What it’s Really Like to be a Single Parent

The other day I went to my doctor’s office for an appointment and was making small talk with the nurse. I told her about an upcoming solo vacation I was going on for a weekend, and the nurse asked me if I was taking my daughter. I told her no, she was with her dad that weekend.

“Oh,” she said. “So you can like get away and do things by yourself when she’s gone. Man, I wish I were divorced so I could get a break from my kids!”

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I thought of a couple sarcastic, semi humorous possible responses in my head, but chose not to verbally respond to her statement, knowing that it was probably more of a commentary of her sentiments about her own marriage and responsibilities, and less of a statement about divorce.

Because no one who has ever been divorced says stuff like that.

And what the nurse didn’t realize is what it’s REALLY like to be a single parent.

Preface: This is my perspective, based on a few different factors pertaining to my individual situation listed below.

    I am divorced and have my daughter alone about 75% of the time.
    For various reasons, I do not co-parent with her father. We have more of a “business relationship.”
    I do not have a partner in my home. It’s just me and my kid.

So in essence, I’m about to give you my take on single parenting from someone who is truly single parenting 75 % of the time to one child.

Here goes:

Single parenting is like living inside a computer that never turns off. There are many different tabs and programs open and only you can close them because you’re the one with the username and password and operating instructions. Oh, and the operating instructions are ones you have developed yourself based on your own experiences as a child except for you have to keep tweaking them as you realize your childhood and even your child is quite different than you. People may try to help you and sometimes you’re like oh my goodness, thank you for your help, YES, because your computer is so warmed up from running all the time, and you have all these different tabs open, like a tab for meals, clothing, homework, cleaning, extra curricular activities, one for trying to figure out tweens or toddlers, and not even mentioning the tabs for your own life.

In contrast, many homes with two involved parents have a computer they share. They exchange operating instructional notes. They both know how the computer works. And they can divide up the endless tabs and responsibilities. And sometimes one of them can say to the other, “I’m losing my patience with this kid we are trying to figure out. I need to walk away from the computer, so can you keep tabs on it while I go to the grocery store and get a mental break?”

But the single parent has to keep all the tabs open even when she or he wants a break. Any breaks taken from the computer are never, ever spontaneous. No one just randomly shows up at her door at the exact moment she needs a break. That doesn’t mean she or he never receives technical support to keep their computer up and running smoothly. But it does mean she is the only one responsible for running that computer. It is she who must make decisions and decide how to fix it most of the time.

It is the times when my child is most emotional that I feel the greatest responsibility of single parenting and running that computer. When she is devastated about a loss, or extremely excited or nervous about an upcoming event, or angry with me because she didn’t get her way, I feel her feelings and I hold space for her and I realize that THIS IS IT. I’m her emotional support and I have to be present. I have to help her process.

It is in those times that I sometimes literally fall to my knees and say, “Lord, lead me, because it’s just me and my heart leading this kid, and I don’t know what in the heck I’m doing. Give me wisdom and strength to bear this great responsibility.”

Here’s the thing, though: I cannot bear witness to the challenges of single parenting without bearing witnesses to the beauty in it.

I am no more proud of anything than I am of the work I do as a single parent. I am not doing it perfectly, but I am doing it. I know that there are times she wishes, as many children of divorced parents do, that her parents were not divorced. What she doesn’t know, and may never know, is that I fought very hard to save my marriage to the point that I had lost myself completely in another person.

However, I found myself as a mother when I had the freedom to be me. I found myself when my daughter was two years old, woke up vomiting in the middle of the night, and cried for me. I found myself when she was three years old and fell running at the pool and got a concussion, and I scooped her up off the ground and rushed her to the doctor. I found myself when I took her to a child psychologist at the age of four because I was so worried I had no idea what I was doing raising this strong willed, vibrant little girl. I found myself when she received straight As all year long and won an award, and I was the sole person there to support her. I found myself when she got in big trouble in first grade for throwing her shoe over the fence during recess and she went the rest of the school day wearing one shoe.

In a million and one ways, I FOUND myself due to parenting my daughter alone.

And while I do not wish the challenges that come with divorce or single parenting on anyone, I am grateful for the million and one ways that the experience of single parenting has forced me to find myself.

With great responsibility, also comes a great reward, if you are simply willing to find yourself in the midst of the hard stuff.

Let Them BE

About six years ago, I was sitting in my therapist’s office, discussing a new relationship. She made a statement to me that made NO sense to me at the time, and yet something inside of me believed it could be true, simply because of the fact that she was WAY smarter than me.

“The highest level we can achieve in our relationships, is when we have the ability to stand alone in the presence of another,” she said.

What in the whatity what? Like what in the actual heck are you TALKING ABOUT? I looked at her like as if she had grown two heads–this was one I wasn’t even going to ask her to explain. It was too…BIZARRE. And what fresh hell is this in re: to dating? You mean I have to stand alone even if I’m dating someone? I’d rather run away from someone than have to show up as I am and be alone in his presence. What is this crappy alternative universe she is speaking of and how can I make sure I NEVER GO THERE?

