I never really fully appreciated the struggles of being a single parent until I became one. And no, this is not a recent thing. Officially yes (2 years now), but figuratively speaking I have been a single parent for a large part of my children’s lives, as my (now ex) husband travelled for work and was only home on weekends, leaving me with bulk of the parenting. (I am not taking anything away from his own struggles at not being able to be home with us and having to work away, week in and week out – it was not an ideal situation for either of us.).
I am a single mother and I’m putting my hand up. Yes, the struggle is indeed real.
I can manage the mornings, the school run, the parent school commitments, the afternoon school pick-ups, the crazy hour, the crazy-crazy hour, the “I’ve lost my shit and crazy seems like a distant memory – hour”. I can manage the weekends; the mammoth 48 hour stretch of 15min time slots to plan and fill for fear of us all ending up whiny and whingy and bored and in each other faces.
But what I cannot do is manage it ALL the time.
The responsibility of single parenting is exhausting and unrelenting. However, in order for me to have a break, I need to arrange for the nanny to stay, or get a sitter, or fly my mother to Cape Town for a long weekend. And then, because I have gone to that length and expense, I might as well make a meal of it. I make plans to go out all morning, or all night.
Or, I have situations like now, where the kids are having their annual summer break with their dad. Last year it was one week. This time for two weeks. Two weeks! No kids, no parenting at all, for 336 hours. While that sounds like bliss, and in the beginning, I’m not going to lie, it was, guilt pitches up unannounced and uninvited I might add. I miss being a mom. And I feel guilty for not being with them. I feel like a bad mom for going out, being carefree and having fun. I feel like I have abandoned them. I know I know, it sounds crazy, as they are with their dad and having a great time and are being loved and cared for. But still, I am sure these crazy irrational guilty mom thoughts are automatically invited to all events and occasions as standard.
Sometimes I don’t want to go out all day or all night long, or away from home for a week. Sometimes, what I actually want, every now and then, is to have; an uninterrupted bubble bath, (emphasis on the uninterrupted part) or read a book with a hot cup of tea that I haven’t had to reheat, or reread the same sentence all afternoon, or go for a run, do a workout session, or dare I even say it? A nap? I want to enjoy watching my kids play and not have to be the one getting the lunch, making the snacks, pouring the juice, and picking up the toys for them as well. It would be so nice to be able to put them to bed without playing ping pong between their bedrooms, promising one I will be back in 5 minutes and then promising the other the same thing, going back and forth, back and forth, tickling and cuddling, then pausing to tickle and cuddle the other.
I’m either a single parent for what feels like 336 consecutive days without reprieve or I am a single woman, footloose and fancy free for 336 hours, all the while trying to “bank” these carefree days filled with sleep and solitude so I can draw on them during the rest of the year. If only it worked like that.
It’s all or nothing.
And for me, therein lies the single parenting struggle.
Knowing that the responsibility of raising our beautiful children sits solely on my shoulders is a heavy burden, and one that gets heavier and heavier as each week passes where I don’t get any reprieve until it feels overwhelming, then crushing and sometimes, yes, I get to that point where I feel I can’t breathe.
I know that with some time off to fill up my cup, to have a moment, the breathing becomes easier, the load lighter. I just don’t always know when that will be. I know I need to be kind to myself but honestly, I struggle with this, as where is that balance of being the best mother I can be and being a selfish mom? When is it that I deserve that morning off to do Pilates, find a new breakfast spot with a new way of serving avo on artisanal rye bread, or sitting on the beach – pretending I am in some picturesque South Carolina spot – losing myself in a Nicholas Sparks novel? When is it deemed selfish, “abandoning my children” to steal some time for me, not related to parenthood? Were we given a contract to sign on the birth of our offspring where this was stipulated? Was feeling guilty about anything non-parent related mentioned in the fine print?
I don’t know the answers. Some days I feel like I’ve nailed It. It all seems smooth and seamless and just flows beautifully and I may even go so far as to pat myself on the back. Ok ok I admit being a single full-time working parent with two strong-willed children, that scenario almost never happens. But occasionally it does, and I bask in the blissful parenting glow. Other days – ok let’s get real here – most days, I feel I am treading mud and bed time can’t come fast enough, only to wake up and have to repeat it all over again.
What I do know is that when I feel the strain of single parenting taking its toll, there is no one around to tell me to rest, go out or to be kind to myself. That is all on me and if I don’t do something about it, the grumpy dragon mom rears its ugly head, and trust me, no one wants that.
And so, I am trying hard and learning to embrace the time off, as and when I do get it, be it 36 or 336 hours. I am also making myself a promise to schedule in a few hour’s break when required.
And most importantly, the mom guilt is no longer invited to my little restorative soirées.