Watching helplessly as your child suffers gives rise to a pain, fear and anxiety unlike any other.
They may be enduring the taunts and blows of a bully at school or in the neighborhood.
They may be searching for a job, overcoming countless rejections and confronting the stress of financial insecurity.
Or, they may be simply crying out, because they cannot express in words the unbearable, physical pain within them.
As single parents, we cannot help but feel apart from our child’s life because of who they are and how we must survive.
We must rely on our child to communicate their individual wants, needs and desires with us — in whatever way they can. Then, we must fill in the unspoken gaps with our own observations and intuition.
In the meantime, we are the breadwinner and decision-maker for our family. Shouldering the yoke of these demands can leave us with little strength, energy and time to respond to our child.
Yet, we must find a way to balance our responsibilities and our child’s needs, a daily challenge that we accomplish alone.
Ear infections start
When my teenage son was 2 years old, he suffered from chronic ear infections for nearly a year.
Looking back, I recall making monthly appointments to meet with any available doctor in the medical group about Joseph’s ear problems.
My employer was flexible with them only if they were in the morning and did not interfere with the workload that grew through the course of the day.
Appointments go nowhere
I grew to hate these appointments with the doctors.
The diagnosis was always the same.
“Well, it looks like he has another ear infection.”
The irritable tone accompanying my request for the next prescription was always the same.
“You just want the antibiotic, because you want to go to work rather than take care of your kid.”
The encroaching presence of his father in the confined office space was always the same.
“Please, stay away from me. Don’t come near me.”
These grinding aggravations combined with my demanding workload as an editor distracted me from one of my greatest fears for my son.
Hearing and speech suffer
During my last appointment at this office, one of the doctors observed that Joseph’s speech was unclear, indicating a possible delay in his development. The reason?
“The chronic infections probably caused him to lose some hearing, resulting in problems with his speech.”
Why didn’t the doctors raise this issue earlier? After the third infection? Fourth? Or even the fifth?
So many times Joseph would rub his ears from the pain and eventually reach out to me in tears.
So many times I believed in the doctors and trusted their diagnosis — and their judgment.
So many times I felt helpless and angry, watching my son suffer and paying bill after bill, but not after this appointment.
New doctor, new perspective
I knew a change had to be made — and I would have to make it alone.
Joseph’s father was never one to offer suggestions or take the lead in decision-making. That responsibility had always come naturally to me, a propensity duly noted by the attorneys on both sides when our custody agreement was being finalized.
I took my son to my childhood doctor, who recommended that I take him to a specialist, Dr. H, who quickly determined that a routine surgery would improve his hearing and, in turn, his speech.
The decision came down to me.
In that moment, I realized that my love, so simple and elegant, served as the fulcrum that allowed me to balance my son’s needs and my responsibilities.
My love for Joseph helped me understand his medical condition and treatment, making sense of his tears and pain.
My love motivated me to research the diagnosis and the surgery required and ultimately move forward with the doctor’s recommendation.
This love revealed a certain courage as well that his father did not possess. He disagreed with the doctor and me for reasons now long forgotten. I believe he could not handle medical issues in general or just wanted to be contrary to me. Sadly, his needs outweighed those of his son.
On the day of Joseph’s surgery I was in the hospital with my parents and a friend. They remained in the waiting room, but only I, the parent, was allowed to be with him in the recovery room after the procedure.
Being alone can be OK
Sometimes, other people can articulate perfectly how you are feeling and what you are thinking at a given time. Jenny, a member of one of my Facebook groups, posted her experience and I wanted to share it with you. The following excerpt mirrors my state of mind that day in the hospital:
“It kind of just hit me today what being a single mom means. It’s not a temporary status … not something you ever really get over. It’s so much more than simply being single.
“Just now, the doctors walked my son back for surgery [nothing serious, tonsils and adenoids] and I’m sitting in the recovery room by myself.
“I have an amazing support system with so many people checking in on me and telling me everything will be OK.
“But what I don’t have is someone in here, crying with me because their whole heart is on an operating table.
“I don’t have someone next to me falling apart at the thought of something not going OK.
“What a strange feeling it is to realize that no matter who you have in your corner, when it comes to your child, you will kind of always be alone.
“No one else in the world is so absolutely invested in your child, which means you have to stay strong 24/7.
“I guess it’s OK though, because no one else will ever feel the overwhelming, unconditional love that child has for the woman who gave him everything she could offer.”
Her poignant insights gave me pause.
Being a single parent may create logistical hardships and be lonely at times, but the love that exists between your child and you is unique and boundless.
Everyday single parents have to work at achieving that balance because you are the most important person in your child’s life.
Your child needs you because they love you.
Never forget that, my single mamas and papas!
On Thursdays, I share a blog about a day in the actual life of a single parent. Every fourth Thursday, instead of a personal post, I put together one where I assemble news on and about single parents nationally and globally.
I would love to hear from you! Feel free to send any comments and questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also on Twitter @parentsonurown and can be found by searching #singleparentandstrong.