What Not to Say to a Single Parent During COVID

When my marriage fell apart 18 months ago, I felt a lot of big things: grief, grief and more grief, fear, relief, worry (oh so much worry), hope, sadness, anger…I could go on and on. And in the months that followed, I felt like I was on a loop-de-loop rollercoaster that never ended. Some days I was buoyed by excitement for the possibilities ahead of me; other days, I could barely manage to get out of bed in the morning. But my biggest issue—an issue that I’m not sure will ever entirely abate—was, and continues to be, the time I spend away from my kids.

The first time a friend said to me, after asking after how I was doing, “But don’t you love having a break from your girls?” it was a punch to the gut. It stopped me in my tracks.

“No. I don’t love it. Not for a second,” I said, appalled. I didn’t even have to think about it.

“Oh. Sorry,” the well-meaning person said, and awkwardly changed the subject. I assumed in that moment that it was a one-off, a slightly insensitive question from someone who might have been feeling a little frazzled and needing a rest themselves.

Nope. So wrong. I get asked this question weekly. And during COVID? Forget it. People think I’m living the dream. “You’re so lucky,” they say. “You have two whole days a week and two weekends a month of quiet? Of being able to do whatever you want? Man, I’d kill for that.”

Well, let me break it down for you.

Yes, I have quiet. And I know how precious that can be. I’ll give you that. But here’s what people don’t think about.

Two days a week and every other weekend, I don’t get to brush their hair, help with their homework, answer their questions. I don’t get to read the bedtime stories, or play Barbies, or make up silly games, or go for bike rides or walks. Get to. Not have to. For me, even when it’s annoying, it’s still a privilege. That is now crystal clear, because I miss so many of those moments.

Two days a week and every other weekend, I’m not there when they skin their knees, or miss their grandparents, or have a nightmare. I’m not there when they’re upset or confused or worried (which happens a lot in the current climate). If they call out for me, when it’s not my day or not my weekend, they don’t get a reply from their mom. Yes, their dad is there, and he’s a good dad, but if they call my name, I can’t go to them.

Two days a week and every other weekend, I’m alone. Like alone alone. And it’s too quiet. There’s no partner to connect with, to bounce my worries off of, to help shoulder the burden of whatever life has thrown at me.

Two days a week and every other weekend, I cram in as much work and as many chores as possible so I can spend the time I do have with my girls connecting, rather than managing the mundane tasks of life. And if I’m honest, also so I don’t notice the missing chaos of kids.

Two days a week and every other weekend, I’m attempting to find myself again. To make new connections and heal frayed nerve endings. It’s not easy work. When we weren’t in social distancing, I’ve visited friends and family, I’ve dated (that’s a story for another day), I’ve spent time on passion projects. In quarantine, it’s much more difficult.

I lead a double life. A vibrant, exuberant mom life that I love very, very much. And a quieter, much more introspective, solo life that I’m learning to like but I’m far from loving. I get that the grass is always greener, I really do. I don’t presume to know how anyone’s home and work life are, how their marriage is, how their relationships with their children play out. Someone who never gets a break from their kids or partner would certainly relish having two days a week and every other weekend to themselves. But I promise you, it gets old fast. It’s not a break like a vacation – for me, it’s a break like I’m someone else completely.

I keep saying I give divorce one out of five stars, maybe. At this point in the journey, anyway. Anyone who has been through it, or who has supported someone else through it, knows it isn’t pretty. It’s messy work dismantling a life and attempting to put it back together again. And I’m nowhere near finished the rebuild, but things get a little easier with every month that passes.

But now at least I have a response to the question, “Oh my god, don’t you love your alone time?”

“Sort of,” I say. “To a point. But I’d rather all the noise of my kids, and, hopefully, someday, a partner who loves me, hands down.”

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