Here’s my typical Friday night experience as a single parent having just dropped off my kids with their dad for the weekend:
“No kids! I can do anything! I should call a friend and go out for drinks!”
“Eh, I can’t really afford it and it’s last minute. No one will be available. I should just go home.”
“I don’t want to go home to my empty house. I’ll go out by myself! I’ll go somewhere fun and new that I get to pick!”
“I’m lonely. I don’t want to go out by myself, I’ll just go home.”
“I’ll take a book with me so going out by myself seems intentional! Maybe a handsome, bookish gentleman will ask what I’m reading!”
“I’m not technically free to date, nor am I secure enough in myself yet to think anyone would be interested in me, I’ll just go home.”
Luckily, as I conversed with myself in my head, my brother called to invite me over for burgers. Loneliness and budget problems solved. I had a great night with him, my sister-in-law, and their baby girl.
I can’t be the only one navigating this unsettling chasm between longed-for freedom and unmoored loneliness. Any other single parents (or just singles) out there feeling this too? As an introverted mother of four, I used to ache for time to myself – to read, to drink coffee, to go out for a glass of wine, to just sit in a quiet house. As a single parent, I find myself slogging through my exhausting weeks, just waiting to drop my kids off with their dad. But as soon as I do, I miss them. They overwhelm me, but they ground me. Now that I have this freedom every other weekend, I’m finding I don’t always know what to do with it.
Although I’m beginning to learn what not to do with it, at least not on a regular basis:
- Drink a whole bottle of wine (or two) just because I can and being useless for the entire rest of the weekend
- Binge Netflix from Friday night to Sunday night
- Fill every minute with activity, from chores to visits to errands
- Don’t interact with another person once or leave my house at all
Sometimes I tell myself that I deserve to spend my weekends this way – after two weeks of single-momming it while working full time, haven’t I earned the right to drink a bottle of wine on my couch and watch an entire season of Peaky Blinders? Sure. But here’s the thing – I don’t come away from that feeling rested and alive and ready to jump back in to the fray. The wine and the TV and the occasional busyness and the isolation are all just pendulum swings on the continuum of numbing methods I use to distract myself. I’m hiding from my life rather than figuring out how to live in it the way it looks now.
Here’s what I’m learning is good for me when I’m alone:
- Having a glass or two of good wine while cooking a dinner for myself my kids would never eat
- Consuming the good, the beautiful, and the true – books, (I have time to read again!), movies, live music, art museums, beautiful outside places.
- Wisely and selectively making plans with single and married friends and family to give and take from the community I’m lucky enough to have. (And sometimes staying out too late having drinks with old friends – just not all the time.)
- Appreciating the silence and solitude while I have it and allowing that peace to grow and sustain me through the joyous noise and chaos of raising my four kids.
This is hard stuff. This is a whole new life I wasn’t planning on, that I’m trying to learn how to live well. It’s a strange place to be, learning to be comfortable being alone. It’s an exercise in paradoxes – I want to be comfortable enough by myself to be ready for a relationship again someday. I want to find enough rest to energize my spirit. I want to enter silence to prepare for noise. I want time away from my kids so I can be more present to my kids. And God knows I’m not perfect. I haven’t arrived anywhere yet. But I’m trying and I’m learning. I know I’ll still have weekends where I just veg, or I overcommit. And I won’t beat myself up over either.
And you know what? It’s Saturday night. I think I’ll bring my book to that cool market bar in the city and get a table for one.