5 Life-Changing Lessons I’ve Learned in 5 Years of Solo Parenting

Five years ago, on February 3, I became a solo parent. My husband lost his too-short and too-devastating battle with brain cancer, and our family of four became a family of three.

My first days as a solo parent were marked by terror, confusion, and a general sense of doom — which sounds dramatic, but is nevertheless true. I hadn’t signed up to parent two children by myself, and I didn’t know how. I wasn’t used to making all the decisions without input, doing absolutely all the things without support. I had no idea how to parent alone — without the person who loved my kids and knew them the way I knew them.

Five years later, I can’t claim to be an expert on solo parenting — solo parenting is too complex, too unique of an experience for anyone to ever claim “expert” status — but I have learned a few lessons as my kids have grown from little kids to big kids to tweens and almost teens, which are worth sharing.

Live In The Moment

As a solo parent, it was easy for me to get bogged down in the worrying, planning, and strategizing. It was easy to spend nights judging my choices and mornings trying to control what happened next. It was much harder to live in the moment, to be present right then and there.

But living with one foot in the past and one foot in the future was exhausting — and solo parents are exhausted enough from the day-to-day tasks of raising kids and running homes by ourselves. What we need, among other things, is peace mixed with a little joy and time to breathe. Living in the moment is the path to that peace.

I had to choose to live in the moment — and the choice wasn’t (and isn’t!) easy — but once I made it, and committed to it, I found that I had a little more peace and a little extra joy in every day.

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Give Up The Guilt

My kids are on screens … a lot. They’re on screens more than I care to admit some days, because there are only 24 hours in a day, and some days, the majority of my hours are spoken for doing the things that need to be done to keep our lives running smoothly. Some days, one is on a screen for too many hours because the other one needs me — and there’s only one adult for two kids. Some days, they’re on screens because I’m just burned out. I feel guilty about it constantly, but over the last five years I’ve learned to give up the guilt.

Guilt doesn’t serve us. It doesn’t create more hours in the day. It doesn’t make us more efficient during those hours. It’s just a weight that makes every moment heavier — and solo parenting is a heavy enough load to bear without guilt weighing us down even more.

You Are Enough

To discipline or not? To rush in, or step back? Every day, as parents, we have to make decisions about how we want to parent, and it’s easy to second-guess ourselves. That’s true for parents in two-parent households and parents in co-parenting situations, but especially true for solo parents. We’re parenting without the benefit of another person who loves the child the way only a parent could.

For so long I thought I’d be a “better” parent if I had my children’s father to parent beside me. Not only would I be more present, more patient, more available, but I’d make better decisions because I’d have another perspective and someone to see the angles I was missing. For so long, I compared myself to parents who had a co-parent (even one that wasn’t living in the home) and convinced myself they were doing better; that because I was doing it alone, I was somehow not enough.

As my children grew, and I saw them thrive and stumble and thrive again, right along with all their peers, I realized I am enough. I realized that, though I will always miss parenting with someone who knows my kids the way I do — who sees my kids in the mornings, in the evenings, at their best, and at their worst — I’m also capable of giving them what they need by myself.

What I’ve learned is that if you’re doing your best — whatever that “best” looks like on any given day — and parenting from a place of love, it’s enough.

Learn To Say “No”

When I first started solo parenting, I thought I could keep up with all my commitments. I thought I could work and be class mom and step up for carpools. Ultimately, though, I could not: not if I wanted to give my kids the best version of me, anyway. And not if I wanted to give myself the best version of me.

I had to learn to say “no.”

Solo parenting is a full-time job. It’s a full-time job that’s done simultaneously with other jobs, and it’s a job that comes with no vacation days. Not even a lunch break. It’s a job that strains all our energy and resources and often leaves us with little for anyone else. Which means “no” is the most important word in the solo parent’s lexicon. It’s the word that protects our already-limited time and strained resources.

Learn To Say “Yes”

Though it seems counterintuitive given the lesson above, over the last five years, I have also learned the importance of saying “yes.” Say yes to the help when it’s offered — there’s no prize for doing it all alone. Say yes to the risk — however you define risk (and assuming it’s a safe-for-you risk). Most importantly, say yes to the possibility of something bigger than you imagined.

It’s easy, as a solo parent, to feel so consumed by the work of solo parenting that you forget to see the bigger world. When I started to say yes — to help, to adventure — I found the bigger world had been waiting right there all along, and life was so much brighter with that bigger world.

Five years into this solo parenting journey, there’s often still a fair amount of terror and confusion …sometimes even a general sense of doom. But more often, there’s also strength and lightness. There’s joy and hope.

And maybe that’s the lesson that underlies all the lessons I’ve learned so far: It’s a journey, and we’re all learning as we go.

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