When Kenneth was alive, we split everything in half. He drove the kids to preschool in the mornings while I went to teach 0 period, and some time before the end of 5th period we traded keys and I took the van to pick the kids up. I cooked dinner and he did the dishes. Sometimes duties were redistributed, like during the height of the nursing years, when I was tied down with a baby attached to me, and he would pick up tasks that required mobility, like running errands. We both changed diapers. We both gave the kids baths. There were times when he took care of the finances, and other times when I did, depending on what else was going on in our lives. We had our squabbles over who was doing what, and our opinions about how the other person did their job(s), but mostly everything was split down the middle, and we operated like an overworked, but finely tuned machine.
I went to a summer conference while he stayed with the kids. He went to Montreal with a friend while I stayed with the kids. I went to meetings. He went to meetings.
I didn’t have to feel guilty if I left the kids with him. Or not as guilty. They were with their dad. It can’t be an imposition if it is with their dad. He was 50% responsible. He would make sure business as usual happened even if I wasn’t home, and I would do the same. The kids would eat at their usual dinner table, eating their usual dinners. They would play with their usual toys and then sleep in their usual beds. The rules were the same. The family operated the same, whether it was me, or him, or both of us. The ship continued to sail.
As an only parent, I get 100% of the duties. 100% of the responsibilities. This is probably the bitterest pill to swallow when your husband goes and dies on you.
You begin a life of cobbling together help, like a bunch of mismatched puzzle pieces that will never complete a picture. It’s a part-time job keeping track of schedules and soliciting help. Your life becomes one big imposition. You feel like a retail manager keeping track of shifts with employees that have limited availability and inevitably leaving you with uncovered shifts. Not enough employees, and the ones you do have keep changing the rules of how the store is run. This is the chaos of only parenthood.
Help comes and goes. Even the paid kind of help. It will never be the same as the father. Kenneth could never just leave me to figure out how to pick up a child or who would watch them for an overnight trip. A parent, at least the kind of parent who is involved in their child’s life, doesn’t get the luxury of not being responsible for their child’s care. Your kids don’t stop needing to go to school or be fed or taken to the doctor or bathed. You, as a parent, don’t get relieved of these duties. When Kenneth was around, he shared half of the responsibility for making sure these needs were met.
Now, I am always 50% behind. I have to work harder. Sacrifice longer. Deprive myself. Push myself. I am constantly submerged in guilt and fatigue and loneliness and hopelessness.
One of the worst things about becoming an only parent is having to rely on Help.
Help has their own conditions. Help has their own opinions. Help wants to do things their way. You must submit to Help, or Help won’t help. After all, beggars can’t be choosers. Help always comes with strings, even when Help claims it never will. You will be an imposition to Help. Help comes and goes. Help has their own life, and Help doesn’t necessarily come to help with the things that you really want help with. Help prefers to help with what Help likes. Help is helping you, so you can’t be too picky.
You have been condemned to a life of being a beggar, an imposition, a hopelessly indebted leach of a person who is overwhelmed by the brutal requirements of life as an only parent. If you express these feelings of isolation and frustration, then you must need help. Nobody will understand. They just want you to smile and say everything is okay. Help won’t help if you make them uncomfortable.
It isn’t Help’s fault that your husband died. You were the stupid one to marry the man whose aorta would explode. You chose wrong. It’s your burden to carry. Not Help’s.
And anyway, sometimes there is no Help available. Sometimes you just have to scurry around and figure it out on your own. Sometimes you feel like hiring an HR department just to keep Help around when you need them.
People who have never been alone with three children and a dead husband so easily tell somebody who is alone with three children and dead husband how they should feel. How they should do things. It must be nice to be a commentator on a life you do not understand or live.
Being an only parent is like a slow leak. I worry that one day I will wake up completely empty.