Solo-parenting. Not single parenting.
Something I loathe but cannot escape no matter how many last names I collect.
Parenting can be difficult in general, add an abnormality to that? It feels impossible some days.
Our “abnormality” as widow/ers is a missing parent. Not because they don’t care about their child, are lazy, or see them 50% of the time, but because they do not exist. Period.
On a surface level it’s probably easy to imagine why it is difficult. But I want you to see why it feels impossible.
1. There is no one to consult with or share responsibility with.
Is a teacher calling to discuss your child’s grades? There is only one person to call. Did your child get in trouble at school? Handle it alone. Are they being bullied? Do your best to figure it out.
Of course there are resources for these things, but you know what there isn’t? Someone who loves your child JUST AS MUCH as you do. That’s right. No one will love them as much as their parent did so the advice any of them proffer lacks weight. It is easy to say what you would do for another child, but when it is your child, you know the answer is different. You care more. You spend more time thinking about it.
Is your child sick or have a new medical diagnosis? Consider all the treatment options alone. Do you think they should make healthier choices? Encourage them alone. Do they have a sport they love? Take them to practice alone.
Figure out the solution to these issues that come along and enforce it. Do both. By yourself. There is no “your dad will be home at 5,” here.
This isolation doesn’t go away just because you have adult children, it just changes. Is your daughter getting married? Did your son graduate college? Did you just become a grandparent? Navigate these important chapters with no one by your side and return home to a dark and isolated house.
2. You still have to do all the everyday tasks.
Did you just get done working all day, then took the children to practice or a school event? Great. When you get home at 9pm make sure you make dinner alone, clean up alone, make sure they did their homework, and get ready for the next day. Did you remember to get dog food while you were so busy? No? Run back out and take all the kids with you. There is no 50/50 here or 25/75 or 10/90 it is just you. You do 100% of everything all the time.
If your children are grown, welcome that deafening silence that surrounds you constantly. Your home has become a waiting room for death.
3. Make sure you still manage your property and vehicles.
Do you own your house? Congratulations, all the repairs & maintenance that need to be done – are completely on you. Appliances, cleaning, lawn maintenance, insurance claims, taxes, pest control, plumbing are all completely your job. Do you rent? Congratulations, make sure you report everything that needs repair, renew your contract, figure out how to deal with price hikes, all by your self.
Maybe you wont be the one who physically fixes the AC when it breaks, but you will be the one making the phone call, paying for it, discussing options, etc. You are in charge in perpetuity and if something is confusing or new figure it out alone.
4. You pay all of your bills & manage your finances by yourself.
While some people think being a widow means drowning in money the truth is for most that is not the case. The reality is they were too young to think they needed life insurance. Or maybe they had life insurance but used illegal drugs or committed suicide so the policy was void. Maybe they worked under the table so much there is no social security benefits. Maybe there is social security benefits but it’s not very much or it’s shared because after they died an “illegitimate” child was found. You would think that last scenario is rare but I’ve seen it more times than I can count.
Even if there is a stable source of income and you can afford child care and working as a solo parent – remember to pay all of the bills. Every detail of your finances is yours alone to keep and remember to yourself. No one is there to ask “hey did you make the car payment on the 15th?” and if there is a reminder in place, like on your phone, you put it there.
5. Do everything, everywhere, all at once.
When I was writing this I did so in isolation. As in, I isolated my paragraphs so I could write them clearly. When I was writing them I thought “hmm well that’s not so bad, I’ve always been in charge of that by myself.” So how do I convey the difference?
Because for a widowed parent, these tasks are not isolated. They are in concurrence with each other. If my AC breaks, there is no one to watch the children or quell an argument while I am on the phone trying to figure out how to fix it. They are right there demanding I also do whatever they need done. If I get a call during this it has to go to voicemail, they won’t be able to contact my spouse to see why I didn’t answer. When I am done fixing the AC and attending to the children, there isn’t someone to shift responsibility to. It’s still just me. There is no one that will be home soon and I can vent to them about how the stupid AC broke and the kids were horrible. Or how Pam used all of Jim’s coffee pods. It’s always silence and inner monologue. And that’s why sometimes we have lunchables for dinner, it is too overwhelming to remain a Hallmark mother in such chaos.
When my kids were little my husband and I split tasks. If I cooked, he gave the kids a bath. If I put them to bed he cleaned the kitchen. Now I get to give them a bath, cook, clean the kitchen and put them to bed. Even if I have someone offering to help I still have to tell them what to do because it’s not their child or their house.
Even on the days my husband failed miserably at managing life 50/50 with me, I knew he still had a duty to do it. Unlike now where not a single other person has the level of responsibility I hold, it is just me.
In concurrence with the above tasks, now add this on top:
Your child is lashing out, cussing, screaming, hurting siblings. They are angry at the world. They are in therapy, you try everything and it’s still not working. How do you help them not be angry when you are also angry as an adult? Nothing seems to work. You just keep showing up alone. No one is there to back you up. It’s only your voice. How do you discipline the confused? Do resources even exist for the unique situation you find yourself in with your child? (answer is truly no, I assure you).
Your child’s birthday is coming up but they aren’t excited. “Why didn’t mom get to see me turn 10? What did I do wrong?” They ask distraughtly. So you throw them a party to try your hardest to be normal, but all you see is the other couples with their family intact. And you remember when you had that too.
