When I told my own mother that my husband and I were splitting up, the first thing she asked me was, “Are you sure?” She’d raised my three siblings and I almost single-handedly and insisted that it was “the hardest thing she’s ever done.”
However, I didn’t take her worries too seriously. At the time, I was so jazzed on the idea of independence, too busy scream-singing The Pussycat Dolls’ "I Don’t Need a Man" in the shower that I regarded my mom’s advice about being a single mom as a bridge for Future Sydney to cross.
Well, that future came soon enough. Once I was on my own, I realized that even if I’d already felt like I was doing 90 percent of the parenting and cleaning and general household running many of us moms take upon ourselves, that 10 percent made a huge difference.
1. It’s so much harder than I thought it would be
My husband and I had a routine where he would do the kids’ bath and put them to bed so I could get a break after he got home from work. After he moved out, suddenly that was completely on me, no matter how burned-out I felt.
And not only was I doing all the work during the day, but then once they were asleep there was no one there to help me clean up the hurricane-house, or fold the endless baskets of laundry or to remember to turn the dishwasher on before bed. There was no one to get up with the kids in the middle of the night either, to help soothe their tears, or put them on the toilet, or give out Tylenol for sudden fevers or scrub puke out of the carpet. No one to pick up the prescriptions or forgotten groceries, to catch the things I'd dropped or missed. I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t overwhelmed at first.
2. It’s empowering
Last week, after I killed the second spider I’d found in my house in a matter of days, I sent my mom a triumphant text bragging about my courage. After all, I’d always been able to shriek and have a man rush to crush whatever creepy-crawly had sent me fleeing onto the furniture. In response, my mom texted me back: “Living alone is empowering because it’s not easy.”
And that’s the truth: Being forced to rely entirely on myself for the first time since I was 20 has caused me take on a level of responsibility that’s ultimately made me much, much happier (though also more wrinkly).
3. It’s lonely
One thing I really didn’t expect was the intense isolation that comes with being a single mom. When you’re married, you’re often so used to your partner's constant presence that you can crave having the house to yourself—an evening alone seems like bliss from a distance.
But quickly I discovered that aaaall that quiet was a huge adjustment. After I put the kids down each night, I was forced to face the long, empty hours before bed that seemed impossible to fill without a companion. The silence was unnerving, and I fantasized about moving into my mom’s house where I could be sure of conversation. But I resisted, and recently, amazingly, I’ve noticed that for the first time ever I’m actually learning how to be alone—and loving it too! But, the odd time I do want to go out...
4. It’s really tough to get a night away
When I was still married, after my husband got home I’d often take off to the grocery store solo. I’d take my time and stroll down the aisles, pushing my cart like I was a celebrity and they’d closed the store just for me. Sometimes I’d stop by a friends’ house for wine and child-free conversation or go for a drive just to enjoy not reaching backwards groping blindly for a toy as nursery rhymes blare through the speakers. Now that I live alone, I’ve lost that free child-minding a marriage partner offers, and I spend more evenings on the couch yelling at MasterChef Canada than I’d like to admit.
5. The time off isn’t really “off”
Most Friday nights, my ex will swing by and pick up our kids so they can spend the weekend with him. He brings them back on Sundays, meaning I have about one full day without them. Initially, I had ALL the feelings about this arrangement. (What would I do with so much free time?!)
But it turns out, that day off is usually just me catching up on the things I didn’t get a chance to do during the week−a list that is now much longer than it used to be.
6. You compromise more
There is one fewer parent to go around now and my kids definitely feel it. They act out more than they used to and it seems they’re very aware of the fact that they outnumber me. I’m also unable now to give them each as much of that all-important individual time they enjoyed before my husband and I split. The guilt about this can weigh pretty heavy at times, but I’m learning to recognize that while I’m not giving my girls everything, I really am doing the best I can—and that has to be good enough.
7. You compromise less
Marriage is all about compromise, whether it’s agreeing on paint colors, or household chores or how to spend your money. Since I’ve moved out on my own, I’ve discovered that there is absolute liberation in not having to consider anyone else’s opinion.
My bedroom is the girliest it’s been since I was a teenager, I have books stacked in every corner of my house and if I don’t want to wash the dishes at the end of the night I really don’t have to. My home is entirely mine and it’s a freedom I plan on savoring, along with sleeping smack-dab in the center of the bed and hogging every last pillow.
8. You begin extreme vetting of potential partners
With all this independence and empowerment, I’ve become very unwilling to give up or even share my new life with anyone. I’m being cautious. I’m wary of needing someone too much, of leaning on them instead of myself—it would probably be an easy habit to slide back into. And even now that I am seeing someone, I’ve set serious limits, most of which equal moving about as fast as frozen molasses in terms of how much time and space I’ll devote to our relationship.
I’m not looking for someone to take back that 10 percent and make my life easier—after all, it’s the tough stuff that reminds me what I’m made of.
A version of this story was published July 16, 2017. It has been updated