It's been over a year since the first stay-at-home orders were issued, and if there's one comment that people write repeatedly on many of my social media posts about parenting or homeschooling, it's "I don't know how you do it!" You might have seen this tweet going around a while ago. Let me tell you, I felt that in my soul.
The answer, really, is simple: because I have to. I don't have any other choice. I would venture to say that many other single parents have the same instinctive response. (Yes, parents in general, too, but especially single parents, because there is literally no one else around to pick up any slack. It's all us).
Being a single parent can be challenging at any time, but being a single parent during a pandemic is…well.. an Experience.
I used a donor to have my son, so there is no other partner to share custody or take him for weekends. Both of my parents and their partners live fairly close and have helped me out with coming over for the day or staying over for a night or two, but there is no other parent to shoulder the parenting responsibilities. Most of the time, I'm okay with that.
My job is remote and flexible, which has allowed me to homeschool this year, which I love. I know most parents don't have this privilege, and so I know my stressors have been different than those of other parents. But here are some of the things that have come up during the last year for me.
There was so much judgment while grocery shopping
During those first weeks especially, when we didn't even know if it was safe to see my parents and before the term "pod" was thrown around, it really was just my son and me. The looks I would get at the grocery store made me want to strap on a sign that read SINGLE PARENT, CAN'T KEEP MY KID HOME! I would read social media posts judging people they saw in food stores with kids and think, you have no idea, do you? All of the grocery delivery services were jam-packed, so it was either take my kid with me or not get groceries. So I compromised: we would go food shopping at 7:30 am. We were both masked (this was early on, before they were mandated). I sanitized before, during and after. But I still felt like people judged us when we were out.
That lessened over time, but I still have people I know who won't take their kids anywhere. I never had that option.
The never-ending energy suck is real
Parents everywhere have been trying to work full-time, parent full-time, homeschool or help with remote schooling, and more. It's hard for everyone. But dare I say that for single parents, there is a unique exhaustion? There is no other adult around to shoulder the parenting responsibilities. No one else to run out because we realized (after bedtime, of course) that we didn't get enough food and bad weather is on the way. There is no one else to say, cook dinner while we finish up something for work. There is no one to keep an eye on the kids while we sit on the porch and call a friend for some down time. There is no one else around to play Paw Patrol for the 89 millionth time or get yet another bowl of goldfish crackers. We get no relief from the relentless pace of it all, until bedtime—when I often crash. The solo juggling act was put to the test during the pandemic, and it's a lot.
There is no other adult to talk to
This is a big one. Without social media, I'm not sure I would have had any contact with people over the age of four. In the beginning, everyone was trying to figure out what was going on, assess the risk, deal with work and schooling and watching Tiger King.
Then the fatigue set in. The reality that this would not be "14 days to flatten the curve." In the early fall, my son and I joined an outside, masked, no-contact playgroup with some of his old classmates that meets weekly, and I have to admit I might look forward to these days more than my son. Without a partner, there is no one to talk to about… well, anything—whether it's what happened with your kid that day, worries about COVID, or how you're feeling. Sure, there are friends, but sometimes it even feels too hard to call someone or it feels like you're imposing on them.
As time went on, like most people, we fell into a routine of homeschooling, hanging out, running errands, and figuring out our "pandemic normal." I found friends I could regularly call and text and send inappropriate memes to, and I started to feel less alone. But I never realized before how the seemingly innocuous everyday conversations at my son's school could be such an important part of my day. Or how much I would miss chance meetings in a parking lot or on an errand. I never realized the reach of my village until we were all in our houses.
My fear of COVID is still very, very real
But even now, while vaccinations are on the horizon and some sort of transition to a new kind of living (I hesitate to say "normal") is happening, there are challenges. As a single parent, it hits a certain way to see newly vaccinated people post on social media about their "date nights" and restaurant outings and social gatherings.
Meanwhile, I sit here exhausted because I've been up for countless nights already wondering what would happen if I somehow get COVID before getting vaccinated. We double-mask and rarely go out, but what if. There is no partner to take care of me. My parents would switch off taking care of my son, but who would help me, if needed? If either of them took care of me, they wouldn't be able to take care of my son because of potential exposure. (To say nothing of the long-term effects…as the only parent of my son, I have to live forever, you see).
How to help the single moms you know
The pandemic has made it hard for all of us to get the support we need, especially single parents. But even the little things can help—send an encouraging text or card to a single parent you know. Drop off a coffee or snack. If you know we're under the weather or can't get out, offer to pick something up. There have been several friends of mine who've offered to send over an Instacart order when the weather is bad, or dropped off a treat for my son or even just sent a friendly text at a much-needed time. Believe me when I say these are not small things.
Even if it looks like we are Wonder Woman and have it all under control… we can't do this alone.