated it is. That even if this situation was and is my “choice,” it doesn’t make it any “easier.” Like most parents, I’m doing my best at the moment. Some days can get pretty dark and draining and tiring and you’re just putting one foot in front of the other and making it through. But you do make it through. So know that I sure appreciate everyone’s encouragement and support and patience when I’m not as available as I used to be or as fun as I used to be.
But hang around, I’m still here. I’m learning, I’m growing, I’m parenting. It’s a good thing (and these little guys better appreciate it some day!). Because I love them enough to do this.