Right now, my house is so quiet you could hear a pin drop. It’s the kind of silence most parents can only dream of experiencing before their children leave for college. It’s so quiet I can hear my own thoughts, listen to the second hand ticking away on the wall clock, pick up on the hum of the refrigerator motor. It’s almost hypnotic.
And I hate it.
Less than two hours ago, my head ached from the echoes of my kids fighting viciously with each other. They fight over everything: the remote, video games, a spot on the couch, the last Capri Sun. You name it, it’s the end of the world. My son wants my daughter to stop playing her music at full volume, my daughter wants my son to stop screeching at her just to get a rise. By the end of the day, my voice is sometimes sore from all the yelling I have to do because they don’t listen when I speak in normal tones. Sorry, parenting experts, but it’s true. When their dad’s around, they’re little soldiers, scurrying around cleaning up and avoiding arguments. But when I’m alone with them – which is all the time now — it’s like talking to little walls.
The minute my ex picks them up and the door slams shut behind them, I take a deep breath, close my eyes and enjoy the serenity of the moment.
But that peaceful, zen-like feeling only lasts about 20 minutes. Slowly the silence turns deafening, an eerie reminder of how lonely being a single parent can be.
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My husband and I split up just a few months before the world exploded into a virus-ridden “new normal.” I got a brief, three-month long snippet of what single parenting was like in a regular, non-Covid world. While it definitely wasn’t easy, it was a whole lot different than it is these days.
Pre-quarantine, I easily avoided those agonizingly quiet moments without the kids. I picked up as many extra shifts at my second job as I could; I occupied my free time with girls’ nights out; I hung around late after work; I dated here and there. I did whatever I could do to avoid my empty house, a four-walled reminder of my broken family.
The kids and I spent those first few months however we wanted: playdates, the movies, the arcade, visiting family, the park if the weather was mild. Even if we were just sitting around at home, there was comfort in knowing we could pick and go wherever, whenever.
And then came coronavirus.
I thought my days of isolation ended years ago with postpartum depression. At least there’s some research on that. There haven’t been many studies on single parenting during a pandemic.
Like all things 2020, there’s no instruction manual for this. Quarantine closed in on my kids and me like the doors of an elevator leading straight to hell. My days went from structured chaos to the world’s worst juggling act. I was working full time from home, homeschooling a sixth-grader and a third-grader, attempting to keep some semblance of a clean and functional home, while carefully mending the pieces of my kids’ broken hearts, still raw from the devastating news of their parents’ divorce.
There was no escape for us during that time. No friends to visit, no family to cheer us up, no solution for the daily stresses existing outside the four walls of our home. I’d scroll through Facebook and see other well-meaning families playing board games, making TikTok videos together, going on nature hikes, boasting about the pandemic bringing them closer together. I should know better than to believe anything as it’s portrayed on social media. But when you’re in such a vulnerable state, it’s everything you can do not to turn off your phone and throw it out the window. My kids were bored and frustrated when we were together. And I was too. Then they’d leave with their dad again and I’d feel temporary relief, followed by guilt, then loneliness, and lastly depression (sprinkled with a little anxiety, of course). It was a vicious cycle, one that still repeats itself sometimes post- quarantine.
Now that things are beginning to open up, there are brighter days ahead. We can visit friends and family again, the kids can play outside with neighbors, we can go to the beach or the park. We even took a vacation in July. As long as we follow the rules – wear the mask, social distance, etc. – the dark days of life indoors have ended. But the single parenting part remains.
Pandemic or not, being a single parent is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I’m doing my best, but it’s nowhere near my all. When you’re constantly pulled in several different directions at once, nothing gets 100% of your focus. I walk around in a constant state of guilt: mom guilt, work guilt, divorce guilt, money guilt, self-care guilt, laundry/dishes/cleaning guilt, the list goes on.
No matter how stressed I feel, I try my best to maintain a good relationship with my ex for the sake of my children. I’m very lucky because he’s a good dad and he tries just as hard to keep the peace with me. It’s not a perfect relationship, but it certainly helps us navigate the rough waters of co-parenting. For that I am very grateful.
Now if only we could only put this Covid nightmare behind us completely. I think we’d all be grateful for that.
Jeannine Cintron is the Staten Island Parent Editor and mom of two cute but crazy kids.