When I think about my own mom, which is often thanks to her general all-around awesomeness, there is one thought that I can’t help circling back to.
It wasn’t that she made the absolute best grilled cheese sandwiches, cut into quarters, with the cheese oozing out from every side, and a big mound of Fritos in the middle. Or that every single solitary time I was ever sick — rain or shine — she humped it over to my favorite pizza place and got me a piping-hot cheese pizza (somehow never letting it get cold on the drive home).
It wasn’t even that she tirelessly Con-Tact papered and carpeted all the rooms of my dollhouse every time I changed my mind and wanted a different color scheme.
(Too often.) Or that, even though she might have been exhausted or frustrated or overextended, she always slapped a smile on her face and got down on her hands and knees to play Barbie with me on my bedroom floor.
The thought I often come back to is that she did everything she did as a single parent. Let me tell you, as the mom of two girls who has a rock-solid guy as my wingman, I just can’t fathom what it must’ve been like to be that single parent who carried the whole load. Every minute of every day. Year after year.
Cause we’re talking like ev-er-y-thing. And that’s because the single parent owns all the carpooling and shopping and cooking and housework and nurturing and all the stuff in between. The single parent is like the Sherpa who carries the hiker’s gear all the way up K2, while the hiker gets to check out the view and meander her way up the South East Ridge, unencumbered by all the extra crap.
Look, those of us with kids know that, even on a good day, parenting can be a thankless job, especially when our kids are young.
But single parenting? Well that’s a category unto itself. Single parents are on call for the long haul. No time off, no pinch-hitters, no understudies. In fact, it almost seems impossible that one single mom or dad could juggle it all successfully, yet many do, and they do it in exceptional ways that defy explanation.
Looking back now, through the eyes of a parent, I have no idea how my mother kept all those balls in the air without ever letting a single one hit the pavement. Granted, she had only one kid, but that didn’t matter because my elderly grandmother moved in when I was 12 and Mom took care of her too.
So, I feel like we can almost count Grandma as another kid. Oh yeah, and she was also working during the day and going to college at night to get her degree. (She actually did all of her homework at four o’clock in the morning to fit it all in.)
There are many stories like that out there.
Now, in my mom’s case, she didn’t exactly sign on to be a single mom raising a child alone. Just like so many other single parents who were married or in a relationship with someone one day and then single the next, she was happily married to my dad for almost 20 years. Unfortunately, the universe had other plans, and he died right before his forty-sixth birthday.
That was the day when my mom inherited every decision, every stress, and every responsibility associated with keeping our little family together. That was the day she found herself in the same position as so many other single parents out there who’ve lost a spouse or gotten divorced or chosen to go it alone.
That’s the part that blows my mind. Whether you’re the single dad or the widow or the divorcee, it’s all you, all the time. Whether your head is in the game or not. Whether you’re craving alone time or not. Whether you’ve got a fever of 102 degrees and you’re hugging the toilet bowl, or not. Raising a family as a single parent means you put yourself last on most days.
That’s why I think you all deserve some major props for being everything to your kids, day in, day out. Even though your kids may not be aware of how heavy your load is right now, they will be. One day, when they’re grown-ups themselves, they’ll get it, and it’s going to cause a shift in the way they think about you. It’s going to grow the respect they have for you exponentially.
So, as a kid who was raised by a single mom, I just want the single parents out there to know (including and especially my own) that we know what you do, and we love you for it. (Or at least we will once we mature a little.)
For more from Lisa Sugarman, visit LisaSugarman.com and Twitter and click here for an exclusive offer to pre-order her upcoming book Untying Parent Anxiety.