I’m a single parent* this week.
My wife is out-of-town, so I’ll be watching my threenager without her assistance for a good ten days. I’ll be responsible for feeding him and getting him dressed and getting him to bed and giving him his bath and telling him no and weathering his tantrums and telling him no and weathering his tantrums and telling him no and…
I’m not nervous about being alone with my son for a week; even though I’m not a stay-at-home dad anymore, I’m alone with my son all the time. I’m his dad and dads are parents too, contrary to popular opinion. The occasional bout of single parenting is part of the job, and I’m used to it.
But just because I can do it doesn’t mean I want to. Single parenting is hard!
It’s not that I hate parenting. I mean, I do hate parenting, because it sucks, but it’s a necessary side-effect of having a kid, which is great, so I deal with it. But parenting alone sucks even worse.
I don’t dislike it because I’m a man and child-rearing is women’s work. This is 2014. In my house, men and women are equal, and when it comes to parenting, there are no predefined roles – outside of the ones biology assigned at the beginning of the process. Nor do I dislike parenting solo because I dislike my son and am at a loss to find ways to fill our time. Not at all. I love my son. We have a blast; I treasure these special opportunities for dad/son bonding.
The reason I don’t like taking care of my son by myself is that it’s hard. And that has nothing to do with my gender.
It’s not hard taking care of my son by myself because having a penis somehow makes me bad at it. It’s hard because parenting is hard. It’s hard when my wife is standing next to me. It’s hard when I have my own parents as backup. It’s hard whether you have one kid like us or two kids like many of you or thirteen kids like Brad Pitt.
Yes, it’s going to be difficult and stressful than normal, but it’s not going to be difficult and stressful in some foreign way I can’t comprehend or handle or haven’t experienced. It’s going to be difficult and stressful the same way parenting is always difficult and stressful. I’m not breaking a stallion here; I’m raising a human being. Shit’s tricky.
The only time parenting isn’t hard is when you’re not bothering to actually parent. Like those five minutes last week when I turned away from my son to check Twitter. They were a breeze. (It quickly got hard again when I turned back and he had thrown hummus all over the wall.)
Seriously, parenting would be the easiest thing in the world if I didn’t give a shit about my kid. Unfortunately, I am burdened with the curse of loving my son, and with great love comes great responsibility. And great inconvenience. And great sacrifice. And great expense. (Why do I keep saying “great”? All those things suck.)
I’m lucky that I have a partner with whom to share the load. Sure, she is better at some things than I am, but that’s neither because of any gender-based expertise on her part or any gender-based disinterest on mine. It’s just the way it shakes out. I’m better than her at some things too. But we can both step in for each other when needed without either of us freaking out that our son will be in danger. We’re adults. We’re in this together. And that means we occasionally hate it together.
The equality my wife and I share translates to the ability to dislike the most annoying aspects of parenting equally. Like those stretches where one of us has to do it alone. I’m confident in saying that Mom and Buried prefers to have me around to help out with Detective Munch just as much as I prefer having her at my side to lend a hand. But we both work, and sometimes one of us has to go away for a few days, and the other has to step up. It’s part of the deal. If we can’t trust each other to care for the most important thing in both of our lives, then what the hell are we doing?
Single parenting is hard, but my son will be as properly cared for and loved and played with as he would be if my wife were alone with him for a week and as he will be when Mom and Buried returns and we’re both on duty again. I’m his dad whether his mom is around or not, and nothing about our relationship with him or my responsibilities to him will change while she’s gone.
He might wear more Miami Dolphins gear and eat more microwave pizza than usual, but once Mommy is back, he probably won’t even remember she’s been gone. But I hope for her sake he’s happy to see her, because as soon as she walks in the door, I’m going to sleep for three straight days.
*I am not a single parent, and I’m grateful for that. I feel like even jokingly calling myself one in this post is disrespectful to the actual single parents out there who know far greater hardship and sacrifice than I. I’ll be alone with my son for a week; it’s hardly a tragedy. But despite certain circumstances where it’s necessary, acting like being a single parent is ideal for anyone is crazy talk.