The struggle and triumph of a Solo Mom trying to meet her children’s needs
When I’m lying in my daughter’s bed, stroking her eyebrow as she fights sleep, and my son appears in the room—“Mummy, I want you!”—I cannot split myself in half.
When my son is struggling with a homework question and I am struggling to understand it, too, and my daughter hollers from downstairs—“Mummy, I need you!”—I cannot split myself in half.
When we have a rare day of freedom, of fun, and I say, “What would you like to do?” and my son says, “Swimming!” and my daughter says, “Park!” I cannot split myself in half.
When we’re on a plane and one of them needs the bathroom but the other doesn’t want to be left alone, so the three of us cram into the tiny space that’s never quite clean enough. “Don’t breathe through your noses!” I tell them, as I try to balance a child on one hip while making sure the other is adequately wiped.
When we’re at the supermarket and we’re against the clock but one of them throws a hissy fit because I took the chocolate back out of the trolley and I have one child refusing to budge from the chocolate and the other tugging my arm and whining because we will be late for art class.
When we’re invited to a kid’s party that my son is far too grown up and cool for but he has to come anyway.
When we go to the movies and she wants to watch animated animals and he wants to watch sparring superheroes, and we have a standoff in the foyer and tears over popcorn.
Because I cannot split myself in half.
But as a Solo Mom, I have to at least try.
I know many other parents who aren’t going it alone feel like this, too. Few families have two parents present around the clock. I also know that many other parents cope with more than two children. But there’s an intensity to the single parent–child relationship that’s quite unique, regardless of how many players there are on the team. Perhaps it stems from guilt or sadness or the aching loneliness that occasionally creeps in when you see two-parent families laughing and smiling and sharing the load, or when your kids are tucked up in bed by 8:00 p.m. and you pour a glass of wine, but instead of celebrating with it you let tears drip into it and watch Netflix alone, again.
In our family, it’s really my children who have to share. They love each other, and they are good at sharing, which is lucky because they have no choice. They have learned how to share me, or at least to accept that I am only one person. It was so simple when they took up less room. Each of them could claim an arm to tuck themselves under when we snuggled on the sofa. We still do this, but they need more room now. Sometimes, it comes down to logistics. Their arms and legs become a greedy, possessive octopus, fighting against itself to claim ownership of my body.
At other times, precious times, they are sleepy and quiet and reflective, and they slot perfectly against my body—a perfect jigsaw of three pieces. Their arms find their own spaces, forming a circle of love and security around my abdomen. They don’t need me to split myself in half; in fact, they are what keeps me whole.
Sometimes, when I’m lying on a child’s bed with a tiny arm pinning my body to the mattress, or when I’m pretending to understand how to do long division, or when I’m craving an afternoon in a spa way more than a trip to the cinema or the park, I actually visualize being split in half. I’ve decided a chain saw would be the most effective tool. It can easily, quickly split through bone and muscle and cartilage and tendons and ligaments and all connective tissue.
I would, then, be two. One for each bedroom. One for the swimming pool, one for the park. One for the superheroes, one for the animals. One for each child.
But. But. My children need the whole of me. They need my whole heart. And when they are grown, when they no longer compete to have my undivided attention, when they have other people in their lives to hold and be held by, I will remember all those amazing, difficult, constant little struggles and failures and victories, and I will remind them of this because often children forget. I don’t want them to forget because these struggles and failures and victories are helping them become the kind of people who understand that life isn’t black and white but full of greys and deep, moody purples and bright, sunny yellows.
We will remember and we will laugh and we will all feel proud because we did our best.
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