Those ⬆️ were my thoughts.

And yet..here is where I want to go with this today. Today is right now. 7:51 pm on February 19. I am thinking about this alternative universe my therapist mentioned, where people can stand alone in the presence of another, and I can still honestly say that it feels just plain WEIRD to me that this is even possible.

AND YET

… I now believe in different things: I believe in BEING STILL with the stupid negative feelings that come up. I am still sometimes afraid of pain or rejection or even intimacy, but I know I can tolerate them so I SIT with them and sometimes I EVEN SIT WITH THEM IN THE PRESENCE OF A FREAKING OTHER PERSON. Which is still not fun, but I CAN DO IT, which is the weirdest thing ever.

This is what it’s like: Here I am, living my life, joyfully, or sometimes not so joyfully, doing my thing. “Doing my thing” basically means BEING MYSELF. Showing up as me. And then, in the midst of me doing my thing, someone else tells me or shows me in his or her actions that he or she doesn’t like my thing-whether it’s the way I express myself or my belief system or even the way I look or show up to him or her.

And this hurts when they communicate this to me. Because that’s how I’m wired– I am wired to care about people and thereby I sometimes care a little too much about what they think.

But I can TOLERATE the discomfort of the disagreement. I can still stand as myself, being myself, allowing myself to be who I am.

And furthermore, I am allowing the other party involved to BE WHO THEY ARE.

And here is what I now KNOW to be true:

WE MUST LET PEOPLE BE WHO THEY ARE. LET. THEM. BE. WHO. THEY. ARE.

Let them BE who they are.

And know that you CAN still stand in their presence.

This is how this *could* look in various relationships:

Scenario 1: Pretend I’m married. My husband always forgets to turn off the coffee pot in the mornings and this drives me crazy. I keep telling him to do it and he keeps forgetting or maybe just plain doesn’t want to. Instead of continuing to get angry, I let him be who he is. I start turning off the damn coffee pot because it’s important TO ME.

Scenario 2: Pretend I have two kids who are angels. Then I suddenly give birth to a third who is literally hell on wheels. I say go left, he goes right. He is HARRRD to parent. But I continue to show up as I am in my parenting and exercise my beliefs and values in the way I teach him and treat him. He continues to show up as himself in his strong willed, yet sensitive nature. We butt heads, but we still ALLOW each other to be who they are WHILE still enforcing the boundaries and teachings that as parents we must enforce.

Scenario 3: Pretend I am dating a man who has a lot of qualities I like. And he has some other qualities, that, while are not deal breakers, are TRIGGERS for me. So that basically means that he’s a human being who is just minding his business and being himself, but then I text him something and he doesn’t respond to it, and I am triggered. It is at this moment that I have choices. I can text him in anger, asking for a response. I can text him with a humorous, playful tone, but still with the express intent of getting a response. (Which can actually be controlling since I am texting him as a way to diffuse my triggered emotion, instead of just owning that emotion MYSELF). Or, I can LET HIM BE who he is. And do nothing, unless I am sure I am responding from a place of love, instead of a place of being triggered.

You see, we ALL have our triggers, and we have to OWN them. Another wise person once told me, “What other people think of you has nothing to do with you,” and I thought that she had grown two heads too. But guess what?? She actually only has one head and she’s right. If someone doesn’t like how I show up in this world, that’s about THEM. If I don’t like another person, or if I feel “triggered” by them, that’s ALWAYS about me. It’s never about them. They are just doing their thing.

We have to allow the people in our difficult relationships to be who they are. And that may mean that we sometimes take a break from them, and that’s called self care. It’s also called “being still” until you are confident you are interacting in a spirit of love, instead of fear.

It’s a tricky thing. Because it involves being yourself 100 percent of the time and staying true to you, while simultaneously showing the utmost respect to a person who is 100 percent being who they are in this world.

If we could all do this… even just SOMETIMES. We maybe could teach others in our world what it’s like to respect humanity. What it’s like to be true to who you are, not betray your values, while also allowing someone to be who he or she is, and not taking his or her behavior personally.

This involves knowing ourselves. Knowing what rubs us the wrong way. And then digging deeper with that. What’s under that feeling? What thought or belief is behind your experience? Why do you feel that way?

While all the while, remembering that the highest form of relationship and love you can show to another person and to yourself is to be willing to stand alone and stay true to you, while still standing in their freaking presence. 😳

It’s so hard. Yet so easy. And I’m convinced it’s the best way. But you can disagree with me and still stand next to me and I will still love you.

(Picture in my house I look at every morning before I get in the shower. And I sometimes even pray, “Dear God, help me to love others just as they are. Just the way they show up, while still being true to me. πŸ™πŸ½)

The Cave

When you decide to walk through the dark caves, searching for light, you may eventually find that you ARE the light.

On a sunny day in April of the year 2006, I woke up in a cave.

My body was aching and asking me to pay attention to it. But I didn’t, and I went to work anyways. I felt nauseated and weak. I went to the school nurse’s office and she took my temperature. It was 102 degrees. My principal told me to go home.

