THE BLOG
04/25/2014 02:52 pm ET Updated Jun 25, 2014

The Truth About How Hard Single Parenting Is

I know some people who are contemplating leaving their marriages, and the knee-jerk reaction is to caution them about how hard single parenting is.

Don't stay in your marriage because you fear hard work. Yes, it's hard to be a single parent, but it's also hard to be a married parent, especially if you are living in tension or fear. If you are contemplating leaving your marriage, it's probably not because you are happy. Parenting when one or both of the parents are miserable is far more difficult.

Childhood goes by fast, though it can seem like an eternity. Shoveling snow, all the diapers you change, the house cleaning, all do not really matter in the long run. That kind of work recedes into a blur. It's not a reason to fear single parenting.

This is not just about single mothers, either. Single parenting is not sex-differentiated in its hardship or its freedom, and I know as many active single fathers as I do single mothers. No one takes parenting lightly.

Yes, being a single parent is a lot of work, but not in the ways you might imagine. My marriage broke up in July of 2008, when my baby was 4-months-old and my eldest was just shy of three years. Some cautioned me that leaving with two children in diapers was insane, but I felt certain that it was easier to raise the children with little to no memory of having a two parent household than to have children old enough to remember. I have never regretted leaving at the time I did -- I still think that was the right decision for us.

That's not to say I haven't second-guessed leaving in general. Being a single parent means being wracked with guilt from time to time. It means being achingly lonely on more occasions that you anticipate. It's important to be really sure about the decision, because people will question you for the rest of your life. It's vital to know that you can look in the mirror and know you did what you needed to, when you needed to.

Single parenting is heartbreaking in different ways, like when both kids fall asleep in the car, and you can only carry them one at a time to bed, or when one child is throwing up and you are wiping their tears and the baby is crying in the crib in the other room. It's hard when the kids don't want to go to the other parent's house, and equally hard when they run out the door and don't stop to kiss you in their excitement to leave.

But there is a pure joy in having both of your babies snuggled in your arms and no one to argue with about how you run your life. The freedom from tension is heady and exhilarating, and makes up for lack of sleep, and there will be a lot of lost sleep.

No one tells you when to clean, how late the kids stay up, or complains about your choices for dinner. Being a single parent means "my house, my rules." If you are bad at compromise like I am, it is easier to be the one who is always in charge, at least under my roof.

I did have to relinquish control of what happens at Daddy's house, and I foolishly didn't take that into consideration. You only get to be the boss half the time. You give up the right to dictate how the other parent runs their house. That's a lot larger of an issue than one might think.

You will learn how strong you really are, and every dreaded task you conquer will cement your confidence and self-esteem. If you are contemplating divorce, you probably need a boost to both of those.

In my case, my ex and I parent better together now than we did when we were married. You will have to deal with your ex for the rest of your life, and it is easier if you recognize their importance to your children. I have great respect for my ex, because he has gone through the same problems and heart ache of being a single parent as I have. We go to school conferences together, discuss parenting issues together, and back each other up when needed. It can be done. Two household families can work.

Single parenting is hard, and it is easy. But it's not just about the extra work of making dinner or changing diapers. That part is the easiest the resolve. We all find our groove, eventually. Extra work is not a reason to stay.