After you have worked all day, cleaned, cook, managed, paid bills and just want to shut your brain off- you instead get to become a philosopher on life’s major questions. Maybe you don’t want to really visit those ideas right now because they hurt too much. Too bad, someone who needs you is asking.
Or maybe your child is perfectly fine. Great grades, always in a good mood, well behaved, does extra curricular activities… Wait this is good right? Perhaps, or perhaps they are learning quickly that if they immerse themselves with a busy life they can disconnect from their harsh reality. Pay attention to them just as much. Are they suppressing emotions? Are they actually okay? Become a secret investigator.
Deal with the fact that death is real and your children’s bubble of protection has been popped.
Did your spouse die in a car accident? Congratulations. This means your kid may be afraid to get in car, obsess over seatbelts, and may refrain from ever wanting to leave the house again. Good luck dragging them to school before you head to work. Your kids don’t want to go to school not because school isn’t fun but because they seriously think they may die on the way there.
Did your spouse die in your house? Amazing. Now you have an entire area to avoid or leave entirely. Your kids don’t want to be reminded of the spot in the house anymore but they also don’t want to move because that’s their home. More fun choices to make alone about this thing you never thought you would deal with. No matter the decision you make someone will be upset.
Did your spouse die from mental/physical illness or substance abuse? Great. Now you get to monitor your children because they have the same genes. You aren’t an expert but you better figure out how to become one. While you navigate their grief people will ask how they passed, what do you say? How do you respond? What do you tell the kids?
On top of this your kids will still want the normal things that life has to offer, like the coolest new shoes or a trip to a concert. How do you take them when it’s just you? Can you afford it on a solo income? But you don’t want to break their hearts any further, they have already been through so much. I have to swipe the credit card. They need this.
But make sure to take care of yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
Except there is no cup. It’s gone. Remember?
The cup here is the spouse, the other half, the person whom you agreed to have children with and share responsibility in life with. The only other person who is legally responsible. They held you together so you could do life and handle a busy day. But now the cup is gone so whatever substance was in it is just an uncontained puddle. Your foundation is gone and you must scramble to contain yourself.
You have to figure out how to put yourself back together and find something to help support you from remaining a puddle at one of the weakest moments in your life.
How do you do that when you aren’t sleeping? (as I pen this at 3:00am after working 10 hours and tending to 4 children). Melatonin doesn’t work. The medicine isn’t strong enough. Death has made you unable to sleep soundly. Oh did you hear a noise at night? Who’s going to check it? You and you alone. There is no true rest when your body throws you out of sleep to replay the image of the last moment your loved one was alive. There is no way to rest well after seeing that…and knowing it was true. It wasn’t a nightmare. That nightmare really happened.
How can you take care of yourself then? A massage sounds nice. When could you work that in? Can you afford it? Do you have the energy to even go? Do you have to pay a sitter? Who can actually be trusted to watch the kids? Who can ACTUALLY HANDLE watching grieving children with behavioral issues? Fuck, that’s it. I’m not going.
Maybe you could invite friends or family over? That eliminates many problems above right? Perhaps. Or maybe your friends and family don’t actually understand your situation and it’s hard to be around them because they have no idea the chaos that is your life. It is not worth the mental challenge to educate them when they are so damn determined to be ignorant. You want to wake them up to the fact that everything they heard and saw on tv or read in outdated books is so wrong. But you are too tired. It’s too much.
They somehow know how you should raise your now grieving kids, manage your life, and your actions. After you are done handling everything alone for the day and battling issues nothing sounds better than getting the most ignorant advice ever from someone who doesn’t even know what its like to lose a cat.
BUT WAIT! WHAT ABOUT REMARRIED/DATING WIDOW/ERS!? AREN’T ALL OF THESE PROBLEMS SOLVED BY THAT!?
Shocking. I know. Who would have thought that finding a step-parent for your children doesn’t actually solve all these issues? Not me!
Why is that? Super simple really… *whispers* they are not the biological parent.
They are probably really great and your kids may actually like them, but they will walk right past them to go to you to ask a question even if you are clearly busy. If your children have a personal problem at school, do you think they want to discuss it with the stepparent or their natural parent? *hint* It’s the latter.
So where’s the positive in all of this? There isn’t. It just sucks and it has to be waited out. Waited out for what exactly? A mere possibility that one day it will not feel this way. The smallest particle of hope. That maybe if I just hang out long enough I can figure it all out. Accepting the fact that these feelings may never fully go away isn’t what anyone wants to hear but it is the truth. Not everyone gets to live the romanticized American dream and that realization hurts. If they do get to live it they do not truly realize how it can be taken tomorrow as the most arbitrary of events unfold. My only solace in alleviating any of this mental anguish from solo-parenting and grief has been to fully realize my lack of importance. Which sounds off because I know I have made an impact in certain ways. I do not feel unimportant, but I am nonetheless. I simply exist and engage in physical actions every day. Nothing happens to me or for me, it just occurs. I only have control over the most minor of activities. While this seems depressing it has offered me a temporary escape from the emotions that come with grief. If I accept all of the above to be true, it means that this death, subsequent pain and chaotic life wasn’t done personally to me. I didn’t deserve it. He didn’t deserve it. There was no wrong or right action committed. It just was an event in my short existence that happened to occur while I was present. And when I encounter another lonely and chaotic day, I must remind myself of all of this. That even in being so alone and stressed, it is not unique to me and it is shared in some way by every other person still present. This feeling encompasses the phrase: “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”