As I was walking out of the building, a colleague stopped me. I told her I was very sick. She said she would pray for me, and I asked her how she was doing, as I was getting into my car, and she paused to tell me she was feeling sad. Why? I asked her. She then told me that her sister-in-law was filing for divorce because her husband was having an affair. When I asked how she knew he was having an affair, she said, “He was often out late at night, came home drunk, and made excuses about feeling depressed and needing time with his friends.”

In my fogged-up, feverish state, I told her I was so sorry about her sister in law and that I would hopefully see her Monday and we could chat more.

As I was driving away, the pit in my stomach abruptly felt as if it were bottoming out. I was no longer nauseous. I was STARVING. I am embarrassed to say I drove through a Culver’s drivethru and ordered a big, greasy cheeseburger. I went home and devoured it and took Tylenol and went to sleep.

As I drifted in and out of dreams, my skin vascillated between chills and sweats. My thoughts went to the story my colleague had told me about the family member whose husband was having an affair. I knew why the pit in my stomach had bottomed out. The pit had cracked open from hearing the truth: I was that woman, too.

My body was ready to feel this truth. It was so exhausted from lies. But my spirit wasn’t.  It was in fight or flight mode. I tossed and turned in my feverish stupor, and finally went back to sleep.

I began to dream. I dreamt that my husband was drowning, and I was trying to resuscitate him, but he asked me to let go of him. Under the water, he called to me, “I’m having an affair. Let me go.” I let go and watched him sink further into the water.

As I continued to dream, my fever broke. My body jolted awake in a sweat. I remember sitting straight up in bed, completely clear-headed, yet terrified.

I called my mom.

“He’s having an affair,” I blurted out. “I know it because I dreamed it! And my friend, she said it happened to her sister in law-that’s what’s happening to me!! I know it. But I can’t prove it.  What should I do?  Should I hire a private investigator?”

My mom listened. She didn’t think I was insane. She knew I had been searching for answers as to what was feeling “off” in my marriage. But, she knew I was afraid and told me, “God has already shown you so much. Don’t go out and investigate any more. God will continue to reveal the truth in the time that you need to know.”

After I hung up the phone, I started to pray. I prayed so hard for truth. I prayed for more information. I prayed that I wasn’t crazy. And as I was praying, I suddenly heard a voice–a voice that I believe to be God–who spoke to me and said, “Go check your mail.”

And here’s the freaking thing…as I’m walking to my mailbox, I KNEW I WOULD FIND SOMETHING SIGNIFICANT THERE. I was awake, yet zombielike. In that walk to my mailbox, I was feeling like every sensation I felt, every person I passed, and every detail I noticed was a sign, pointing me in the direction of truth.

I went to the mailbox, turned the mailbox key, and a piece of mail fell out from a jewelry store. It was addressed to my husband, and looked like a bill. I opened it up, and was not surprised to see a credit card bill with several hundred dollars worth of necklaces, bracelets, and jewelry purchased that wasn’t for me.

I held this bill close to me. It felt important, almost sacred. Here I was, holding a piece of gold in my hand that was pure truth. I went upstairs, and once again, I heard the voice saying,  “Go to the computer.” I sat down at the computer, and looked up our cell phone bill online and pulled up my husband’s phone line. There was one number on there repeatedly at all hours of the day and night that I didn’t recognize. I called it.

A woman’s voicemail came on.

“Hi, this is Maricela. I can’t take your call right now, but leave a message and I’ll get back to you.”

I didn’t know a person named Maricela. But I ascertained that my husband knew her very well.

The rest of the weekend, I curled up in a ball and cried and ached and talked to my family. My husband had told me he was going to Chicago for a concert that weekend.  I called him many times, but he never answered. I didn’t know what I was going to say or do. I just knew that this truth was crumbling everything I had been clinging to and destroying it. This truth wanted to break me from my attachment to my husband, because that’s what the truth does-it breaks you wide freaking open and you can’t hide. Or run. Or really do anything, except for sit with it until it’s taught you what you need to know.

The next day was Easter. I didn’t go to church. It was a sunny day, yet I couldn’t move. I didn’t eat. I sat in the darkness of my bedroom, wondering what was about to happen. I had been split right open in the course of 24 hours with a truth that felt so threatening to me; however God had revealed it in such a precise manner that it was impossible to ignore.

This was the beginning of a spiritual awakening.  I did not go gently into that goddamn night, though.  I went on to wrestle with the truth and what it meant to be awake.  I even went on to have a baby with this person.  That’s right:  I ignored the truth and hoped that a child would change it.  But I discovered that as I fought that truth, it continued to fight right back.  And this moment in April when I was curled up in a fetal position in my bedroom in Madison, Wisconsin was only the beginning of the fight.  My husband’s affair was pure PAIN for me. But it was only a thread of the truth that was about to unravel before me.

The good news is this: once it unravels, there are treasures to be found.  You just have to be willing to enter the darkness to find the light.