What Not to say to Single Parents


Every once in a while, one of my married friends will tell me that they are “single parenting” for the week.

Their partner is away, working, and they’re in charge.

Friends, that is not single parenting. I love that you’re trying to relate, or find common ground. But please stop.

So, I get it, I do. 

You’re in charge for a week or two. The days are long, there’s so much to do, and so little time. You’re tired because you’re doing two jobs not one. You’re cranky because there’s no downtime. You feel the weight of all that responsibility.

This must be what single parenting feels like, right?

No. It’s really not.

When you’re solo parenting for a week and tell me that you now understand my life, it hurts my feelings. Because it shows me how little you actually understand.

It’s not that my life is harder than yours. It’s almost certainly not. It’s not that I wish I had your life. Almost certainly, I don’t. And it’s not that I don’t love my life – because I really do.

I have a great job, a nice home, the opportunity to travel and have amazing experiences… and I have the best child in the world (obviously).

Single parenting means an amazing amount of freedom and autonomy. Oh, and I have a closeness with my child that comes from years of operating as a unit of two.

I know all families have struggles. But there are some struggles that are unique to single parents.

Maybe if my friends understood those struggles better, they’d stop telling me they “get” what it’s like to single parent every time their spouse leaves town for a week.

Here are a few things about single parenting I’d like my non-single parent friends to know:

To List Never Ends

I had words with my 11-year-old this week when she forgot an extra-curricular commitment for the third time in a row. I sighed and said, “I don’t have space in my head to remember all my crap, and all your crap, too.” 

The thing about single parenting is all that freedom and autonomy comes with a heck of a to-do list. Because everything is your job.

Whether it’s shopping or laundry or booking the car service or remembering dental check-ups, or knowing everyone’s blood type, or paying bills, or fixing that leaky window – your job. Someone needs to go somewhere? You’re driving. Someone’s ill in the night? You’re getting up.

It’s being in charge of everything, not for a few nights, or weeks, but for year after year. There’s never anyone else to pitch in (prompted or not) to say, “You do the laundry, I’ll take care of dinner.” 

Single parents get tired.

You’re on Duty. Always.

When you’re the sole adult in the household, especially when your children are young, there’s no such thing as too tired, or not in the mood.

You could be exhausted, or sad, or at death’s door with flu, and you’re still needed for packed lunches, nursery run, story time and general entertainment. Suck it up, and get on with it.

When you’re married one of you gets to leave the house at 8pm if there’s no chocolate in the house. Whereas I’m resorting to scrabbling at the back of the cupboard for out-of-date chocolate Horlicks.

You’re Always in Someone’s Debt

Every time I travel for work, go to a meeting that finishes late, travel to London early in the morning for an event – I need to ask someone a favour. And when you’ve already asked a lot of favours so you can work, asking for a favour just so you can go to dinner, or on a date, feels… frivolous.

You’re constantly weighing up how many times Grandma has done the school run this term, what time will she need to wake up if I do this, how many nights will I be away from home? Is there a way to share the load with an uncle or aunt – although that means asking two favours?

I’m not sure I will ever be able repay all the favours I’ve asked since becoming a single parent. Not even close.

There’s no Finish Line

Solo parenting is hard, I don’t deny. But when you’re married, there is always an end in sight. You know that come Friday night, or the end of the month, your wife or husband is going to walk through the door, and you can relax, just a bit. Some jobs, or decisions, can be put off until you’re both home again.

When you’re a single parent, there’s no end in sight. It’s just you, indefinitely.

Oh, the Responsibility

For me, though, the single biggest thing that I wish married friends understood is that single parenting? It’s scary.

It’s terrifying to know that all the decisions regarding your child – big or small – are down to you. If you make the wrong decision about a school, or a medical procedure, or a parenting strategy, then it’s on your shoulders.

There are a thousand differences between me and my married friends. But I will never be able to sit next to someone else who loves my child the way I do and say, “What do we do?” 

And maybe that’s the biggest difference of all.


23 thoughts on “What Not to say to Single Parents”

  1. Great post, lots of things I’d never thought of and I can totally understand why you get cross about people saying they’re single parenting when they’re on their own for a few days. I don’t think it’s something I’ve ever said but if I ever do you have permission to slap me.

  2. love this, and can so relate, I single parented my daughter for the best part of 11 years and the frustration of being the only one that was responsible for everything broke me at times.

    Her Dad used to say he parented but on the odd occasion she went to his i was still at home sorting everything for when she came back, I never had time to do the fun things with her that he did

    Send big hugs

  3. As someone who generally has responsibility for the day to day life of the children, the house etc. it winds me up when friends say oh hubby is away this week and I don’t know how I’m going to manage. So I can only imagine how much it must wind single parents up who have this all the time. I guess it is the age old adage of unless you have walked in those shoes, you don’t know what it is like.

  4. As a widow with 3 young children I can soooo relate!! Relentless is what I say…single parenting is relentless!! Great post, thanks!

  5. Can relate to all of this. The repaying favours things … I always found it really hard to ask for help, still do, and you know what? No-one offered. Ever. So I asked for help even less. Which meant opportunities passed me by. Alot of opportunities, because I just didn’t have the support I needed. It’s only now that Dexter is older I can start to say yes to things. I resent that lack of support a lot but hey, we just get on with it don’t we? What’s the alternative?

