I haven’t written in days, for one reason: the only things I want to write sound like whining. And I fought that urge to write or post complaints because I know that 1) whining is annoying, 2) so is complaining, 3) so is the carefully reflexive “I know I shouldn’t complain because I’m really lucky, but I still want to complain.” The latter is my favorite, but it’s still annoying.
So this morning, instead of wallowing, I tried to figure out where the whining is coming from. And I think I know.
The list I kept playing in my head agglomerated all the tasks I have to do each day, with the special holiday-season twist of comparing my life to that of my cohabitating friends. All of the tedious chores adulthood brings, I sighed, are better split amongst a couple. All the cooking and cleaning and prep and parenting and sheets and dishes and trash and child-conflict management are so much easier when they’re split in half (which they never are, if we’re honest, in any relationship.) And as my list grew, cartoonishly buring me in “woe is me, I have to do all this alone,” my rational brain reminded me of something: an awful lot of the first world is doing a lot. Work and kids and household b.s. are things we share in common. Very few people have an equitable split of household, workplace, and parenting tasks. Very few people are in happy couples where the chores seem trivial because of the quality of their companionship.
And that’s where I stopped.
I’m not as overworked as I am lonely.
I’m less lonely than I was in an unhappy marriage. But I’m lonely.
I have lots of friends. Coworkers I like, neighbors I like, family I enjoy, plenty of social interaction. Too much, sometimes, for an introvert.
But now recounting conversations I’ve had over that past few months, I remember that I felt a pang of “they have no idea” as friends and family combined efforts to get tasks done. Parents divide and conquer to give their children attention, as partners divide and conquer household duties, and couples commingle funds and can afford houses even in the outrageously priced Bay Area; and in watching these teams of domestic collaboration, I thought I was jealous that they had a helper.
The truth is I’m jealous that they have a helpmate.
I’m not a lazy person, and I don’t shrink back from a heavy workload. I just want someone to talk with while I work.
I’m quite capable, and I don’t need someone to join me as I add the leaf to the dining room table or prep for Thanksgiving or wrap gifts for people I love. But it would be really nice to create memories with someone in whose company the joy of planning and accomplishing is even more enjoyable.
I thrill at the opportunity to read to my boys, to help each with their tasks, to meet their requests for awesome and healthy food. And though I’d like to have a partner doing half the reading, the tasks, and the food (especially as I bounce back and forth between each child, literally telling the other to please be patient as I help the other, teaching them patience and also that there is not enough parent to go around), I realize that what I really miss is not the tasksharing but the companionship. I wanted to raise children with someone who made them laugh one room away as I prepared meals, who brought us delicious snacks while the children and I played games. Who made us a foursome at the library so we could each listen to each child as we lost ourselves in books for half the day.
As always, the toxic nature of comparison, as I watch wistfully this holiday season while my family provides a full team for their household, whatever that household looks like, I think that I’m sad that they have what I don’t. But my real sadness is that I don’t have what I planned. I’m living the dream, but reality has twisted some of the details, and I’m not ready to let go, it seems, of the image of two parents behind the white picket fence.
I have the boys 85% of the month, so the bulk of the childrearing jobs lie with me. All the school lunches, all the homework, drop off and pick up…I miss them one morning a week, two dinners a week, after school two days a week, and two stints of 36-hours a month.
Those numbers have been bouncing around in my head as a blessing and as injustice. Until I realized why they seem so unbalanced. It’s not the burden of all the details.
I love my kids. I really enjoy my job. I like where we live. I’m hopeful, motivated, and Isurrounded by a support network of people I care about.
But I’m lonely.
Doesn’t make me want to date. Doesn’t make me want to reach out more than I already am to friends whose company I love.
It makes me want to blog.
I began this blog more than seven years ago because I was lonely, parenting a toddler in an isolated place with a partner who worked so much of the week I was almost always alone with the marvelous and confusing child whom I tried so hard to understand. I didn’t have my people with me, so I built a community online.
And I am still writing in this space, engaging with friends and strangers, talking about life and books and parenting and all my neuroses…to stave off loneliness.
It still sounds a bit whiny and a bit like complaining. But it’s much more honest than listing the reasons single parenting is overwhelming. Because really, the tasks are manageable. And the emotional well-being I’ve gained from making a healthy choice about a destructive relationship makes everything more relaxing, hopeful, and joyful.
The comparisons I find myself making between my days and others’ days–a tally sheet of the roles of those with kids and not, those with jobs and not, those with pets and not—comes down to a jealousy I now know is both contentment with my life and a dissatisfaction with being more alone than I’d like.
So if nothing else, the blog is free therapy. Because the above revelation would likely have cost me $300 and two hours including travel time and babysitter. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why blogging probably won’t die anytime soon: Free Therapy.
Blog. We’re here.
And I get it. It’s a different kind of lonely, even for an introvert who is great at being alone, even for someone who was deeply lonely within a marriage. If this is whining, keep it up. It lets us see each other.
That’s what I always hope. That blogging lets us see each other.
This is beautiful writing. So honest and real. Thank you for sharing.
I did what you are doing many years ago but the details and circumstances were much the same. I solved the loneliness/helpmate problem – as well as the divvying up of financial demands – by sharing a house with another single mother. We were of similar age though different temperament and the mix worked. We talked a lot and cooked together or separately and most importantly laughed a lot – especially at the special quandary presented by single parenthood. We weren’t into dating for at least part of the time we were together but we were into going our once in a while for release and a good time. We did that together too and split the cost of childcare. My son remembers this as one of the best periods of his growing-up years because my housemate’s kids became his siblings with all the fun and growth and chicanery that involves. I’ve thought about novelizing that experience both because I write for a living and because it’s a good story. I believe I would call it Womanfriends.
What a great solution! Community is definitely the answer…my friends all feed my soul in different ways. The catch is they aren’t partners. They’re there for fun or when I need them, but not every day.
I’d love to read your novel about cohabitating single moms!
I see the owies, the blood stopped escaping, but there are scars. There always is a stupid scar. And a memory of what was there before… no scar. You’re healing, and we’re here. I got unicorn bandaids from Fae!!! I’ll share. Big hugs.
I’m guessing there is glitter on those band aids. Heart salve is what glittery band aids are…
I feel the exact same. I mourn for the memories that I thought we would create as a family. Every time I cut their nails I’m resentful that I have to do this alone for three children until they can do it themselves. The thousands of daily decisions that I have to make alone no one to bounce them off. The successes I celebrate alone and the failures I bear the brunt of alone. It’s tough going. Not without it’s rewards of course. Thank you for your words.
I hear you. And I’m not mad at him, and I’m glad they so enjoy him. I just want to regret a few decisions. I try not to, for two obvious reasons. But when I feel particularly beat down by all of it, I’m pretty mad at myself.
By age 8 they’re totally up for cutting their own fingernails, btw. Hang in there!
I so identify with this! I didn’t marry the Girl Child’s father and was a single parent for 18 years, and most of the time it was okay. I guess maybe the fact that I made a choice to go it alone right from the start made a difference. But oh, how lonely I felt at prize givings and concerts and celebrations! It seemed I could always rise to the challenge of the tough times, and we had a lot of fun being just the two of us … but sometimes, when she was a star or won an award, I so badly wanted someone else to share my sense of pride in her achievement.
That must have been a challenging period. I’m glad you’re not alone in your parenting now. In this I feel blessed, because the boys’ dad is very involved, and we have an amicable split such that we go to parent teacher conferences together, soccer games together, and school plays together. So we can share their triumphs and come together in a unified front for the kids’ challenges. On that I’m definitely not alone.