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Single parenting is (NOT) a piece of cake

May 20, 2016

A while back, a friend of mine made a comment about “actually working a full-time job” and therefore not having time to cook all his food from scratch as I do. Even though I know the comment was unintentional, it stung because it reflects a pervasive and damaging assumption in our society that women who choose to “just” be moms must have it pretty easy.

I can’t speak for other moms, but I can assure you that parenting is the hardest endeavor that I have ever undertaken in my lifetime. Working a full-time job while completing a master’s degree, which I did before I had my two girls, was a walk in the park by comparison (and, just for the record, I managed to prepare all my food from scratch then, too). I may have had to put in an eight-hour workday and then come home to more reading and writing when I was in grad school, but at least when I shut the lights out at bedtime I knew I could sleep through the night.

Now God only knows whether a child—or two—will wake me at some point during my slumber, or will crawl in bed with me an hour earlier than expected, cutting off crucial sleep I had anticipated accruing. And I can definitely forget going to bed on time, especially when I have to spend an hour or more camped in the hallway each night ensuring that my three-year-old doesn’t keep jumping out of bed after I lay her down to sleep. Losing one of the two hours I give myself between their bedtime and mine means either not getting enough sleep or not getting done the backlog of chores that have accrued throughout my day of feeding children, changing clothes and diapers, emptying training potties, cleaning up spills, doing laundry, playing games, refereeing spats, … you get the impression.

Oh, and those meals from scratch? Dinners that used to take me an hour to prepare now easily take two or three due to the constant interruptions that occur when rearing two toddlers—and that’s if I don’t accidentally burn something while attending to the girls and need to start over.

But I’m not writing this post to garner sympathy for myself; rather I’m writing in an attempt to engender empathy for other parents who have it much harder than I do. Sure, I’m now a single mom working a part-time job while raising two little girls, but at least I have an ex-spouse who is responsible enough to help with child support and to take the children several days each week. To imagine the stress that single parents without any financial assistance and without periodic breaks from parenting must be under makes my heart ache.

What would I do if I had to sit at Libby’s door every single night until close to 9pm, never having another parent to trade her off to on occasion? What would I do if I never had a night to catch up on much-needed sleep without having to worry about a child awakening me?

And, most crucially, what would I do if I didn’t have any financial assistance during this transitional time between being a stay-at-home mom and getting back into the work force? I’ve run the numbers and it would be financially impossible for me to support the three of us on the full-time wage I earned as a math aid in the Billings public schools prior to Libby’s birth. Just paying for daycare would eat up more than half of my wages; forget paying the rent on my two-bedroom apartment or putting gas in my car, or making those meals from scratch—I’d be scrounging around for scraps! I would have no choice but to accept some sort of public assistance: SNAP benefits, housing vouchers … welfare? I have heard and read that many single mothers find it more economical to live off welfare while their children are below school age than to work a full-time low-wage job, and I believe it. I have a masters degree and I still wouldn’t be able to make ends meet.

The next time you feel inclined to scoff at a parent on public assistance, or at a parent losing his or her cool over something seemingly insignificant that their child has done, think twice before judging. That parent may well be suffering the unimaginable stress of raising a child alone, with no support from another parent and little support from society. Your judgment is likely unnecessary anyway, for the parent is probably one provocation away from shedding tears that will surely flow once they are alone at night, feeling overburdened and guilty from all the times during the day when they lost their temper at their children despite trying with every ounce of their energy to hold it in. Being a parent is hard enough; being a parent alone is doubly difficult, especially when one feels the added weight of society’s stigmas.

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