The Moments That Make Solo Parenting Hard
Before I start digging into my thoughts about life as a solo parent, I should probably explain a few things. First, I think there should be a distinction between the types of single parents. There is a difference between someone who is raising a child with someone they are not involved in a relationship with and someone who is raising the child on their own with no physical, emotional, or financial help from the other parent. That’s not a judgement of any kind, and I won’t get into competitions about who has it worse. (The only time I will judge you is if you are completely partnered and you compare yourself to a single parent because your partner works a lot or is out of town. That will earn you a serious side-eye and, while I may not be in the mood to say anything, know that you have probably irked me.) Obviously every single parenting situation is different.
For those of you reading this that don’t know me personally, let me give you a quick background of my status as a single parent. My youngest daughter’s father and I were never married. For the first few years of her life, he was not a involved by his own choice. When he did become involved, things were…rough. Saying that it was a nasty custody battle is an understatement. The situation was complicated by his then-wife’s insecurities that made it nearly impossible for him and I to co-parent. Things were tempestuous between us at best.
And then things got better. Once the wife was no longer in the picture, he and I were able to communicate peacefully and amicably. We put our differences aside, put our past behind us, and worked together for the good of our daughter. He agreed to let me move from the midwest to the south to be near my mother so I’d have more support. We made plans for regular weekly phone calls, annual summer visits, even discussed the possibility of family vacations. We had a shared goal of raising our daughter with as little conflict as possible.
Three weeks after we moved, he found out he had cancer. He spent the next 18 months doing chemotherapy, radiation, surgery….and in December of 2015, it was over. My daughter was just 13 years old when she lost her dad. I won’t go into any details because that’s her pain, she owns it and it’s not mine to share. My own has been stifled, I’ve been told that it’s selfish of me to even admit that it exists because my focus should be on my daughter as if it hasn’t always been. Perhaps that’s why there aren’t any articles or support groups for parents who have lost their co-parent. It’s reserved for widows, parents who lost a spouse, not an ex. I will say that she’s had a lot of support from family and friends, and she has discovered an inner strength that she didn’t think she had.
Over the past few years, I’ve discovered the irony of how an absence can take up so much space. By not being here, he’s been even more of a presence. That was the case last night at her high school’s art show. After we found out that she won first place in her Advanced Photography class, it became one of Those Moments. Her mood immediately shifted from excited to sorrowful as soon as she felt that urge to call him and tell him her good news while I text photos to him and brag about what a brilliant child we have.
We’ve already had so many of Those Moments. Together, we ride a wave of emotions, laughing through tears, celebrating and grieving. She knows there will be many more ahead, and we’ve tried to plan for those as much as we can. There will be an empty seat next to me at her graduation and at her wedding, there will be symbols or tokens in place to honor him at all of the important events throughout her life. We will continue to include him in some way and she will look with hope for any sign that he’s watching and that he’s letting her know that he’s there. And when she says “Do you think he’d be proud of me?” my answer will always be “Of course.”
(Note: I published another version of this earlier but, thanks to a WordPress glitch, it permanently disappeared minutes after I hit publish, so I struggled to rewrite it and, unfortunately, ended up with this lower quality version.)