“How long until I don’t feel so lonely again?” remarks Shereen, a single parent of five years to two beautiful girls, visibly exhausted from her day-to-day chores. “On some days,” she continues, “I just want to run away and never come back… I honestly don’t know how long I can continue with this darkness inside my mind.”
Her lament highlights some unmissable elements that all single parents have to deal with, sometimes daily, namely: loneliness, sadness, stigma, and a particular kind of isolation, which becomes very visceral and multiplies tenfold when they find themselves in certain situations.
Among the 10 single parents that I spoke with while writing this article, an overwhelming 8 of them agreed that a hospital run is a top instance that makes them feel acutely aware of how alone they are. And, I’d agree with it too.
In my experience as a single parent, I dread the day my son falls sick because quite honestly, I’d rather walk on hell’s fire, than walk in and out of the hospital.
Says A, a veteran single parent, “When my older child had to be hospitalized with multiple fractures, I had to carry my younger one with me to the hospital too. Not only was their father unreachable, but it was also too late in the day to organize any help. The whole experience took such a toll on me that I began to question the very existence of a God.”
Another single parent, who also wishes to remain anonymous adds, “For me, hospital runs are the worst part of being a Single Parent. I’d gladly go back to my ex just to avoid it, that’s how much I hate it. Imagine having to deal with a sick child and then deal with all the muck work as well, like waiting in queues, talking to doctors, settling the bills, toilet runs, and insurance, to name a few. It’s horrible, and it is only humanly possible to do one of the two, but in my case now, I have no choice but to do it all. I call it the package deal from hell,” she adds, thankfully with a laugh.
The period right after one’s divorce, death of a partner, or abandonment is a bewildering one, not only for the single parent but also for their near ones. Things begin to get awkward, mostly because no one knows how to behave around these unusual circumstances. This leads to a huge gap in the understanding of what the single parent needs and what near ones assume that they need leading to misunderstandings, loneliness, and resentments.
The most tragic part is when a single parent feels the need to put everyone around them at ease by ensuring that they are doing fine when, in reality, they are from it. Imagine the trauma of doing that, day in and day out.
Says R, a widower and a single parent, “When my wife died, my daughter was just a year old. So I took her and moved to my parent’s home, hoping that it would be helpful for me. I assumed that they would be able to take better care of my daughter while I worked during the day time and got a handle on my own life and feelings. This turned out to be a mistake as my mother got overly protective of my daughter, which started interfering in my rapport with my daughter. I moved back into my own home the very next day to avoid further misunderstandings.’
The stigma that exists within families, and the society itself, at large, against single parents, is very real, and it is no lie when I say that it is brutal.
It often leads to uncomfortable situations where single parents are overlooked, looked through, judged harshly as promiscuous or husband/wife stealers, and mysteriously disinvited from events and functions, and looked at with contempt. And all this would have been bearable if the same treatment didn’t extend to the children of single parents as well.
Says Jyothi, a single parent to two girls, “It is very challenging for me to raise two girls by myself. I have had to come up against many self-righteous people, mostly women, who judge me for being a single parent. My kids, too, are rarely invited to birthday parties and are often overlooked for participation at functions, and that is just sad.”
No matter how composed and sensible a single parent might appear to be, there still are times when they look at other families and wish they could experience that even if it is for a microsecond. This inadvertently leads to the onset of guilt and severe depression in most single parents.
In my personal experience, I’ve had my self-worth drop to the floor when my kid asks me hard-hitting questions like, ‘Why is it just the two of us, always?’ or ‘Why does my father not live with us?’
Says A, “The times that I feel extra wistful are when I am at the park, and I see the fathers playing with their kids. I imagine the mothers resting at home, and I realize that that is one luxury that I can never have, and of course, at the supermarket, when I have to do all the heavy lifting myself.”
PTA’s, school events, and functions are the very definition of personal hell for most single parents. These are moments when the kids tend to experience the absence of the parent even more acutely.I Seeing all the other kids being cheered on by both parents is bound to be jarring for a kid who is used to seeing only one parent cheering them on. The absence of a parent is bound to lead to many questions too.
Says Tanya, “PTA’s must mean ‘Please pass The Alcohol’, right? Because I need a lot of it after! They cause more trauma in my home than even the actual absence of the father does. My daughter is always beside herself after what should be a happy event for her, just like it is for the other kids. My ex refuses to attend; I am left to wipe her tears after, but ice cream helps,” she adds nonchalantly.
Dear single parents, you cannot change the world and its opinion of you in one day. What you can do is own yourself and your lifestyle as a single parent. I encourage you to know that all your sacrifices and tears will be worth it when you see your young ones turn into absolute delights to themselves and the community that they live in.
So save the loneliness on their account for another day, and love yourself more. It’s in this season of life that the kids learn to be brave, pick themselves up after every fall, and love themselves more every day because you taught them how to.