“On a practical level, it’s like being a single parent,” I said. I could see my friend, Katie, arch her eye brows as we drove along.
I knew what she was getting at but I ploughed on regardless.
“Because Clare (my wife) is laid up with her back after her operation she can’t do anything around the house: no cleaning, washing, loading or emptying the dishwasher, no preparing food or cooking. She can’t do anything with the kids like feeding them, getting them dressed, bathing them, taking them to the playground. She can’t even drive at the moment, let alone do any shopping.”
I wasn’t being harsh or disloyal, it is true. For the last few months my wife hasn’t been able to do anything because of a chronic back problem. Being selfish, this has meant that I’ve had to do everything.
“As a result,” I continued, “I’m knackered.”
“Well, you’ve got some idea of how I feel,” said Katie. She was a single parent raising two lovely boys and going through a touchy separation with her husband.
And she was right – I had some idea. Parenting is hard work when there’s two of you committed to do it and able to do it. I see a number of my friends doing it on their own and in my mind they are heroes. My own mother was a single parent for most of my childhood following the death of my father just before my seventh birthday and she did it with phenomenal dedication, energy and passion. I look around at the single parents I know and far from vilifying them in a storm of tabloid self-righteousness, I see mums and dads working incredibly hard to do the best for their families.
In the passenger seat next to me I could sense Katie’s irritation and I knew why.
“But there’s one big difference,” I said. “Although Clare can’t help with anything practical at the moment, she is there for the family emotionally. When my daughter is upset about something she can comfort her. When we’ve got a big decision to make about one of Arun’s therapies, we can discuss it. That emotional support is really important. I may be alone practically as a parent but I’m not alone psychologically and that’s a huge difference.”
I could sense Katie relax next to me.
It’s one thing being physically drained, but I can’t imagine doing it when I’m emotionally and psychologically wrung out as well. I don’t know how my mum did it and I don’t know how so many others do it. Nevertheless, they’ve all got my respect and admiration.
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