Maybe it was when the kids were playing in our small living room — the sound of LEGOs clicking together and their little voices discussing important matters of the pretend game they were playing. Their imaginations created whole new worlds, in which Barbies danced around LEGO creations; their minds were so free. Or perhaps it was the wide smiles and clear eyes that the kids started wearing on a near-constant basis. Perhaps it was the giggles, the laughter, the adventuresome spirits they carried with them.
Whatever it was, it didn’t take long after separating from my ex-husband for me to realize how much better off we were without him. Our house filled with laughter and joy, and it was suddenly free from the tension and arguing that had dwelled with us before.
I also realized something possibly even more important: I am a better parent as a single mother.
When I was married, money management was a source of discord. We didn’t agree on matters related to spending or saving, so it wasn’t uncommon for us to argue about it. But as a single mother, I manage the finances myself — and I decide what’s really necessary and what can wait.
I am able to budget better, choosing housing within my budget, the right car for our needs, and activities that fit our life and budget. There’s no “expectation” expenses to factor in — like expensive television packages — because those were my ex-husband’s desires, not mine.
This also means that when track season starts and my son outgrows his track running shoes overnight, we can just run out and buy another pair. There’s no worry or discussion about the expense, since I’ve built a savings account just for that purpose.
That savings account is something I am so glad to have. As a single mom, I am free to save money for expenses, emergencies and other things we want. So I do — and it’s thrilling to see my savings growing. At the same time, I have also been able to budget money to pay down debt. That feels great too. Having full control of our budget has been good for my credit score, my bank account and my psyche.
Likewise, household management is less stressful. Little things — like making the bed or cleaning the floors — were things we didn’t agree on. I like returning to a made bed at the end of the day, and I feel that a quick Swiffer of the floor is good enough most of the time. My ex didn’t care if the bed was made, but he wanted the floors cleaned until the grout shone white (as if!).
As a single mom, I set the standards in our home, so I decide what’s important. Our house is clean, but I don’t stress it if the coffee table gets cluttered or we wait until the morning to do the dishes.
“Divide and conquer” has become the hallmark of household management with me and my kids — and it makes things so much easier. We each do our own laundry. My son takes out the trash. My daughter cleans the sinks. Together, they unload the dishwasher and take care of the litter box. I do the cooking, dishwasher loading, kitchen cleanup, and make sure our kitchen is stocked and everyone is clean and fed. I also clean the bathrooms…usually. Most importantly, though, there’s no resentment. If I forget to clean the toilet, it’s on me — and me alone.
Our home became a calmer place when I became a single mother. Loud noises — the sounds of violent video games and action movies — used to constantly set my nerves on edge. But now, in our house, we prefer Super Mario World over Call of Duty and Doctor Who over Rambo. Moreover, we only turn on the television when we’re going to watch it. The sound doesn’t punctuate each and every day.
When we return at the end of the day, the house is as we left it. My kids love to read, and so do I — but my ex never quite understood why we’d choose books over television, movies or video games. Now, as a single mom, reading time has become one of the most cherished bits of my day with my kids. We curl up on the couches or in my bed, we read together or separately, and there’s always a new book to dig into because now, I’m free to have as many bookcases as I want.
Spontaneity has been another unexpected surprise of my single-mom parenting. Unencumbered by someone else’s expectations of how things “should be,” I am free to take last-minute trips to the lake to swim with my kids — free to attend concerts, take walks when the moment moves us, attend all sorts of cultural events, do silly things, have “painting nights,” and create new traditions. (One of our favorite created traditions is “Cheesy Monday” — going to a local cheese shop and trying three new cheeses with fancy bread and crudites for dinner.)
Sometimes, when we finish dinner, I’ll tell my kids to get their shoes on so we can run out for ice cream. The glee on their faces just makes me want to do it again and again.
Overall, my single-mom parenting is driven by less stress. I am more relaxed now that I’m single, so my parenting is more relaxed, too. I’m free to put my children first — their events, needs and wants — and not worry about pushback from a parent who doesn’t think that way.
That’s not to say that I’m perfect. Far from it. There are still times when my kids get in trouble or I raise my voice (often, this relates to chores). Sometimes homework takes longer or is harder than my kids expect, and they get stressed. Sometimes we run late for things, and that doesn’t sit well with me. Sometimes I take on too much in my pursuit to give my kids a better life.
But overall, we’re all happier than we were. There’s a sense of security and warmth in our home. It’s nice.
I’d wanted to give them a picture-perfect life. Two parents, a happy home, a place where friends gather and fun is had. I wanted to be the Keatons from Family Ties or the McCallisters (minus the forgotten kid) from Home Alone.
But perfection is an illusion.
You can have a happy home without two parents. We do. And sometimes, the best parenting you can do is that which you do solo.