I give single parents the ultimate respect. It is the hardest job I’ve ever had, and one that, unless you’re in it, you can’t fully understand. And if I’m being totally honest here, even writing about it is still hard for me, and I’ve been at it for awhile now. I’ve written and erased the opening paragraph multiple times because I find choosing the right words to be more important here than in all my other posts. But this is a storyline that needs to be shared. It’s one of those taboo subjects that isn’t openly discussed but should be.
What’s harder than the loneliness? The explaining
Twisted backstory aside, I’ll just say this, six weeks after my little one was born, I found myself alone. Husband gone. Just me, a three year old, a baby, and a c-section scar that wasn’t even healed. At first, I told only those closest to me, and I didn’t openly discuss it with anyone. People were quick to ask about the new baby anyway so it was something that something that basically got swept under the rug.
I kept a lot of what I was feeling and what I wanted to say inside. I cried a lot at the beginning. A lot. Not for me, but for my kids. I cried when my little one brought home a flyer for “Donuts with Dad Day” at her preschool, and she didn’t have one to bring with her anymore. I cried more mornings than I can count when songs on the radio hit me like a ton of bricks. I cried when I had to hold my screaming newborn down for a blood draw and had nobody squeezing my shoulder for support.
Then I cried again when, months later, baby girl took her first steps and I got so excited, but the only one there to share the magic with was still using a sippy cup herself. But the crying wasn’t the hard part. Harsh words between someone who once was my best friend and court appearances weren’t the hardest parts either.
The hardest thing I’ve dealt with in all of this is the questioning. It’s the questions from my kids who are too innocent to know that some questions are taboo in the adult world. Kids don’t have filters. They don’t know that, “Why don’t you let Daddy live here” will rip mamma’s heart in two when it’s thrown at you on the way to school.
They have to make sense of their world being turned upside down, too, and to do that, they need to ask. So I let them. But how do you answer questions when the divorce was the best thing for you and the split wasn’t amicable? How do you answer questions about why you divorced when the answer involves things kids have no business hearing? When you want to scream, “because your father’s a no good…” (I’m sure you can fill in the blank and whatever you can come up with will be accurate!).
I’ve always been honest with my kids. I’ve always spoken to them on my level, no baby talk and silliness. It’s helped them to grow into amazingly well spoken children with great vocabularies, if I do say so myself. So when it came to questions about their dad and the new single parent status we were now all living with, I chose honesty.
I didn’t dance around their questions with, “We all love you so very much,” because to me, that doesn’t really help the situation. I answered as honestly as I could without bad mouthing their dad at all (even if I really really wanted to), and without opening them up to an adult world that they couldn’t really understand and shouldn’t have to.
“Why aren’t you still married to Daddy?”
I remember the first time she asked, as clearly as if it were yesterday. That very question has come up repeatedly throughout the years. But this first time I heard it I was thrown for a loop. I was in the car and I think my heart skipped a beat. I took a breath and just told her that sometimes marriages need to end because it’s not what is best for everyone anymore.
I held my breath, waiting for the followup. I was honestly terrified. There’s no instruction manual for this. I knew the answer I gave could weigh heavily on a kid’s mind and heart. Why isn’t there an instruction manual?! Because every kid is different and every divorce is different, that’s why.
I would have given anything for someone to tell me exactly what to say right then to make my little girl understand and not be upset or hurt by my answer. For my little one, the answer I gave was enough. “Ok. Are you getting a new husband?” I let out the breath I was still holding. With an answer of “Nope, not right now,” the conversation was turned to something she saw out the car window. I was relieved. Was it the correct thing to do? I’m not an expert, but for us it was the right thing.
Since that day, I’ve gotten so many questions, and I’ve always taken the same approach. I give a simple answer that is truthful but doesn’t go into huge details. Now that my first born is a little older and starting to understand more, she has asked me what her father has done to make us not be in love anymore. Woah. Another hard one.
This time, I knew honest answers wouldn’t get the job done because I try not to bad mouth their dad at all to my kids. It is his fault. He did do wrong. Maybe one day I will let her in on the story, but it’s not necessary right now. I can let her form her own opinions and relationship with her father without his treatment of our relationship being a factor in her feelings.
How’d I answer it then? I told her every relationship is complicated and it is something we can talk about when she is older. I’m choosing honesty and the high road. It’s not the easiest path but it’s the only one I’ll take because from the minute my first child was born it stopped being about what’s easiest and best for me. Now, it’s all about her now and I will do anything to keep her happy, healthy, and safe.
While there isn’t a single mama’s manual, there are lots of groups online and in the real world for support. It’s always best to talk it out if you can. Share your story and cry if you have to. I did. But then I got it together and offered the best I had to my kids. I also invested in waterproof mascara and found some friends to vent to. Support, hard work, and love: that’s what being a single parent is all about.