I am primarily a stay-at-home mom, which means that most of my kids' care falls on me. I'm the parent who packs school lunches, makes sure they do their homework, contacts teachers, goes to doctor appointments, makes dinner, and does all of the other tasks that fall on whomever happens to be home between the hours of 8 in the morning and 7:30 at night.
Even though I manage their lives pretty well, there is nothing more exhausting and demoralizing than when my husband, Alex, goes on a trip for work and leaves me to do all of the work. His absence just adds about two hours to my child care day, but those two hours (7-8 a.m. and 7:30-8:30 p.m.) are hard.
Alex was out of town for almost all of last week, which left me to solo parent. I distinguish "solo parenting" from "single parenting," because I know single parents and I know how hard they work. No short-term absence of a partner can compare to all the things a single mom or dad has to juggle. But with a nod acknowledging my wussiness, I will still complain with every ounce of my being about the great hardship that is the dreaded solo parenting.
I know my husband has a really high pressure job and that he worked pretty much nonstop while he was away, but he still got to sleep all by himself in a room with a locked door and no invading offspring trying to wedge themselves perpendicularly on his bed. Nor was he awoken at 6 a.m. by the shrieking of two kids arguing over some great perceived injustice. On the plus side, I did get the whole bed to myself, only having to share my husband's pillow with the dog. (Don't tell Alex.)
I think the hardest part of my solo parenting routine is the morning. Alex and I have a morning routine with split responsibilities—I pack lunchboxes and make sure the kids have combed their hair; Alex makes them breakfast and ensures that no one leaves the house without shoes. Tuesday morning I woke up, walked downstairs, and realized I have no idea what my kids eat for breakfast.
Furthermore, because my three kids all go to different elementary schools, it is almost physically impossible for one person alone to get all my kids to their bus stops or school doors. I did figure out how to do it, but the plan relies on one bus absolutely not being a minute late and one particular parking spot to be available at 8:38 am.
There is something to be said, however, for knowing ahead of time that you will be in charge of all the work. I would almost prefer that my husband be gone all week than I get frequent unexpected calls letting me know at the last minute that he will be coming home late after my kids' bedtime. At least when I know ahead of time that I will be solo parenting, I can plan for it. Plus, if he is gone all night, I get total control over the TV remote, which is always a bonus.
Of course, the best part of solo parenting is all the thanks it brings from your children. Nothing is better than watching their little faces smile up at you at the end of the day or week when they say, "Thanks, Mom! I appreciate you working extra hard to take care of us without Dad!"
I'm being sarcastic, of course, because what really happens is that they all ask over and over when their dad will be home and when he finally does walk in the door, they stampede over your tired feet to tell them how much they missed him and how thankful they are that he came home. Then they'll ask you to make them a snack while they talk to their long-lost parent.
I would go so far as to say that solo parenting is thankless, but even I can't bring myself to say that. I know how lucky I am because last Wednesday, when schools were closed for the DC Slushfest, I got to have a snowball fight with my kids and make them hot chocolate while my husband stayed warm and dry inside a law office in New York, wistfully asking me to send him photos and wishing he were outside in the cold with us.
I guess, when I look at it that way, solo parenting isn't so bad.
Jean, a.k.a. Stimey, writes a personal blog at Stimeyland and runs an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Stimeyland.