I’m nearing the end of my longest stretch of “solo parenting” to date, thanks to an international business trip that has taken F away for the past few weeks. As we start to count down the days – and dinners and baths – until F returns to us, I’ve been surprised to find myself reflecting positively on the experience.
Let me preface this by saying that I miss F madly and can’t wait for him to be home. As I told him over Skype a few days ago, in tears over the car that won’t start and the dog that got sick and the mice that appeared in the basement, I’m not my best self when he’s not around. I have even less patience and a shorter temper when the one who knows me best is not here to calm me down.
But this experience of time apart has not been wholly negative, at least for me. (He may have other stories to tell…)
First, we were blessed to have my sainted mother come stay with us for a week: to take care of S, to keep me company, and to help our household humming along nicely. I would have gone batty without her, and we all miss her already. (The beagle, in particular, thinks I am quite boring on my own.)
But during these days where I’ve been the only adult in the house, I’ve had lots of quiet time to reflect on how different it feels to fly solo. Every meal is up to me; the bathtime routine that’s all F is now all mine. The usual suspects – laundry, dishes, cooking – await me, as well as the rest of F’s usual chores – the garbage, the garden, the car. And when S melts down, I can’t hand him off to anyone else.
I crawl into bed exhausted each night, offering up tired prayers for the single parents who do this every day without a relief pitcher walking in the door when the working day ends. I can’t wait to have our bullpen fully stacked again.
But there have been many graces over these past few weeks as well. A kind neighbor who checks up on me every few days and asks if I need any help. Time for evening phone calls to catch up with old friends. A new friend who surprised us with a visit and home-baked muffins.
I’ve had the gift of time to myself, to read and write, to jump into house projects I’ve been meaning to do. I watched a few movies on Netflix that only I wanted to watch. I stopped worrying about cooking dinner and lived off all the meals we froze from the fall harvest.
I surprised myself with what I was able to do. I killed spiders, trapped mice, pulled deer ticks off the dog – all things I happily leave to F. I reorganized our kitchen cupboards and rearranged S’s room – usually tasks his analytical, engineering mind delights to tackle. I paid all the bills, dealt with insurance agents, even answered the roofers’ questions.
But mostly, I grew in confidence, took a few baby steps towards greater patience, learned to roll with more of the punches that unpredictable life always offers. I relearned the surprising truth that I can do this – I can parent S and run the household on my own, when I have to. The anxieties with which I anticipated these weeks with dread have quietly slipped away, and I feel better equipped to handle future solo adventures.
For someone who relies heavily on community and has learned to lean on others, it can seem counterintuitive for solitude to be a Good Thing. But every so often, I need the time and space of aloneness to remind me that I am growing, that God is working within me. That the frustrations and challenges that cloud the day-to-day can part to reveal a step towards wisdom and humility.
I can certainly learn such lessons when F is around. (He’d probably argue I could kill my own spiders more often, too.) But the absence of my partner reminds me who he is helping me to become. Marriage and parenting involve such delicate dances towards maturity, both as individuals and as our team.