Were you invited to a Moms’ Night Out Holiday Cookie Exchange that demanded you bake 72 homemade cookies and don’t know how to say no? Ask a Single Mom. Thinking about divorce and want to know what life is like on the other side? Ask a Single Mom. Have no idea how to make time for yourself or hate the other mothers in playgroup? Our resident Single Mom has the answers and clarity that can only come from hustling the parenting gig solo.
Dear Ask A Single Mom:
I’ve been a single mom to my two boys, 5 and 7, for the last two years. Bottom line: I. Am. Exhausted. I love my kids, but this solo parenting thing is hard work. When my ex-husband has them, all I want to do is sleep (well, and cry).
We broke up because we couldn’t stop fighting over all the usual stuff: money, parenting, domestic work, you name it. But I’m starting to wonder if the two-year break has changed anything. I know he still loves me, and getting back together would make my life so much easier.
Is it just the exhaustion making me think that we could make it work again? Or is this a viable option that lots of other single moms consider? Tell me what I should do!
Get Back With My Ex?
Dear Get Back With My Ex?,
OH, GIRL. Oh, girl. Oh, girl.
I mean, look, the question here is: What do you want for your life? What do you really really really want for it? And what do you want for your kids’ lives?
Listen, you’re never going to hear from me that single parenting isn’t hard, exhausting work. I get it. Like, I really get it. I find the push/pulls from our world via parenting, career, relationships, and mind-body-spirit-health, both physically and mentally exhausting. I get up at 5:15am every day to work out before I shower and get my kiddo up and get him bathed, fed, lunch packed, commute him to school, commute me to work, work all day, commute back to pick him up, run an errand because he needs a haircut or lactose-free milk, get home, make dinner, homework, read the next chapter in Harry Potter, and now it’s 8:30pm and we’re both going to bed. Rinse, repeat. It’s exhausting.
But for me, it’s not nearly as exhausting as being married to my ex-husband was.
It sounds like you might have a different situation in that department. From your description, it sounds like you think your ex-husband is helpful with all the second shift duties of parenting and running a household, and that getting back together with him will make things easier. But I’m a little confused, because the issues you say you broke up over (money, parenting, domestic work)—that’s the second shift. So which is it? Is he helpful, or is he a pain in the ass?
A couple of options:
- What we do know is that at one point he was enough of a pain in the ass for you to go it alone. You’ve possibly painted over this reality in your mind. You’ve done this to make getting back together a viable option. And this is OK, it’s normal. I think about the ex-boyfriend I maybe should’ve married all the time and only ever think of the wonderful things about him until my friends start rolling their eyes and reminding me of the truth. So real talk, have you floated this idea past your friends and family? You might want to, and find out if you are really just, well, tired.
- It’s also possible that he is helpful (when he’s on his own and does it his own way). Not to be a buzzkill, but when you’re not there to do whatever it is for him (clean the toilet, feed the kids, make sure the electricity gets paid) he has to do it for himself and you’ve noticed that. And when you’re not there to monitor him, he makes his own decisions about how and when those things get done. But you two have a track record of not being able to merge your second shift styles. So what’s really changed between the two of you now? Have you become better communicators? Both willing to go the extra mile? Or are you both just running your own households so there’s nothing to fight about?
Another thing to consider:
What we’re talking about here is work: the day-to-day, splitting of tasks, work of raising children and running a home. So where does love come into it? LOLOLOLOLOL, I know for us hardened single mothers, it’s like LOVE??? WHAT A JOKE, I JUST NEED TO SURVIVE THIS SLOG. Except, if you just need help, girl, YOU CAN PAY FOR THAT YOU DON’T HAVE TO GET REMARRIED. Get a cleaning service! Hire a babysitter! Order Peapod! Rally your community and figure out what you can outsource!
Consider what you truly want and need from love in your life now and in the future. Is a working partnership with a man you know loves you (who you interestingly don’t say you love) enough now and into the future? And what do you want your boys to know about love and marriage? Getting back together with their father has SERIOUS implications for them. Probably, it’s their greatest wish. So if you do it, you better be real fucking committed to making it work, because you’re too good to break their hearts again.
One last thing, have you seen a therapist since you got divorced to really unpack everything that happened? You say you’re crying when they kids are away, and girl, I’m tired as shit, but I’m not crying all the time, because I saw a therapist. Maybe you need some time to work on yourself rather than try to put a band aid on a situation with a man you already know doesn’t work. That’s hard as shit to do. Like if you’re drowning, you want the life raft, not to find the strength to swim to shore.
I won’t judge you for whatever choice you make, there are no heroes here. This is your life and you have to set it up in a way that makes it work for you and your kids. Where every day you can step into it and feel OK about it. That’s what I want for you, with or without the ex.
And we’ve always got to come back to gratitude. What a fantastic privilege it is to get to decide whether or not you’re going to be with the father of your children. It means you are financially secure enough and have enough support around you that this decision can be made by you: the independent, empowered woman that you are! That is a gift, don’t take it for granted.
But seriously, get a cleaning service. That I know you won’t regret.
Adrienne Gunn is a writer, editor, and storyteller and has published in McSweeney’s, PANK, TriQuarterly, Five Quarterly, among other journals, and has a one-woman show called Mother of the Year!