It often amazes me just how damn difficult it can be to take care of 6 kids at the same time. It further amazes me how much more difficult it becomes when 2 of the 6 are infants a month apart in age. More amazement, and wonder even, comes from the ease of caring for only 4 little ones, with only 1 infant present. It's brilliant! And yet, I still can't imagine being a single parent. One of the saving graces of the two parent system is the trade-off, so that one of you can be a person, alone, for a little while. We only have the one right now, and as much as I cherish the time I have alone with my girl, I also cherish the time I have to drool alone in a store without worrying about the proximity of the potty at any given moment. So imagining a life without that trade-off feels like looking down a very long tunnel; you can only see a tiny bit of the while picture, so you have no idea of the reality of the whole.
My Mom had me at 21, and she was a single parent until I was nearly four. She had a good support system with parents and siblings to help her out, but still, it must have been so very scary, and hard. My cousin is in a similar situation with 2 kids, one pretty fresh and the other just 2. Her fiance' went to Iraq twice and returned an asshole. (I highly suspect he may have already been an asshole and just came back more of one. This suspicion is based on the fact that he has fathered more children by more women than K-Fed could aspire to, and he has "White Trash" tattooed on the inside of both arms.) My cousin is very strong, very smart and very hooked on this guy, and she's carrying not just the burden of his inability to keep his pants on, but also raising his kids by herself. She also has a great support system, but she wanted to be a Mom and Wife, not Mom Alone.
I keep thinking about how brave and resilient single parents are. It doesn't matter why these parents are doing it alone. Divorce, death, just wanting kids and not having a partner, the reasons are irrelevant. To take the responsibility for raising a child on your shoulders, and your shoulders alone, it's huge. It's hard. It's also wonderful, because raising a kid, watching a child learn and grow, laugh and love and pretend, it's the coolest thing I've ever seen. I wonder, though, how these parents get the time they need. Do they just not sleep in at all for five or six years? At the end of the day, do they collapse into a pile and pass out in their clothes? Does anyone ever bring them a surprise, just to tell them they are doing a good job? I hope so. About the surprises. Maybe I'll go send my cousin flowers.