Only parenting

Mike and I were separated when he died, so mentally, I was prepared to be a single mom. I had been thinking about it for months before we the court order that removed him from my home.

I knew it would be difficult. I knew there would be challenges, but being the kind of overplanning-kind-of-person I am, I was ready to be a single mom.

Given his condition, I knew Mike wouldn’t have a dominant role for the first year or two, but he’d be “there” by phone or Skype or the occasional supervised visitation. But, hell, he was GOING to pull his shit together – he was going to get BETTER, or so I believed.

When he was better, he’d have weekends, holidays, summers with the kids. And then I’d have a free weekend, or a kid-less couple of weeks over the summer. I had plans with that “free” time.

Things don’t always go according to plan.

There’s a big difference between being a “single” mom and being an “only” parent. Differences I’m just starting to realize 10 months after Mike’s death.

Being an “only” is exhausting. There is no time away, no time to refresh, no downtime. You’re always “on” no matter how much you just want to be “off” for a while longer. There’s no end in sight, no waiting until the other parent’s weekend. I’m actually jealous of “single” parents.

Before Mike slipped into a bottle of vodka, we were a good team.

  • When I reached the end of my rope, he was still calm and rationale, and vice versa.
  • If he had a bad day at work and needed a break when he came home, I was there to take Ethan (Lauren was born AA – after alcoholism), entertain him, keep him away until Mike found his peace – and vice versa.
  • On weekends, one of us could always sleep in while the other handled breakfast and other morning rituals. For parents of kids who always wake up by 6 a.m., an extra hour or two of sleep can make or break the day.

We tagged-team parented a lot. It worked for us.

Since Mike’s death, I’ve learned to have more patience and that’s good. But patience only goes so far when there’s no parental backup – and I’m still nowhere near as patient as I should be.

I have a few friends who have volunteered to take the kids when I need a break. (One divorced mom friend even really “gets it.” She’s mentioned the “only” parent thing without me ever discussing it. I cried that someone acknowledged it!)

But I don’t like to ask for help. And if I did take my kids to a friend’s house or drop them off for a few hours, I’d probably be so worried about them, and feel so guilty that I NEEDED the break, that I wouldn’t be able to relax. (God, what if Ethan talks about how much beer his dad drank – which is a favorite topic of conversation right now? What if Lauren freaks out? Am I letting the kids down by needing an escape?)

Being an “only” parent isn’t where I thought I’d be, and I often wonder how I got here. But “only parent” is now our normal. I just need to get comfortable with it, figure it out, come to terms with it. I’m not complaining or asking for sympathy, just realizing there’s a big difference between the two distinctions. Being an “only” parent is what I am now.

10 thoughts on “Only parenting

  1. I’ve heard the term single mom used once or twice and it stings. I am still married. My husband isn’t here. I have to make all the decisions. No one else.

    Before my husband died, I was possessive of my daughter. Maybe I had a sense that he wasn’t right, I dont know. But I jealously guarded her, felt that I knew best. Now though, that seems such a heavy thing. There’s no one to ask, do you think I should call the pediatrician? Well there are people I could ask, but that’s seeking input. No one I could ask has decision making authority.

    And when i need a break, even to grieve, it’s not like leaving her with her other parent.

    • I’ve been told, “My husband’s gone this weekend so I’ll be a single parent for a few days. You know what that’s like!”

      Well, no I really don’t. I wish I had the guts to reply, “HE’S coming home. HE’S still ‘there.’ YOU only have deal with stuff for a few days. It’s not every day, all the time.”

      Thing is, I know I was guilty of saying things like this before Mike died. I don’t think people THINK about it differently. They just don’t know or understand.

  2. Honestly, I never thought about it that way…an “only” parent compared to a “single” parent. It is absolutely different, harder, with no relief possible from the absentee parent. Not for an hour, not for a day. The other parent will never be there for you to consult with, to discuss anything concerning your children.

    It really is much more complicated being an only parent.

    Thank you for introducing a new definition, for me, of a common word.

    • It is harder. I made plans with a group of people recently, and two of them preferred a specific weekend because “my ex will have the kids then.” Only parents don’t have a preferred weekend. Every weekend, every day, every hour it’s us. It’s more complicated and more difficult.

  3. While I’m not a parent, I can understand what you are talking about. Interestingly, my mom, who also became a widow this year, described to me that she feels “pressure” being the only parent now. My brother and I are adults. To me that says so much about the subtle ways (and obvious ones too), in which that other parent or partner provided support, or at least a little reprieve (which every parent needs and deserves). What strength it takes to be an only parent, and you are doing it.

  4. A message board I visit just was discussing a similar topic and one member’s post really upset me. The comment indicated that they had made mistakes previously but were married before having children and I guess this is a reason why this member wore a wedding ring for awhile. It went on to note that widows who are “only” parents are living in a bed they didn’t make. I dont think any of this was meant to be offensive, but I am an un-wed widow myself and have a child. It is difficult knowing where you fit. My fiancé had addiction problems and I found myself operating as a single parent really because he was not always capable of parenting but like you posted you don’t think he won’t get better you never think this would be the outcome. Difficult to find where you fit…I think how you describe it is really accurate…should refer to it as being an only parent instead.

    • laila63, I’m sorry for your loss and I feel your frustration. No matter the circumstances of how you became an only parent, the truth is that’s our new normal. In my situation (and maybe yours), there wasn’t a lot of support before the death, but you hope things will change. It’s an entirely different story after his death and you realize not only will he never get better but now you are truly alone to raise the kids and make ALL the decisions for their well being. It’s hard. It sucks. And it’s completely thankless.

    • This morning it hit me that he really wasn’t always presnet with us before he died; that he was drunk, or needing a drink, or hung over. So it feels like he left us, even before he died. He also got angry with me, said I was too possessive of her. But he wasn’t there for us, in the way he should have been, in te way I know he COULD have been. Sucks.

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