I was a single mom for the first three years of my daughter’s life and, let me tell you, it was HARD. A year and a half ago, I found a parenting tag-team partner and, let me tell you…This. Is. HARDER. How is it possible that having someone to split responsibilities can be more challenging? I’m sure it wouldn’t be the same for every mama, but for me, with my personality, carrying only part of the load as half of a team sometimes feels more difficult than bearing the full load myself.
When it comes to facing a challenge, the bigger it is, the easier it is for me to get mentally prepared, to tackle it head-on, and to keep going when I’m worn out. The magnitude awakens my warrior mindset. I rise up in the face of “do or die” situations.
Smaller problems can wait until tomorrow, so in my world, they do. As a first-class procrastinator, it’s not until there is imminent danger of things crashing and burning that I’m motivated to move. Being solely responsible for the physical and emotional well-being of another human being ensures the get-stuff-done switch is always on.
You’re sick and don’t feel like going to work today? Too bad!
You’re sad and want to hide in bed for the entire day? Too bad!
You’re angry and want to scream and swear? Too bad!
You want to spend money on something completely frivolous? Too bad!
When you’re a single mom, you dig deep and you find a way. You just do. There’s no other choice.
But when I know there’s help available, I get lazy and I lose my edge. Now, I don’t feel like battling a four-year-old to brush her teeth. And I don’t feel like feeding the dogs. Or doing the dishes. Or going to the grocery store. Doing all of those things now feels like it requires so much more effort than before because I know that sometimes I don’t have to do those things and those times are SO MUCH EASIER.
There’s No I (told you so) in TEAM
What happens when you’ve struggled through exhaustion and stress and financial hardship and you, Warrior Mama, did it your way, and now someone is there to help, but he has his own way (AKA the wrong way)? Learning to coexist in a confined space with another person takes patience and compromise and kids just so happen to devour a disproportionate share of both, leaving only scraps for issues like dividing up household responsibilities and handling financial matters.
There’s only a small window where self-deprecating jokes can soften type A, controlling behavior. Eventually, nagging loses its charm! Scientists need to study how much energy it takes to NOT say something, to NOT redo things (like turning all the clothing the correct direction on the hangers.)
Unfortunately, this goes way beyond leaving the seat up or hanging the toilet paper the wrong way. By now, your parenting style is a well-honed combination of exhaustive research and mother’s intuition. In waltzes your partner with either his own parenting style, or worse, simply the latent effects of the way he was raised, which may or may not align with your approach.
Considering the likelihood that you already overanalyze the ramifications of every interaction with your child, every misaligned view on parenting issues between you and your partner is fraught with even greater tension.
A Close-But-Not-Too-Close Support System is a Lifeline
A few other life changes coincided with the change in my relationship status that contributed to my unexpected wistfulness toward my single mom days. We moved half a continent away from family and I got a “normal” job.
I directly breastfed my daughter Giuliana (she never took a bottle), we co-slept, and she went to work with me six days a week. Other than the gym and occasional kid-free social plans, Giuli and I were together 24/7, so I didn’t hesitate when chances came up to let her spend some time with her other relatives while I went “off duty” for a few hours.
Since we started building our new life in OKC just over a year ago, we have had exactly 3 date nights and I’ve only ventured out with mama friends a handful of times. Now that I spend 40+ hours away from my daughter every week while I’m at work, I am wracked with guilt anytime I contemplate a social activity without her.
Yes, I somehow managed to get more ME time as a single mom and I was so much more healthy for it. Now, every day is a battle between my guilt and a nervous breakdown. When I get home from work, I am mentally exhausted and my kid, over-the-moon excited to see me, wants me to play pretend something. My brain is short-circuiting at this point, and my normally-pathetic level of imagination is dead on arrival. I try to convince her that we should go dig a hole in the backyard or something equally free of thinking, and the disappointment in her eyes kills me.
As a single mama, I was usually stressed out and exhausted, and I was poverty-level poor. But as a coupled mama, I am ALWAYS stressed out and exhausted. (I have also quickly learned that middle class these days is still poor.) And now I’m unable to hide my character flaws in solitude, so I pretty much always feel like a terrible mom, a terrible partner, and a terrible friend.
Perhaps it was all in my head, but as a single mom, it felt like expectations were lower. I got extra credit for things that are taken for granted from married moms and people were quicker to understand when I didn’t have the energy or money to prepare gourmet, organic meals or go out for a friend’s birthday. I feel like, with someone to help now, I don’t have an excuse anymore for not being a supermom.
I have a lot of work to do to create balance in my life. Thankfully, I have a partner who is infinitely patient with me and friends who forgive me when I disappear for months or back out on plans at the last minute.