12 August 2010

Single Parenting vs. Absentee Partner

An absentee partner is not the same as no partner at all.
Single parenting is different.
I know, I've done both.

For the first 15 months of Gabriel's life, his father and I were together, under one roof, supporting one household.

K was gone for three weeks out of the month, traveling for work.
Gabriel spent a minimum of 6 hours a day howling inconsolably for the first 6 months of his life. 
Gabriel underwent major, in-hospital surgery when he was 5 months old.
I was a full time graduate student, and I took no time off when Gabriel was born (on the second day of the semester, during which I was enrolled in three classes).
I didn't have a car.
I lived hours away from any family or friends.
I was overburdened and networkless and adrift in the sea of postpartum confusion.

But that wasn't single parenting.

And I want to tell you something.
Single parenting is harder.

When your partner travels for work, your partner is providing financially for your household.
And it's your household, with your supervision and standards and quirks and ideas.

I am the sole financial provider as well as the sole parent.
I work because I have to and I mother because I have to and I'm not saying that I don't love both because I adore my son to pieces and I treasure my independence.
I work all day, I come home, and I parent until it's time to go back to work again.
I'm the one up at 1 and 3 and 5am with bad dreams and requests for water and night terrors, and then I'm right back up at 530 for work, juggling my own career with preschool and swim lessons and birthday parties and doctor's visits.
I stay home when my son is sick, but I do that as the only paycheck to buoy the accounts.
I spend my time trying to form this small person, trying to make sure that he will be a good, strong, happy adult.

And then woooosh.
He's at his dad's house for the weekend.
And that's even harder.
And I have no control over what they do or say or don't do or don't say.
I don't make the rules, I don't know the adults, I have no oversight.
Not knowing.
Not seeing.
I go from 100% on, round-the-clock, scrambling and doing the best I can, to 100% off and just....floating.

And I have to be okay with that.
This small person with the blue blue eyes, he has another parent in his father, and his father has a right to raise his son.

And it's harder.
It's harder, it's harder, it's harder.
It's harder to single parent than it is to parent with a partner who's married to his work.

I'm happier here and now than I ever could be there and then, but they aren't the same and it's hard to express but single parenting is harder.


  1. I definitely believe that- but just for the sake of argument, wouldn't it be harder if the child being raised with an absentee parent was older? Like- I don't see Gabriel really ever feeling abandoned by either one of you. But some parents even if they have a lot of money to throw at your quality of life... kids figure out eventually that they aren't as important as the career. Or don't respect the one parent who does everything unhappily. You're rightfully exhausted, but you're overall pretty happy. And I have to believe that must be healthier than being raised by someone resentful or unhappy no matter the status with the other parent.

  2. I'm happier now. If I wasn't, I wouldn't be a single parent.
    But the actual WORK of parenting is harder.

  3. I've been the "100% on" parent when Dave was just on a business trip for a week. I cannot imagine how you handle it completely on your own. I mean, I guess I would if I had to, because you know, that's what we do. But single parents have all my respect, because that is seriously hardcore WORK that you're doing there.

  4. You do it cuz you have to.
    Love you mama.

  5. I've said this before and I'll say it again. YOu are one of the strongest people I know. In my previous life/ marriage I had a husband but all he did was provide money. That was a great thing of course...but it made me soooo deeply sad that he was there yet wanted no part of it.

    Once Mickey was gone (and again you were the first human who knew that via fb...) my life actually got easier. I was officially a single mother but he still had to pay me. Because of all this I've watched you be a tougher person than I've ever imagined. I've watched you go through so much woman! And despite your lack of assistance you've balanced everything with a strength you rarely see. You have my respect, as you do your son's. That I promise.

  6. You're doing good things too sweetheart.
    We all do what we have to do to get by.
    And all anyone can do is their best.

  7. It might be hard, but you make it look easy. You have such a healthy attitude about everything and I think that's what will be passed down to your son. When he's older, he'll know the wonder of unconditional love and acceptance.

  8. I hear you. My situation is different, but I know. It's hard to explain but I know both sides and would take the former in a heartbeat.

  9. I hear you. My situation is different, but I know. It's hard to explain but I know both sides and would take the former in a heartbeat.

  10. Honestly I find things easier now in a lot of ways, but still definitely harder in others (like when I was living in an apartment and the washers/dryers were across the parking lot and Jack was in bed asleep...how the fuck was I supposed to get my clothes???). The thing is that I was the single parent even when married (he sucked money instead of providing any and I was in charge of staying home during illness, daycare drop-off/pick-up, bedtime routine, all feedings, getting up in the middle of the night, etc) plus I had to take care of that overgrown kid, as well. That sucked and I don't recommend it. I recommend single parenting over that, although there is something to be said for being IN the house with the other parent because you have more control over what the heck said parent is doing with the kid...

  11. I agree with you. I deal with the 'absentee' parent issue (by his choice, not career), but at least he is here providing some kind of support occaisionally. I could not imagine the visitation issue.

    But Gabriel is going to grow up knowing how much you love him and how hard you worked for him to have what he needed: food, shelter and (most importantly) your time and love.

  12. I am HAPPIER and emotionally HEALTHIER now, but yeah, things like running to the grocery store when Gabey was asleep because there was an adult body in the house.
    Also I was staying home (ish, I was in grad school), so it was a diff. situation.

  13. Mom has done three versions: the former, the latter, and parenting with a step-parent (who, by common agreement & understanding, took a hands-off approach where disciplining was concerned).

