My husband and I knew we wanted to move our family. There were many reasons, the most important being that, in our city of San Diego, the house we could barely afford was about a gazillion times too small for our family. So we did research. Lots and lots of research. We dutifully slogged through spreadsheets and took exploratory trips—finally setting our sights on Boise, Idaho. Then we put our house up for sale with a plan to move during the summer, seamlessly, in time for the kids to start at their new school in the fall. So far, so good. The plan was working.
But—and this is a big but—my husband hadn’t found a job in our new city yet. Not for lack of trying, but simply for the fact that it can take a freaking eon to find a new job. Problem is, our house sold quickly and our summertime move window was a ticking time bomb. Having been the new kid in school too many times when I was younger, and often feeling out of place because of it, I loathed to make my 1st and 4th graders relocate mid-year.
So, we took the opportunity while we had it, and the kids and I packed up and moved 1,000 miles away. Without my husband.
For the past few months and the foreseeable future, it’s entirely up to me to pull off school transportation, grocery shopping, laundry, bills, housecleaning, homework prompting, yard work, dog-walking, and playdate-making. I’m the only one who can properly kiss owies, read bedtime stories, and generally feed, clothe, and ensure the health and safety of my two (precious, exhausting) offspring. And my paying job is thankfully flexible, but it’s still a job. All day and all night, rain or shine—this mama doesn’t take days off.
Meanwhile, my husband is earning the bulk of the family income, providing our health insurance, and staying in a less-than-great AirBnB in our old city. Unorthodox? Sure. Crazy? Maybe.
But I know we’re far from the only ones who’ve come up with creative solutions to this modern family/work/life circus act. Families with really sick kids sometimes live in two cities by necessity in order to access treatment. Moms and Dads everywhere are forced to spend so long commuting to work that they’re barely left with any waking hours at home. Of course, military families endure all kinds of challenging, painful separations. The list is endless.
Believe me, I count my blessings when reflecting on what could be, but the fact remains: our situation sure as hell isn’t our dream life.
Still, it’s working for us. Sort of.
The kids and I miss hubs/Daddy. Text and video chat go a long way, but let me tell you, it’s nothing like having another person there to pick up the slack, or do funny voices for the kids, or cuddle with. It’s nothing like having that reassuring sense of shared responsibility for the two beings we created together. And, most of all, it’s weird to be the new family in town and meet all the new people and forge the way in a new community… without my partner. I’m painfully aware that in my new neighborhood, I present as a single mom—which is neither good nor bad, but not our reality. It feels lonely to be neither truly single nor living with my partner: a half-half kind of existence. That family down the street (who I’m not at all stalking) that bikes past our house on Saturday mornings looks so happy. So complete. So together.
And yet, there are some upsides, many which I didn’t expect. Though I’ve been through nothing remotely as tough as the all-you-can-eat buffet of real single parenting, I’ve had an appetizer or two and have found that there are actually a few tasty items on the menu:
- I might be just a little bit of a control freak, so solo parenting is in some ways easier than partnered parenting because there’s only one person to make all the decisions. (Spoiler alert: it’s me.) If I’m being honest, many times, I’m just fine without the drama and inefficiency of having another adult who gets a say in how things should go. It’s more of a totalitarian regime than a democracy now, and I like it.
- Believe it or not, my kids help out way more than they used to. They’re also noticeably less bratty and entitled. I mean, it’s probably because they feel sorry for me—but I’ll take it. We’ve developed a pleasantly cooperative routine at home and I find myself enjoying their company more than I have in a long while. With less whining and complaining AND more chores, they’re pretty great human beings.
- I have a big bed all to myself, and no one raises an eyebrow if I want to watch Inside Amy Schumer with a third glass of wine after the kids are in bed. I have no obligations to go to a baseball game. (I hate baseball.) I never have to watch his show, or perform other, errr, wifely tasks. (I mean, I generally enjoy those tasks, but a little break is refreshing.)
- I’ve figured out how to mow the lawn (it didn’t take great genius, admittedly) and fix the dryer (that one was a little harder). You know, strong woman vibes and all. Turns out, I can do more than I thought, and I choose to believe that my daughter is taking notice. My son, too.
All these little wins add up to a situation that’s not ideal, but bearable. On good days, I feel like it’s even healthy for our family, like we’re stronger and better somehow—more appreciative maybe—because of our current set-up. In time, and hopefully soon, my husband will have a job offer in our new city and our family will be together again. We’ll smother him in hugs and kisses. And after a couple days of blissful reunion, I’ll tag out and go… anywhere else. (I’m thinking a silent meditation retreat. With. No. Kids. Allowed.)
Until then, we’ll do what we’re doing. I’ll remind myself that families come up with all kinds of creative solutions to keep the machine afloat—short or long term—in order to fit the pieces together. God knows there are so many pieces. I’ll continue to miss my husband; the kids will pine for their dad. Until then, there’s video chat and text. And until then, our arrangement should hold for us. You know, sort of.