It’s Not a Temporary Situation: The Reality of Single Parenting
“My husband is working out of town this week, so I'm a single parent!” Every single parent has heard this phrase, or something very similar, probably more than once. On the outside, we may still be smiling, but on the inside, there's frustration, irritation, and a general sense of not being understood. If you've never experienced it, it's easy to assume that the actual time spent physically with your children is the biggest challenge to single parenting. But in reality, there's so much more than that.
The Mental Impact
Single parents are chronically stressed, and it's easy to see why. You're either doing the parenting thing totally alone in the case of an absentee parent, which puts all the emotional burden of raising children squarely on your shoulders. Or you're having to co-parent with your ex, which can be even worse. In a contentious situation, this can mean having to deal with the very person you spent a lot of time and money trying to get away from. Even in peaceful co-parenting situations — we're better friends than partners — you're still navigating two different sets of rules and two different household schedules, all while trying to keep that peace going. The emotional impact of single parenting is real. And unlike situations where one parent is working long hours or out of town, there's no one other than your dog to vent to at the end of the day.
The Physical Impact
All that stress has a physical impact, too. Single parents are also often getting less sleep — because there're hours of work to be taken care of after the kids go to bed and before the morning madness starts — and that means less energy and more crankiness. You probably also have less time to workout or even cook a decent meal. This can all lead to a snowball effect when it comes to your health. Bonus: If you do finally get full-blown sick, you still have to do everything. If you're lucky, your kids are old enough that you can get by with parenting from the couch. But if you have little ones, you just have to parent-up and get school uniforms in the laundry between heaving.
The reality is, there's no one to let you sleep in when you've had to work late. There's no one to pick up orange juice or ibuprofen on their way home from work (you'll have to just go without or drag all the kids with you). Some single parents are lucky enough to have a great support system of friends and family they can rely on in these situations. But there are also plenty who don't. And really, a great neighbor who can leave soup at your door is no replacement for a partner who can share the mental load or wash some dishes.
The Social Impact
In reality, being a single parent also has a huge impact on your social life. It can feel like you're stuck between two different groups. You feel like a third wheel when you hang out with your married friends. But you're also not quite up to the 2:00 a.m. bar crawl with your single friends … Even if you do miraculously manage to find a sitter.
Romantic relationships aren't any easier. Having kids in the picture ups the ante when it comes to choosing a partner. You have to think about how your children will react to a new significant other … And how they'll take it if things don't work out. That's assuming you have any energy or interest in another person left once you've gone to work, kept the house in livable condition, made sure everyone is clothed and fed, and taken 10 minutes to watch some Netflix before crashing into bed.
Here's to all you single parents out there.