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Parents Talk: Do Temporary Single Parents Have Any Idea What It's Like?

Do 'temps' get more than an inkling of what it's like for real single parents?

Can parents in a two-parent family ever know what life is like for a single parent?

When your partner in child-rearing isn't available to help out—whether for a day, a week, a month, or even an afternoon—does that offer a glimpse into single parents' struggles?

At any given moment during those times when a spouse or partner is temporarily out of the picture, the challenges may be similar to what real single parent might face:

  • Having to be two places at once for kids' activities or appointments
  • Pulling extended parent-taxi shifts
  • Being the point person for everything else in the household (laundry, cooking, the works)
  • Staying on top of homework, personality crises, discipline, permission slips and on and on and on ...
  • Not giving into exhaustion—or the desire for a beer or a nap—that might impair your child-monitoring 

A real single parent could probably come up with a better list, but those are the kinds of things that came to my mind—such as it is. My spouse is traveling a lot for work this month, and the things falling through the cracks are getting bigger by the day, as are the cracks. 

Actually, I've always thought it would make life easier if kids came with three parents instead of two. But so many operate on a third the labor force of that pipe dream. I wonder whether my brief (but still way overlong) tastes of single parenthood really give me any idea of what it's really like for parents flying solo.

Does being a temporary single parent (or a parent with primary responsibility for the kids) give insight into single parenthood?

