Plight of the Single Parent
I’ve been lone parent for time periods that lasted many years. In the first instance, I divorced my husband and raised my first child from the time she was five months of age until I remarried—when she was six. Her father was not in her life for any of her milestone events—in fact, he was not even a sporadic visitor.
During those early years, I recall getting up at 5 a.m. (readying myself first so that I could focus on her), dressing her, and getting her supplies ready for her day at the babysitter’s. It was the era before public day care was readily available, and I brought her the twenty minutes across town to a babysitter who had her own five children. When I started my work day at school, I’d already been in overdrive for three hours.
In the wintertime, I carried her into a pitch black parking lot to a frigid car where I had to buckle her into a cold car seat, before I even dealt with the ice that had formed on the car’s floorboards from water that leaked in via cracked weather stripping around the windows.
I desperately needed a new car, but I had no money—strained as we were on my schoolteacher pay. When the car broke down (as it did many times), friends picked us up, and we watched the car towed away. On one occasion, the heater coil quit on the car’s radiator and water sloshed into the car, wicking up my bell-bottom pants and showing a blue/green line of antifreeze on the cream-colored fabric. Money was always in short supply, and I frequently needed to take on tutorial jobs, waitressing, etc., just to get by.
During those years, she got sick often, and I needed to take many days out of work. Finally, a bout of scarlet fever sent her to her grandparents’ for a bit more attention then usual. The year she was finally old enough for half days at kindergarten, I made arrangements to have her picked up and dropped off at their home, since I was unavailable for her abbreviated schedule. But I, alone, did the shuttling to the doctor’s, to sports practices and games, to dance rehearsals, to church events, and to friends’ homes.
And then I got to do it all over again, with a second child … ten years later.
Single parenting (round two) came on the heels of the death of my second husband who fought terminal illness for two years. He sought chemotherapy, hospitalization, and radiation, only to succumb eventually. We in his family suffered the brutality of that disease as well.
With his death, I’d raise two children alone. The older one was now fifteen, and the other was five.
What do I remember most as single parent? I remember the countless occasions I needed to bundle up a sleepy toddler at night to go to the store for the milk I’d forgotten for morning. I remember the middle of the night occasions I stressed at being alone, faced with a child spiking a high fever, wondering how I’d drive her to a hospital while comforting her at the same time.
As they got older, I hated being lone enforcer of rules, the one who had to make the hard decisions. School events (where they performed) were always difficult when I sat alone, noting parent pairs together, chatting amicably. Finally, there were all those open houses, which this parent attended, after her own long work day teaching classes.
I remember the screaming fits, too. Those times when I lost it, too drained to do it anymore. Those were the years of adolescent wars, when my daughters—as teens—demanded ever more freedom, while I tried to hold the line.
You see, as single parent during that period, there was never an instance of two parents in the wee hours, commiserating. There was no hand-holding, no body hugs, no telling one another “We’ll get through this” (even though it’s impossibly hard). In the stark light of day, there was only ever that aggrieved teen, still smarting from the night’s battle, still hating her parent (me).
The silence of those times hurt more than the fury.
In later years, there were the trips to unfamiliar towns and cities, to check suitability of colleges and universities. Sometimes, this parent drove hundreds of miles alone, following the drop off one at a school. One night saw me seeing double on the New Jersey Turnpike, following an eight-hour drive from Pittsburgh to New England, following my helping one daughter move into her dorm in 95-degree heat. I didn’t want to stop, but I had no choice: It was either that or go off the road or into oncoming traffic.
When it came time for the younger one to go to school, I crossed international borders (she went to McGill in Canada).
Father’s Day was always mindful of what we never had, and Christmases were less than cheery in a home whose lone players were mother and children (in stark opposition to those endearing Norman Rockwell scenes).
The single parent has a lone road to walk. If she reaps success and her children are productive members of society, no one thinks twice about how that happened.
But, if those children fail, she alone is held accountable (even if it’s not fair).
Biddy salutes single parents everywhere who try hard each day to make up for the significant absence of that other vital player in their children’s lives. Those of us who have walked that road recognize your considerable efforts.
Originally published on Biddybites.com