The thing about single parenthood isn't the big stuff. It isn't
the talks you have about how to navigate friendships. It isn't
teaching them the discipline of homework or piano practice. It
isn't talking about God or science or the whole Quinn/Finn/Puck
pregnancy thing in "Glee." It's not about pausing the TV in the
middle of "Twilight" to explain that we should be wary of pop
culture that teaches women to be attracted to dangerous men. It's
not even about being gay, or why you and Uma split up, or who their
sperm donor is.
No, the thing about single parenthood is the relentlessness of
the little stuff.
It's about having everything simmering on the stove, then
reaching into the spice rack to find that the chili powder
container you thought was full really only has a pinch left. So you
load everybody into the car to run to the store, only to get the
usual, "Mom, can I have this? Mom, can we buy that? Mom, you
promised us!" And what could have and should have been a 10-minute
trip to buy chili powder turns into a half hour of channeling the
restraint that Edward must feel every time he sees Bella bleed.
Let's step back here. It's about having to cook dinner every
single night. Or at least figure out what it should be. And then
clean it up.
It's about having to make enough money to be able to buy that
dinner and pay the mortgage and get the school supplies (because
somehow taxes aren't enough for the public schools). All on your
own. And let's not forget that even in this enlightened age of
shared custody, most single, custodial parents are women, who make
less money than men.
It's about having to figure out where to put them when you go to
work before school starts and come home after it ends. It's about
having to pay for day care or camp in the summer because they can't
stay home by themselves. Or it's about arranging your life so you
have alternative work hours, or you work from home, which usually
It's about weighing your sanity against the cost of a
It's about sitting in bed at 2 in the morning, feeling the
bacteria cut through your sinuses like a Ginsu knife, knowing you
have a prescription for an antibiotic sitting at the 24-hour
Walgreens, which you forgot completely about in the hustle of
getting them home and fed and homeworked and practiced and having
your nightly talk about the deep things and wondering, "Should I
get them up and throw them in the car? Or should I just tough it
out till morning?"
It's about suddenly having them join you in bed every night when
the split happens in the first place. Because they feel the loss.
And they are unerringly attuned to your sorrow and loneliness. It's
about not putting them back in their beds because of your sorrow
and loneliness. And then not being able to sleep because little
kids never sleep in one place and they end up kicking you all
It's about adding one more thing to your plate and deciding to
lose a week's sleep to try to break them of the habit of crawling
into your bed every night. And failing.
It's about them needing to keep track of the parent they have
left, so you can't even go to the bathroom without hearing,
I've given up on that one.
It's about not having someone to turn to and say, "Can you
please do it this time?" or "I can't figure out this math
homework," or "Can you do their hair for them?"
It's about having to admit your weaknesses, tell them that
you're not the hair mom and leave it to them to figure out how to
fix each other up for school.
It's about having to admit your weaknesses.
It's about having to explain to your 4-year-old, who wakes up in
the middle of the night to find you sitting on the floor sobbing,
that she didn't do anything wrong, and that she's not responsible
for how you feel.
It's about bringing new people into their lives. And then
explaining to them where they went.
It's about hearing your children yell, "Mom, I love you," from
their room as they're going to sleep and thinking, "Please just be
quiet so I can write."
It's about having them yell "I love you" from their room because
they know you're stressed with the relentlessness of having to say
"no" at the store, or give comfort and punishment when they fight,
and make sure they clean up-and have no one to talk to about it
Because they know.
Oh, right, and it's about your ex walking into your house and
telling you that it's a mess, and you really should make them clean
up. Your ex. Who lives in a house where there are more adults than
But ultimately it's about celebrating the victory over that
tough piano piece they just got through. It's about telling them
the story of their birth. It's about movie nights in bed. It's
about talking about God and science and "Glee."
Ultimately, it's like childbirth. You look at them and you
forget all the other stuff. You look at them and you can't imagine
doing anything else.
Because when you kiss them good night and go to the living room
to write, they yell, "Mom, I love you" before they fall off to
Carrie L. Kaufman is the mom of two and the award-winning
publisher of PerformInk Newspaper, Chicago's theater and film trade
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