I’ve been lone parent for time periods that lasted many years. In the first instance, I divorced my husband and raised my first child from the time she was 5 months of age, ’til I remarried, when she was 6. Her father was not in her life for any of her milestone events; he was not even a sporadic visitor.
During those early years, I recall getting up at 5:00AM, readying myself first so that I could focus on her, dressing her, getting her supplies ready for her day at the babysitter’s. It was the era before public daycare was readily available, and I brought her the 20 minutes cross-town to a babysitter’s who had her own 5 children. When I started my work day at school, I’d already been “in overdrive” for 3 hours.
In the wintertime, I carried her into a pitch-black parking lot to a frigid car where I had to buckle her into a cold car seat, before I even dealt with the ice that formed on the car’s floorboards from water that leaked in via cracked weatherstripping around the windows.
I desperately needed a new car but had no money, strained as we were on my schoolteacher pay. When the car broke down (as it did many times), friends picked us up, and we watched the car towed away (on one occasion, the heater coil quit on the car’s radiator and water sloshed into the car, wicking up my bell-bottom pants, showing a blue/green line of antifreeze on the cream-colored fabric). Money was always in short supply, and I frequently needed to take on tutorial jobs, waitressing, etc. just to get by.
During those years, she got sick often and I needed to take many days out of work. Finally, a bout of scarlet fever sent her to her grandparents’ for more-than-usual attention. The year she was finally old enough for kindergarten (half a day), I made arrangements to have her picked up and dropped off at their home, since I was unavailable for her abbreviated schedule. But I, alone, did the shuttling to doctors’, to sports practices and games, dance rehearsals, church events, friends’ homes.
And then I got to do it all over again, with a second child… ten years later.
That single parenting came on the heels of the death of my second husband who fought terminal illness for two years. He sought chemotherapy, hospitalization, radiation– only to succumb eventually. We in his family suffered the brutality of that disease as well.
With his death, I’d raise two children, alone: the older one was now 15; the other–5.
What do I remember most as single parent? The countless occasions I needed to bundle up a sleepy toddler at night to go to the store for the milk I’d forgotten for morning; the middle-of-the-night occasions I stressed at being alone, faced with a child spiking a high fever, wondering how I’d drive her to a hospital, while comforting her, at the same time.
As they got older, I hated being lone enforcer of rules, the one who had to make the hard decisions. School events (where they performed) were always difficult as I sat alone, noting parent pairs together, chatting amicably. Finally, there were all those Open Houses which this parent attended, after her own long work day, teaching classes.
I remember the screamfits, too, those times when I “lost it,” too drained to “do it” anymore. Those were the years of “the adolescent wars,” when my daughters—as teens—demanded ever more freedoms, while I tried to hold the line.
You see, as single parent during that period, there was never an instance of two parents in the wee hours, commiserating… no hand-holding, no body hugs, no telling one another “We’ll get through this,” (even though it’s impossibly hard). In the stark light of day, there was only ever that aggrieved teen, still smarting from the night’s battle, still hating her parent (me).
The silence of those times hurt more than the fury.
In later years, there were the trips to unfamiliar towns and cities, to check suitability of colleges and universities. Sometimes, this parent drove hundreds of miles alone, following the drop off one at a school. One night saw me seeing double on the NJ Turnpike following an 8-hour drive from Pittsburgh to New England, following my helping one daughter move into her dorm in 95+ heat. I didn’t want to stop, but I had no choice: It was either that or go off-road or into oncoming traffic.
When it came time for the younger one to go, I crossed international borders (she went to McGill in Canada).
Father’s Days were mindful of what we never had, and Christmases were less than cheery in a home whose lone players were mother and children (in stark opposition to those endearing Norman Rockwell scenes).
The single parent has a lone road she walks. If she reaps success and her children are productive members of society, no one thinks twice about how that happened.
But, if those children fail, she alone is held accountable (even if it’s not fair).
Biddy salutes single parents everywhere who try hard each day to make up for the significant absence of that other vital player in their children’s lives and suggests: Those of us who have walked that road recognize your considerable efforts.
(Who’s the real hero in the “Golden-Voice Homeless Man” saga? Click on below link to discover…)
***Please share your own memories (or those of another) who raised a family as single parent. Or send this post to those you know may be struggling (this account will appear on other blogs encouraging single parents everywhere.)