a lund April 19, 2012 at 05:30 PM
I voted no, because, as a single parent, there is no end in sight. a temporary situation isn't going to give the parent a complete picture of the long-term effects and planning/changes that need to happen in the case of your typical single parent. I've been both. (I was married) -where my ex traveled for extended periods. It just wasn't the same.
Scott Carlson April 19, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Being temporarily a single parent gives you a glimpse into the challenges of flying solo. But I don't think you truly feel the pressure of having to do this permanently. You know at some point your spouse will be back from travels and you only have to hold on for a period of time, whether a few days or a month.
P. Scott April 19, 2012 at 11:17 PM
Do all of the above with a full-time job outside the home, that pays you less than you need to buy food, pay the rent/mortgage and doctor's bills. The financial aspect alone is enough to paralyze without the added stress of all the same jobs the two parent family attends. Just plain having a partner to share the burdens verbally is a huge asset, no, being without a mate while they travel is no comparison. It's a tough job but one that pays off with multiple dividends, my children are now 39 and 35 - I sure wish they had the luxury of two parents and I was lucky enough to have a husband that I only wish I had met 45 years ago! Great article, and thanks for asking for comments!
David F April 20, 2012 at 12:38 PM
As P. Scott mentioned there is often a financial burden being a single parent. Statistically, single parents are typically woman and a divorce often leaves a mother with children below the poverty line. Approx 80% of the men in prision in the US come form broken and/or abusive homes. Over half the children are raised in non-traditional families typically one parent or unmarried parents. Politicans like to think of the world as everyone being in an Ozzie and Harriet family situation which is farthest from the reality.
Debbie H April 20, 2012 at 01:26 PM
When I was married and had an infant and toddler, my husband traveled a lot and parenting was no doubt difficult. Now I'm divorced and the physical aspect of parenting (shuttling kids, homework, housework, career work) is extremely challenging. Parenting with a partner is difficult enough but not having that other person for emotional support and to collaborate with in making decisions to raise healthy and responsible individuals takes it's toll.
Penna1965 April 20, 2012 at 01:39 PM
Military families can understand how it is to be a single person family, when one parent is deployed. I also know what it is like because my husband was working 24/7/365 on call and was only home on Sundays, he was on the road doing technical work the rest of the week. He certainly didn't feel like doing anything on that Sunday other than sleeping, yet I was "picking up the slack" when I was working during the week full-time, taking care of our two kids, 15 months old and a 5 year old and we have no family in the area to help, and we just moved here, so didn't have a circle of friends to help out either. The only difference is my experience with single parenthood ended. (granted I told him to find a new job or come visit us back East in my hometown). My sister is a single divorced parent of two and I understand how hard that is. I was the scout leader to a troop of girls where all the girls except mine had single parents, mom or dad. I saw how hard that was, miss work or bring the girl to troop activities, or go to the store or take a small breather..most of the time the parents chose not to stay, and I understood that.
Penna1965 April 20, 2012 at 01:44 PM
I also grew up with my aunt who was widowed because her husband was killed in Vietnam. She raised her four kids by herself, she remarried a few years ago. The military support wasn't much and certainly didn't pay for everything and the kids medical support ended when they turned 18. She received a little in benefits from the government but she didn't take county or state aid; she worked a lot.
David F April 20, 2012 at 01:58 PM
Many people are unprepared financially, emotionally and financially when they for a variety of reasons become singe parents. It often takes a toll on kids who typically may not have a father figure both as a mentor and somebody to give them direction. In my single days I dated a couple of single mothers who had children and saw how exhausting their lives were an understandably their children were their priority which made it difficult to have any social life.
The Twilight Clone April 20, 2012 at 02:05 PM
I also voted "no." I've been a single parent for various weekends and other times my wife's been out of town. Luckily her work schedule has changed and there will be less of that. But the experience gave me a deep respect for single parents. I don't know how they do it, especially those with multiple children. I'm guessing many of them lean on immediate family, which we unfortunately do not have in town. We have some extended family here, but no one who could look after our daughter on short notice. Anyway, yeah, I respect single parents more now than I ever did.
Terrie April 20, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Terrie - I voted no as well. I have always been a single parent without any family here. I have been lucky, however, to have wonderful friends who have helped out over the years. I only have one child, and have TREMENDOUS respect for single parents who have more than one child. I find the responsibility of everything ( job, home, car, dental and doctor appointments, sports, fundraising ......) to be overwhelming at times. Yet, I still have no regrets - I have a great son!
Chris Steller (Editor) April 20, 2012 at 03:16 PM
Thanks for your comment, P. Scott. I salute you!
Chris Steller (Editor) April 20, 2012 at 03:20 PM
I'm starting to see how easy I've got it, because we do have family nearby. I too am feeling even more respect than I did before for single parents as I read these comments.
jln April 22, 2012 at 03:59 AM
It's comforting to read that many people in our society recognize the overload and challenges single parents face. The responsibilites include constant balancing of time, money and sacrifice. I raised two boys who are wonderful, but I have always felt as the responsibilities grew, my time for them became less which was difficult. It is wonderful when people jump in to help out with small tasks every now and then, because the life of a single parent is non-stop. You have to keep going at a constant pace because the responsibilities never end, especially if you own a home with a yard too! In addition, it is extremely important for employers in the workforce to recognize the "second" full time job that single parents take on and perform 7 days a week, providing for and raising their children. At the day's end, there isn't much time or energy left for the single parent.
Honoree Corder April 22, 2012 at 02:44 PM
I've been a single mom, a married "single" mom, and now a married mom. Being a single mom is BY FAR a much harder situation. Being married with a spouse who is on deployment or who works long hours is simply not the same. It's hard, but it's much, MUCH easier.
David F April 22, 2012 at 08:23 PM
@Honoree Corder, issues around military deployment and return are a whole new area of discussion. Living in the DC area for a number of years I experienced a little closer the effect of 2 wars on families. I attended several conferences on PTSD issues and how families cope and I did business with what is now called the Walter Reed National Medical Center where you saw the effects of the wars and how the families coped with life changing injuries. My son had a friend who's father was deployed with the Navy and I could always see the excitement in his voice when he told me his father was coming home. Even though his mother was a retired US Navy Lt Commander who knew the drill from both sides it was still tough on the family.
Lynne Marie Belsha April 26, 2012 at 03:54 PM
I voted no. A single parent verses a two parent household, even if one parent is the primary, there are two people to share the burdens. Be it emotionally or financially. The one thing that the country is just maybe beginning to realize is that single parents struggle. But they look at it more as a single parent household being where one of the parents (usually the dad) only has limited access or visitation to the children. Be it that way or 50/50 custody. (which is what i have with my children and ex). Divorce and being a full time mom or dad for 50% of the time, then being say single (when the other parent has them) 50% of the time also is an emotional hardship for the parents and children. The biggest issue in marriages today is the fact that it has envolved to giving up too easily. What happened to the days of fighting, working it out, and becoming stronger for it? Today divorce is no more of a factor than say breaking up between the partners. However it is the lasting effects that affect the children. Such things of the children dealing with living with single parents, visitation (back and forth) emotional stress, financial issues, parents dating, and parents working more to make ends meet. All these issues cause the divorces to be more traumatic for the parents when dealing with one another, which then in turn turns things traumatic for the children. No one really wins. And the biggest ones that suffer are the children.

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