What does it mean to be a single parent?

As a freelance writer—and I use the term loosely, I abhor lists. All of those cliché standard lists that start with titles like, TOP 10 tips, 14 Things, 12 Ways, 4 Items, etc. I once viewed them all as cheap and uncreative ways to fill a page. But…I now read them and I do so frequently. I’ve grown quite fond of them. Because I have a short attention span, if there’s important information that I need to know and I can receive it in short numbered or bullet format, Im more likely to continue reading it.

When I started this project I wanted to write a powerful, demonstrative piece of work. I wanted readers to gain something. I also wanted to share a piece of myself without exactly throwing myself on stage to be picked apart (that usually happens to writers who offer a first person POV). So I started penning the thoughts and the ideas began to fly in faster than I could write them all down. I have no clue what I did with my digital voice recorder and I wasn’t thinking of using my phone at the time. So what did I do? I started a short abbreviated list. That list morphed into an outline and that outline became a flowchart, and that flowchart finalized itself into a list again. What a transformation!

In the words of everyone who has run out of ways to preface their catastrophe, Just Roll With Me On This One.

What does it mean to be a single parent? It varies. It varies on who you ask and at what stage of parenting they’re in but below are a few of the many highlights.

What does it mean to be a single parent?

It means:

  • Being the first and possibly the only person to be asked difficult questions. THIS IS A LIST THAT CAN LITERALLY GO ON AND ON. AND IT DOES!
  • Being your child’s teacher and parent. Learning starts at home. And let’s face it. Public school is NOT what it used to be. When you’ve worked all day and come home to your child—unless you have the funds to hire a tutor, you have to be their teacher at home. Helping with homework, projects as well as participating in their school. It’s a lot for one person. It’s a lot for two people but it’s easier to tackle as a team.
  • Being the only fighter… as your child’s parent you are their first advocate and protector. You are responsible for their well-being and defense. When they are under attack, so are you and you must fight. Even when you know you cannot win, you have to show your child and the rest of the world that you are willing to stand and defend your child at all costs. Even when your child is wrong, you have to fight for the lesson to be learned from their mistake.
  • Always being the bad guy. The word NO is hard for some people to say. Its especially hard to say to your child(ren). That difficulty intensifies when you are the only person saying NO. You have to be the bad guy by default. No one wants to be the bad guy and they definitely don’t want to be the bad guy all of the time.
  • Being the sole financial provider. Money doesn’t flow from faucets. Even if you are financially well off, being the parental money tree gets old. Children aren’t free to maintain. As they grow, so do their needs and wants, most of which require financial support.
  • Being afraid that you will fail… We all have fears, whether we admit it or not, we all have them. My biggest fear is failing as a parent. Who/what determines if you failed or not? Ive summed it up to the simplest outcome possible for my own standard and that’s my ability to raise a child that can function on his/her own, respects a peaceful higher power, can defend themselves, respect and values the lives of others, and can provide for themselves. Raising a child that does not have these qualities at a bare minimum (without a disability preventing them from doing so) equals FAILURE—at lease for me it does. My underlying fear of failing as a parent is raising an ax murderer…or a murderer in general. No one wants that.
  • Being a loner by force…Single Parents aren’t contagious, for some odd reason people seem to think that when you become parent, especially a single parent, you are a leper. They stop calling because “I didn’t think you had a babysitter”, “I thought you’d be busy”, “I didn’t think you wanted company around your kid?” All of those things equate to them distancing themselves and the distance feels like they are avoiding catching what you have. They probably have good intentions but they fall short.
  • Being stereotyped. Its an annoyance for most people but being stereotyped as a single parent has to rank very close to the top of the list. Society often views minority mothers and fathers as societal and economic burdens. Their first thought is often that he/she has had children out of wedlock, as a teen, etc and he/she is living on government assistance. They are rarely viewed in a broad spectrum. This stereotype follows minority single parents from work, to school, home, in public, and even church—the one place that you’d think people are the least judgmental.
  • Being the only influence. This is difficult because as a parent, making a mistake in front of your child(ren) is a vulnerable experience. Your children are watching and you don’t want them to mimic your behavior or lose faith in your leadership. But mistakes happen and its not the end of the world even if your children see you fall. The win is not staying down after you’ve fallen but showing them you can get back up and hold your head high.
  • Being the energizer bunny. Sometimes you have to keep going and going and going and going, going to work, school, practice, home, work, school, doctor, home, store, kitchen, cooking, spending. Sometimes your life can be a series of commas, ellipses, and no periods, indentions, and no breaks. If you do manage to get a break, its likely not a scheduled break or opportunity to relax and decompress its likely because you succumbed to the exhaustion and you’ve completely broken down. In which case it’s not called a break but a BREAKDOWN.
  • Struggling to fill a void that you cannot fill. When one or both parents are missing and you happen to be the single parent of the aforementioned’s offspring, you have some pretty big shoes to fill. You’re in the middle of a very difficult algebraic expression….solving for the missing variable. You cant make AWOL parents reappear if they don’t want to and you cant restore the hearts of the children that long for their presence. You can only do your best to fill them with the love you have for them and hope that it’s  enough.
  • Have a cape…somewhere somehow, you must become a superhero at the drop of an icecream cone. Children have high expectations, when you’re the ONLY one…sometimes you have to make miracles happen. Halloween, no extra money for a costume. You’ll likely have to sew one and hope it turns out like the one in the book/store. Bake those cookies just right. Make the pain go away, and you better not show an ounce of fear. You must save the day, cape on, chin up!
  • Having to prove yourself as not being a statistic. This one kind of doubles along with the stereotype. But parenting is hard and that difficulty multiplies when you’re the only one and the world is looking, watching, waiting for you to screw up so what do you do? You work your ass off to prove them wrong! You will not screw up. You will do whatever, however, and as much as needed to show them that single parenting does not automatically equate to a catastrophe of reproduction.
  • using your vacation days as “my son/daughter is sick” days because there’s no one else to stay home with him/her
  • explaining yourself as a single parent. Maybe you chose to do so, maybe the relationship didnt work out, maybe you and your spouse are divorced

Single parenting is a world of its own but its not all bad. While it may often seem like the dark cloud is always hovering above, the sun that shines between the cracks in those clouds is absolutely life changing and beyond rewarding. Parenting is difficult by virtue of its hard work and uncertainty but Im sure several parents (no matter what their situation) would agree that the job its best done as a team.

It takes a village to raise a child. ~African Proverb


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