Family diversity is now a mainstream concept, and we know that no one definition of “family” is superior to another. Each definition comes with its own bag of challenges and rewards, along with associated outside judgment and presumption.
I've been a member of a few types of families and have also been a solo parent for the past nine years. I say "solo" as opposed to "single" because the two are a bit different — I literally am the only parent.
Whether by choice, abandonment or death, solo parenting has its list of pros and cons:
1. Pro: I make all the rules. Con: I take all the sh*t.
This is the biggest difference I notice between most of my friends' situations and my own. I don't have to negotiate parenting rules, compromise for a united front or battle an ex-spouse over values and boundaries.
But, the joy stops there. So, while I unilaterally decide how to raise my two kids, I also take all the blame for my mistakes, bear all of the outside criticism and have to be strong enough to hold my own. There’s no backup and there’s no net. Some days, I feel like a conqueror. Other days, that sh*t's really tiring.
2. Pro: Freedom and independence! Con: I can’t afford freedom and independence!
I'm not just the primary breadwinner — I'm the only breadwinner. As a solo parent, I don't get every other weekend off, even just for the personal break. I am always working.
Throughout the past nine years, I got my master's degree and opened up a private psychotherapy practice after years of working three simultaneous jobs and still barely making it.
Between building my business and keeping my kids in the sports about which they are passionate, there isn't any money, time or energy left for spontaneous acts of freedom.
And, while this sounds like such a buzzkill regarding the dating world, I really am devoted do prioritize the things about which my kids and I are passionate. By 9 pm, the kids are winding down into bed, my 95-pound puppy is draped across my lap and I’m eating a bag of salad for dinner.
But, I’m happy. Really, really tired, but happy because I feel like I'm investing my resources into the most important areas of my life. I have freedom and independence for my choices, but not yet in my lifestyle.
3. Pro: I can date whomever I want! Con: What?
Prospective love interests don’t have to combat awkward encounters or lightsaber ego battles with an ex, but somehow, that means the men I date usually think of of us as a rescue mission or something broken they need to fix.
Though often well meaning (but not always), some men have wanted to swoop in to single-handedly revamp and rework things, from how to manage the household to how to parent and many things in-between.
These men seek placement and respect, almost demanding the role of head honcho without feeling the need to earn it or respect the family unit as it is.
This is a common blended family issue, however, we are a family — we aren't a project. We certainly have lots of love for the right person, but we don't need to be rescued from anything.
It's also really hard and would take an incredibly patient, humble and caring man to come into a family that has been bonded so strongly as a trio for such a long time.
4. Pro: I'm wonder woman! Con: I'm totally inadequate!
I can feel either way, within the same hour, depending on what's going on. It's amazing how my family has survived over these past nine years, and how proud I am of who my children are becoming.
It is good for my ego, and I fully admit to loving the sense of accomplishment that comes with making it through the good days. But the ego — being both fragile, fickle and, many times, moronic — can crash like a bad sugar high.
When things don't go well, when I screw up or when the days fall apart, I feel completely inadequate. On those days especially, I feel such an incredible responsibility to be the head of the household, a good provider, a loving nurturer and an wavering pillar of strength and support.
I've learned that I can celebrate our strengths and those good, solid ego-stroking days. I've earned them — like all parents have —, and I plan to enjoy them. The other side of that is a humbled version of an often-exhausted mom, who is acutely aware of her shortcomings.
The truth is, she cannot be everything to everyone, not even part of the time. I can never fill the void that my children have for a father. I don’t have the hassle of co-parenting, but I also don’t have the benefits, either.
I’m not a mom and a dad; I'm just a mom who's working very hard to give her kids the very best foundation for healthy development and happiness, in spite of the hand she's been dealt. My family is incredibly resilient, I just wish I sometimes had time for more rest.
I do love every part of this life, and in realizing that, I found magic and magnificence in how we function as a team and the memories we're creating along the way. Because of our circumstances, our bond is very strong and we are very connected.
There have been easier paths to choose, but they haven't been the right ones. So, I'll take my Wonder Woman moments, my daydreams of freedom and my solidarity as this family's solo parent, and I will charge onward.