I spent this past weekend with my cousin Robyn, her husband Phil and their eight-month-old son Solomon (Solly, swoon.) Solly is the most adorable child on earth and I'm not just saying that because I'm related to him. He's just the cutest little boy. He looked so adorable that I'm having a hard time writing this without smiling. Robyn and Phil looked, well, they looked tired. As beautiful and handsome as ever, but tired.
My cousin and her husband have the option of passing Solly duty to each other if one of them feels like they're going to pass out. Single parents are not so lucky.
Marisa Bate opens her article for The Pool by saying, "I think we all have images of our parents in our mind's eye. Snapshots of how we know and understand them at different stages of our lives. Mine of my mum is her standing on a packed commuter train, fast asleep." Marisa says she remembers her mom being so tired she could fall asleep, fully asleep, standing up on a busy commuter train.
Marisa references a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found that single parents (specifically women) get less sleep than in households with two parents. "No shit," Marisa says. "Of course they get less sleep! There’s no one to take turns with; no one to take the kids out so at least one of you can catch up on rest." Additionally, the report found that single parents also have more trouble falling asleep.
Marisa says that the phrase “single-parent family” casts assertions on the kids. "Did they struggle? Are they lacking a key role model? Are they well adjusted? How did they deal with the divorce? Are they underperforming in school?" But, she asks, what about the single parent? "The individual who transforms the notion of having it all—career, kids—to doing it all. Packed lunches, ironed shirts, school run, full day at full-time job, dinner, bath, TV. Repeat and repeat and repeat until they are 18 and it’s just a different set of problems." Marisa herself is not a single parent but she watched her mother and says, "from where I’m standing, it looks exhausting."
Statistically, things are just plain hard for single parents. "According to Gingerbread, the UK’s leading single-parent charity, 41 percent of children in single-parent families live in relative poverty—around twice the risk of relative poverty faced by children in couple families. Plus, the majority of single parents don’t receive child-maintenance payments." But the number of single parents is growing.
"Twenty years ago, I can remember the bemused face of passengers as my mum pushed my brother and I on a train—literally mixing one half of life with the other on a rickety South West Train where you could still open the windows and my mum was forever telling me not to get my fingers caught," Marisa says. "She was unusual then. Now single-parent families make up a quarter of UK families with kids and I see parents with kids on my commute."
Parenting is hard, parenting on your own is harder. But, Marisa says it can't just be lack of sleep, the worrying and the work pressure that makes being a single parent so exhausting. She says what really makes it exhausting is "the ultimate sacrifice a single parent makes: themselves." Between work, parenting and worrying single parents never have much time for themselves. Marisa says that for her mother, "Sleep was part of the sacrifice of Doing It All."
Marisa closes her article by offering some advice, "If you do know a single parent, the next time you see them, please make them a cup or tea and just ask them how they are. If you are a single parent, have you thought about learning to sleep standing up?"