I'm not sure how I survived single parenting. As amazing as leaving my ex was, it was hard. Hell, it was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I had no idea how tired a person could be until I was a single parent, either. So yeah, it kind of stung when coupled-up parents would tell me how exhausted they were. I wanted them to offer empathy, not engage in a so-called pissing contest. So believe me when I say there are so many things a single mom wishes she could say when you tell her you're "tired." And just FYI: most of them aren't all that nice.
When you are a single mom, you're it. 24-hours-a-day, every single day, you are the only person your kids can rely on. Gone are the days of being able to divide and conquer bedtime routines, share night-time wake up duty, or sleep in once in a while. As a single mom my days blurred together, and before I knew it I felt like I was stuck in a never-ending cycle. I'd wake up before dawn so I could have a quiet cup of coffee before the fray, wake-up my kids, fight about clothes, breakfast, find shoes, load the car, daycare drop-off, commute, work, rush to get back to daycare before they closed, playtime, dinnertime, bedtime battles, baby wakes up, preschooler wakes up, bodily fluid clean-up, maybe an hour or two of sleep. Rinse and repeat. So glamorous. So overwhelming. So exhausting.
As a single parent you're responsible for every illness, every doctor's appointment, every moment when you get to the register and realize that your toddler has taken a bite out of every apple in the cart, every late-night or early-morning workout, every sick day, every toddler tantrum, and every trip to the pharmacy. You're in it, alone, and while you might have a support system in place, it's not the same as having a parenting partner to go through the trials and tribulations of parenthood with you.
Now, I’m not saying that being a mom isn’t exhausting on it's own, because it absolutely is. But now that I have a co-parent to partner with, to relieve me when he can, and to commiserate with when things go wrong, I know without a shadow of a damn doubt that there are different kinds of "tired." So if you find yourself telling a single mom that you're exhausted, know that she's probably thinking the following:
"You Have No Idea"
I honestly had no idea what "tired" really was until I became a single mom. You are on all damn day with few breaks. Then, when your kid gets sick or you have a work emergency in the middle of the night or you can't sleep even when you have the opportunity, there's no one to pick up the slack. You have to battle insomnia and parenthood all by yourself. You have to comfort your kid in the middle of the night and function at work the following day on next-to-no sleep, all by yourself.
So when you are parenting with a partner and you're talking about exhaustion, please know that a single parent doesn't want to hear it. Not from you, anyway.
"Want To Swap Lives For A Day?"
When I was a single mom, I absolutely would've signed up for a reality show where I swapped lives with a coupled-up mom for a day. Or, even better, I would've gladly swapped lives with a childless person so I could sleep for eight hours by myself, spend time getting cute, go out, have some drinks, come home, and have sex. You know, like I did when I was in my 20s and not the only person responsible for my children.
I often wish I could go back in time and school my childless self about what the word tired means. "Oh, honey. You don't know what you're talking about."
"So, How Much Sleep Did You Get Last Night?"
Honestly, chances are hight that I really didn't want to know how much sleep other, coupled people were getting. I guarantee it was more sleep than most single moms get in a damn week.
I mean this in the nicest way possible, but please shut up. Seriously. Just stop.
"I Still Have Vomit In My Hair"
You wanna see? No? Your loss, I guess.
As a single mom, I was the only around to deal with moments of late night vomit, pee, and poop, which I am embarrassed to admit I didn't have the energy to clean up. Sometimes I would sit in the shower clutching my baby or fall asleep on the towel I placed over the mess, silently begging my kid not to create any more bodily fluids until morning.
"Life Isn't A Competition, But If It Were I Would Win The Tired Game"
Life is relative, to be sure. I get that everyone has their own struggles in the context of their own life experiences. Your version of “tired“ might actually be the worst thing ever. For you. And someday, if you ever become a single parent, you might actually understand why a single mom didn't want to hear about "your version" of tired.
"Must Be Nice"
If you think it's OK to tell a single mom how tired you are, I think it's OK for them to tell you that you have it good by comparison. Check your privilege.
More often than not, I just said, "Yeah, me too." There's healing to be had in commiseration, even if you know that someone's tired is your fully functional. Life is relative, and before I became a single mom I didn't know how bad things could get. I also didn't know how strong and badass I could be.
The next time you see a single mom, I propose asking her how she is, instead of telling her how tired you are. Better yet, offer to babysit for an afternoon so she can get some rest. If you watch her kids by yourself you might start to understand the true meaning of the word "tired."
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.