    1. Yes! I don’t often play the “woe is me, single parent” card but getting a night out when your child is too young to be home without an adult is HARD. And when friends say, “Oh just ask your Mum” like it’s the easiest thing in the world when you’re an independent adult… grrr. For me, I have had to accept I can’t do the job I do without support and I do ask for help, but I’m constantly thinking about when it becomes too much…

  6. I read this post with interest. I may well pass comment on “being on my own” if Dave’s working away but I don’t think I would ever suggest for a second that it was anything remotely like being a single parent – as you rightly say, the two thing are not comparable and it’s fairly disrespectful of the role of a single parent to suggest it is. I guess the issue is people saying things without thinking isn’t it x x x

  7. I often have a bit of a strop about Mr TB working away #guilty. He’s in the Navy so it comes with the job. Sometimes his trips get sprung on us and other times he’s home for less than 48 hours before going again. That really messes with our routines. However, he’s always at the end of the phone or an email and does come back eventually. It’s a whole different ball game from what you’ve described x

    1. I think spouses in the services are a whole other struggle! It must be so hard to deal with the uncertainty, and sometimes the fear, just as much as the lack of routine. It’s all just different, isn’t it?

  8. I solo parent a lot, but would never ever dream of comparing it to single parenting, let alone be so bold as to say anything like that to a single parent! I find the constant ebb and flow of adjusting to life when he is away, and then adjusting again to life when he is back, disruptive and disorienting, but it is just entirely different to single parenting – even if it is half way across the world for half the month, I have the emotional support.

  9. I’m the parent who sods off for a few days each week. And yes, if my husband ever suggested he was single or solo parenting I’d slap him. We have a life which works for us, and like everyone we have compromises. I like that my job works for him to be a SAHD, it works for our situation. I’ll make arrangements for things to run as smoothly as possible every day, we speak regularly so he can vent about the kids behaviour and I can vent about how much I’m missing home. And then I come home and try and make up for all the moments I’ve missed whilst I’ve been away.
    For me it just seems as though the emotional crutch that two make isn’t comparable to single parenting.
    But yes, I completely agree with your words, because everyone has different challenges but treating them as unique (as we are as people) is far better (IMO) than trying to make everyone and every situation the same.

    1. Thanks Debbie – you’re right that the emotional support of a pair is always going to offer some reassurance that single parents don’t have, but every situation is unique – I’m in quite a good job, not everyone has that. I have family close by – not everyone does. I don’t like it when people assume single parents have all the same life, so I try not to assume the same about anyone else!

  10. I get how annoying and insensitive this comment is .I am not a single parent ,however my daughter is ,and i find my own friends can be rude and insensitive.If i say i’m helping K this week .The response’s have been “the kids have a dad get him to do it” “she isn’t a single parent the children have a dad” .This dad threatened her ,called social services ,filled the children’s heads full of nonsense ,and has paid no child support in 7 yrs.My daughter accommodates visits ,even if she has to change her plans. Encourages the children to phone him ,and saved seats at school concerts. Etc etc . Asking him to have the children would mean he would ,be late ,not turn up ,change plans at the last minute. He now sees them for 1 hr after school 2 days a week. The sad thing is they have no relationship with him ,and at 10 and 13 they are moving on without him . The lack of understanding from all sides is amazing ,and as K says ,why would he behave like a responsible parent now they are divorced,he didn’t when they were married .Surely we need to be supportive of peoples lives ,and keep our judgmental comments to ourselves.

  11. I have a reply to this. “So if one of your kids gets unfairly suspended from school, for example, would you call your husband to talk about it or would you make your own decisions and deal with it yourself?” Reply, “well of course I’d call my husband to discuss what to do.” Me, “so it’s not really single parenting is it? It’s just babysitting for a week while he’s working.”

  12. I’m not a single parent but I’m from a single parent family and I guess at the time I never really appreciated how much my Mum had to do or how hard it was for her to arrange things, have some time to herself etc.

    It sounds easy to parent before you have children but nearly 2 years in I find myself ringing her up and saying ‘how on earth did you do this by yourself?’

    The good thing is that she and I have a wonderful relationship, we were a fabulous little duo, us against the world, and I think that is really special.

    Mike goes away sometimes and having that end in sight makes it do-able although I do often get a surge of ‘oooh I could totally do this full time’ but it doesn’t last long!

    This post definitely made me think and comparing the two is a mistake I won’t be making in future.

  13. I have never been in this situation, but it sounds difficult, but you are awesome and Flea is amazing, so you are doing something right. I think it is hard when you are the main parent and not fair if you can’t do the fun things too. You have it down and I feel for you and think single parents are amazing xx

  14. Yes yes yes yes yes!! Wholeheartedly agree….especially the responsibility bit (having to make all the choices single handedly and hope to god they are the right ones). And the chocolate bit!! Although for me it’s more a glass of wine. Kid in bed, I have no wine (or chocolate) and no way of getting any! I once deliveroo’d a dessert from a local restaurant :$ So when someone says they understand what single parenting is like for a week, it irks me too…because even if their partners are away, they can pick up the phone and call them or vent over facetime at the end of the day/week!

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