Edgy Mama: In praise of single parents

I don’t know how you do it — all the time, day in and day out, for years on end — those of you who are single parents. Most of us with partners do it alone some of the time, but those of you full-timers, by choice or circumstance, are true saints.

I consider myself a part-time single parent. That’s because, although I’m married, my Enviro-spouse has to travel a good bit to do the work he loves and so he can help support our life in Asheville.

People often ask me what E-spouse does for a living, then stare blankly when I say, “He’s a system dynamics scientist.” Basically, he builds humongously intricate computer models of systems (environmental, public health). Then he uses these models to examine and project trends and to teach people how to modify them for the best leverage.

I think.

So, while E-spouse travels around the world talking about reinforcing loops and doing calculus equations on bar napkins, I stay home with our two beautiful and feisty children. Which, as those of you single parents know, can be both the height of fun and the depth of despair. Here are two beings with the brainpower of a blue whale, but the reasoning ability of a Chihuahua, the energy level of a chimpanzee and the self-control of a raccoon. Did I mention that I attended school until I was 28, and that nothing I learned there prepared me in any way for raising children?

On an E-spouse non-travel day, I think I handle the chaos fairly well. Around 5 p.m., when I start telling the kids in clipped sentences to clean up their messes and finish their homework, E-spouse comes to my emotional rescue. He’ll drag the kids outside while I resume breathing. But when he’s away, I’m typically reduced to guzzling a beer and letting the kidlings watch a video so I can make it through what some idiot called “Happy Hour.” As most parents know, 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. should be dubbed “Hell Hour.” Tired, hungry, cranky kids with the above mammalian traits are definitely not happy this time of day. Nor are most tired, hungry, cranky parents.

Then I start feeling guilty because the kids are surpassing their daily one-hour of screen time, so I prepare dinner and try to engage them in a “tell me the best part of your day” discussion. On really difficult days, I call one of the four local pizza delivery places that I keep on speed dial and pretend to forget the screen time rule.

Next comes the dreaded bath and bedtime. I’m not even going to go in the paroxysms of pleading, debate and whining that this induces in both the kids and in me.

Once the kids are asleep, I start cleaning. I then realize that I have yet to feed myself, but at least I’m pleasantly buzzed from Mommy’s Little Helper, otherwise known as Highland Gaelic Ale. I usually decide I’m too tired to care about eating. This, I think, is why single parents are so thin. Maybe there is an upside to being unpartnered in the kid-rearing game.

But is exhaustion-induced weight loss worth it?

Only full-time single parents can answer that question. If I had to, I could do what they do, but I’m thankful for the emotional support and kid entertainment skills of my partner. I admit to great admiration for those who single-handedly raise feisty but healthy, cranky but smart, messy but beautiful kids, and I hope that my part-time singly raised kids turn out as well.

— Anne Fitten Glenn is a freelance writer based in Asheville. She covers a number of topics (including parenting) on her blog, EdgyMama.com.

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5 thoughts on “Edgy Mama: In praise of single parents

  1. Restless

    I’m with you on the single parent praise. God bless them all….Is that all E-spouse is good for? Don’t you occasionally get a pass for sweet lovin?

  2. Rio

    Love the animal analogies! They fit perfectly. I too used to take the 5-6 Hell Hour for tv while I would cook dinner. I remember one day when I decided to sit on the couch with the kids (then ages 2 and 5) for a few minutes. Hubby arrived home at 6 to find all three of us asleep with Arthur blaring on the tv.

  3. Becky

    I was a single parent. I know it is meant well, but I got SO tired sometimes of people saying I was a hero, how they couldn’t dream of doing what I did, basically giving me a lot of sympathy (in it’s higher form) and/or pity (which honestly doesn’t leave you with a warm fuzzy feeling).

    I will never forget the people who reached out an provided support and caring and YES it is beyond hard at times. But I’ll tell ya something Edgy Mama, there are some advantages. I’m partnered now, and it’s great, but in looking back I see how with the difficulty, there were also some strengths. Granted, I just had one. When I think of having two on my own, I start thinking the same things people expressed to me as a solo mom (I could never do that, how hard it must be etc.) Back to said advantage. Maybe because it just had to be that way for mom to stay sane, and she figured that out (she catches on to emotional dynamics fast), or who knows why, but I never had the temper tantrums or long-term hassles like I heard about with some of my partnered friends. No terrible twos or threes. No fits in grocery stores (well, okay, once, but that was it!). She is kind, with lots of empathy and capacity for emotional closenss, and I can’t help but attribute at least some of this to the fact that I was *it.* I was her touchstone, I was her world. There was no other parent to run crying to, no ‘divide and conquer.’ And if the house was a mess, and I didn’t care at the time, I didn’t have to care. I wasn’t inconveniencing anyone else. No committee meetings, no adult relational problems, no having to explain anything to anyone. Just to be as good of a mom as I could. I flunked at laundry, but give myself a ‘B’ at least in positive love and attention, and at least some part of that came from the time I didn’t spend worrying about the needs of another adult, whether housework or otherwise. I admit I’m glad it changed and I have a partner now, it’s wonderful. But I’ve learned to honestly appreciate those years when we were on our own, and how it formed both of us. I know that I had an ‘easy’ girl (because everyone told me that, I had no basis of comparison myself). No rocketing around the house, no wanton destruction of household objects, more likely to want to tell me stories and name her 1000 stuffed creatures. It’s a fine line between empathy/caring, and pity (you poor thing you), and as a former single parent, I ask all partnered people to keep that in mind and tred softly. We’re glad there is support for us when it comes our way — *it takes a village* comes to mind — but depending on who your particular partner is, as I noticed with some of my partnered friends, even when married (including all gay couples here, as marriage is so much more than a piece of paper) you can end up feeling like you’re on your own, and you lack the advantage of having no committee decisions, and your being the end-all and be-all. As tough as it is sometimes, there are some quiet advantages.

  4. I agree, Becky. In fact, I could write a whole column on what I call “re-entry trauma,” which is what happens sometimes when E-spouse comes home after a business trip!

  5. fran

    Yes, I am a single parent. And this praise is the first I have ever gotten from someone other than my mum (hehe). I hope you do not object, but the article will be printed out, framed and plastered all over the house :)

    Thanks so much for it as in the press, single parents are always bad, lazy, antisocial, have more depressed kids, badly behaved kids, kids who perform badly at schoollll… and it s just so not true!!!!

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