“Oh, so you’re the one who gets a break!” This is what my single friends tell me, with sparkling eyes and well-meaning earnestness, when I send my kids to their dad’s for the weekend. They smile and laugh like we’re in on some fun secret. They mean it — and they mean it in the kindest way. They say it in the coffee shop, in the office, in the bookstore. Again and again and again, happily chirping about my “break.”
But it’s not a break. It doesn’t even approach a “break.”
There was a time when I would have laughed politely and nodded my head, uncomfortable. That time isn’t now. Instead, I’m honest and I say, “Nope.”
No, not really.
No, it’s not a break.
No, parenting doesn’t stop when my kids aren’t home.
Sometimes they look uncomfortable. There was a time when I would have felt guilty for this. But now, I realize that instead I should expect better of my friends. I should expect that people don’t chirp hurtful things. They should know it’s not okay. If I didn’t speak my truth, I would be uncomfortable and I don’t want to be. I shouldn’t be. So I won’t be.
Maybe my frank answer will make them think a little more about how this language is hurtful to the single mother who is the primary parent for her children. It’s hurtful to suggest that my kids are so taxing that I need this “break” from them.
I don’t. Not really. In fact, I wish they were here.
I am always the mother, the lead parent, the one scheduling doctors and dentist appointments, keeping everyone’s schedule, picking up and dropping off, making sure homework gets done, school events are attended, fun is had. I’m the one my daughter trusts to adjust her palate expander every day, carefully edging it one millimeter wider. I’m the one who cheers loudly as my kids race in track meets and celebrates quietly when my son has the best discus throw of his season (solidifying his rank as number 2 thrower on the team). I rush order ballet tights and shoes when my daughters fail to fit any longer just before a big performance. It’s me who drives her to voice lessons and ballet rehearsals and me who urges my son to shower after grueling workouts.
I am a single parent without a reliable co-parent. Indeed, that was one of the many reasons my marriage didn’t work. And when my kids aren’t at home, I think about them constantly, worry, do my best to ensure they are cared for by the person who didn’t even know where my daughter’s elementary school was in the final year before we separated.
It’s time we stop treating parenthood like a job. Parenting is part of my life. It’s something I chose to do like so many other people have for millennia. In 2019, we don’t accept anyone suggesting that fathers “babysit” their kids. Why should we accept the language used to speak to single parents that suggests time, when the kids are with their other parent, is “a break”?
Before you write me off as “overly sensitive” consider this:
I am a mother no matter where my kids are. I am a mother who worries that my daughter will forget to take her medicine and reminds her even when she isn’t home. I am a mother who worries my kids won’t be provided fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods (because there’s a history of this) so I stock up for when they return. I am a mother who hopes my son is sleeping enough but not too late, disrupting his rhythm for school. I am a mother who worries my daughter, prone to dehydration, isn’t drinking enough and doesn’t have what she needs to stay hydrated. I arrive to pick her up armed with fluids. She is grateful.
I am a mother always. No matter where my kids are.
(Cue the trolls to talk about how fathers can handle all the things mothers can. To them, I say: Sure, some can. But not all parents are cut from the same proverbial cloth. Read the words I wrote, not the ones you want to read. And don’t assume because you are a dad/know a dad/have a dad that you know my life and situation.)
Don’t misunderstand: I don’t want to stop my children from seeing their father. But I don’t appreciate the insinuating that parenting stops at the drop off point. It doesn’t.
No, my kids being away isn’t a break. If anything, it’s a disruption from normal life. The house is silent. The pull and desire to cook vanishes. The things we share — from talking about our days to the funny things our cat does — are absent. The cadence of my very life is upset when my kids aren’t here. And sure, that cadence will eventually change when my kids are older and go to college and onto their adult lives. But that time isn’t now. Right now, I am in the active phase of parenting, guiding my teen and tween through middle school and hopefully into a fruitful adulthood.
It’s a big job. And I love it.
So dear friends, acquaintances, colleagues and passersby, I know you mean well. Really, I do. But you’re mistaken. This isn’t a break for me. It’s a hard week. I’m worried, I’m off-kilter, I’m having a hard time. I might look ok — or no different from any other time. But there’s an ache you cannot see. So before you chirp about my break, take a breath and rethink your words. Something like “Oh, bummer. I bet you miss them.” would feel a lot better right now. It would recognize the bond my children and I have. And it would acknowledge that raising my kids isn’t a chore I deal with.
It’s an important part of my life. One I cherish.
And to the other single parents out there. The ones struggling as their kids spend time away from home. Perhaps they’re, too, feeling like their guts have been ripped from their chests and laid bare. Perhaps they are parenting via text and hoping their kids are adequately cared for. I get it. I’m with you. You can talk to me. I know you’re struggling with your life disrupted and it’s hard. But it will be over before you know it. I swear.
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