    She told me for YEARS that it was far easier for her parenting me (no father in the picture), than my siblings (father in another household) because of the undermining he did (but that likely was just *his* issues and not a common behaviour - I hope?). She lobbied hard for me to go the single-parent-by-choice route (adoption, sperm donor, etc), but - even though she did a phenomenal job raising us - I told her I had no interest in becoming a single parent intentionally. It's one thing when it's a situation like yours where the partnership just doesn't work out, but I can't wrap my head around setting out to parent without a partner.

    I have no idea if that makes sense outside of my brain, and I'm hoping to hell I explained myself well enough and didn't unintentionally offend (as I did when I first tried to explain that to Mom). Being articulate and all that jazz. ;)

  14. God, I just posted about the three days they're going to be at their dad's and how completely undone it makes me feel. Just.

    I'm not sure its harder, though. It is different. Its the new normal. I enjoy them more than I did when their father lived with me. I was mad at him all the time when we lived together (whose fault? His? Mine? Hard to say sometimes, in hindsight). Now I'm not mad anymore. Frustrated often, tired, sometimes sad, but ultimately a much better mother, a mother who can stop and listen to stories and put batteries in things without feeling like she's going to lose her mind.

    Different. Good different.

  15. I'm happier now, which makes my whole life easier. I guess I just sorta chafe when people compare their husband's weekend work trip to single parenting.

  16. My mother was a single parent to us from the age of nine and this made me stop and think of her as a parent myself. Thank you for writing this.

  17. Yeah it kind of bugs me when people are like "Oh so and so's away, I'm a single parent this week!"

  18. I totally hear that. Its nowhere even close.

    I'm with you on the sole provider issue too. I have $1.38 in my checking account until I get paid at the stroke of midnight tonight. Thank God we have food in the cupboards.

  19. I'm in my 3rd phase of parenting...having had the 'married to the biological Dad but he wasn't interested' phase...the 'all by myself' stage, I'm now in the 'step-Dad' phase...all have had their ups and downs and challenges both monetary & otherwise...I think parenting is HARD WORK full stop. I've been exactly where you are now...pulling it all together and then having no control over ANYTHING for an entire w/end (when C was about 4 or 5 her 'dad' got interested for a bit & I encouraged their relationship (didn't last long - he got bored)..I think like you say all anyone can do is their best...I don't blog but I enjoy reading the freshness and honesty of your posts, especially the ones I can relate to. You are doing a fantastic job, you are a fantastic person and G is lucky to have you as his Mom.
    Love you
    Karen x

  20. i completely feel you. it is a daily struggle and blessing. when my son goes to his dads, i'm lost. i worry. i wonder. it is hard. his father isn't a nice person...my 16 yr old daughter had a violent falling out with him 2 yrs ago. (hasn't seen/spoken to him since)
    My son is waiting....waiting...for his 'dad' to redeem himself as a decent human being. It makes my soul ache watching my son leave to the unknown & then my heart breaks when he returns with the stories of selfishness, meanness, spite & hate.

    it's so hard. but so worth my childrens respect and love they give me. i am so lucky to have them. they are the only thing i've ever done right so far. i just need to find a way to save my son's heartbreak.

  21. My mother was a single parent, and only now, with children of my own, do I realize, and appreciate all she did... on her own, by herself, with no support. I have thanked her many, many times since. It is harder than if you have a totally involved co-parent, even if he/she lives in a different place.

  22. Sometimes people ask me how I do it. I want to ask them, how can I not?

    I get this. I've now done both and this, the single parent gig? Even though I share custody? Is still fucking hard.

  23. My oldest set of twins are not mine biologically. Their father has never been interested and indeed is likely in prison in another country. I love them and think of them as my own. At one point the biological father tried to come see them... since he was getting high, we resisted. He went to rehab, and we thought we would end up letting him see them. I cannot describe the feelings I felt! I was so scared to lose my little angels. Such complicated feelings. When he relapsed and took off not to be seen again in years, I felt relieved but also sad for them... how could he not care about these beautiful children? It is hard sometimes being in a mixed family, but it is worth it. I'm so glad I can be a father for these beautiful girls who deserve one so much!

  24. longwayaroundthebarnAugust 18, 2010 at 5:01 PM

    Wow. You know what? I needed that. I am guilty of martyring myself around, because my husband works a lot and commutes an hour and bring his work home and is rarely what you would call "present." But it IS different. WAY different. Because at the end of the day (well, most days) he DOES come home. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it is a fleeting and preoccupied light.

    I can't imagine.

    I admire your strength, I give you props, and I will never refer to myself as a "single parent" again, even if it's understood that I mean it in a tongue-in-cheek kinda way.

  25. And love to you too, because that's also hard.

  26. You know, I never thought that I would feel like this, but... I enjoy the lack of control that I have while Zoë's at her dad's for the weekend. He didn't believe it, either, when I raised my hands up and said, "It's your house, your rules." I don't have to say when she should sleep, eat, bathe, or anything, I don't have to (help) make all of the decisions - since, in general, Zoë gets a 50% vote on almost everything - and I have a weird peace of mind about it.

    But I know what you were getting at with this post and after being the sole care provider, the sole parent, the co-parent and having friends who've been in a two parent household... there's a definite distinction between all of them.

  27. AsouthernfairytaleAugust 22, 2010 at 10:42 AM

    Grace, this is a spectacular post.
    Thank you so much for writing this, for sharing this xo