Nervous Breakdown? When You're a Single Parent, That's Just Not an Option

Filed under: Single Parenting, Opinions

Illustration by Dori Hartley


My 12-year-old daughter is finally at the age where, if I have to make a quick run to the store, I can leave her alone in the apartment with a modicum of confidence.

She's got her phone, her common sense and plenty of things to keep her occupied. She knows the rules, doesn't answer the door for strangers and resists engaging in wild, drunken parties with the cats. When I leave, I say my "Single Parent Prayer," which sounds something like, "Please don't let me get killed while I'm outside. Or, at least, if I do get killed, let me come back from the dead to protect my child. Thanks."

This parenting plea is just part of who I am now.

Last week, when my girl came down with a tummy virus and needed to stay home, she told me she was worried she'd be penalized for lateness if her homework wasn't in on time. It was still early in the morning, so I offered to run the completed assignment over to the school, along with the doctor's note that would excuse her from class. Before I hit the road, I promised I'd be back in a flash.

That was the plan. And a good plan it was ... until my tire exploded on the highway.

While waiting for roadside assistance to show up, I called my daughter, only to discover her phone was turned off. So, there I was, standing in the pouring rain, stuck on the interstate. I couldn't get in touch with my child, I had no idea how long this was going to take and, at this point, my stress-o-meter was reading way past "cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs."

Good thing I have friends to check in on her. Oh, wait. I don't. All my friends are hundreds of miles away. But that's OK, because I've got family nearby. Oh, wait. I don't. My only family is in California. No prob. I've got coworkers. Oh, wait. I'm a freelance writer; I have one coworker -- my computer.

The only person I could rely upon was myself, and I was soaked, stressed and completely alone. Three hours later, when the guy finally showed up and put the fragile spare tire on my car, he gave me a stern warning: "Don't drive any faster than 40, and get it replaced as soon as possible ... Or else!"

By this point, I was so stressed out and neurotic that I was scared to drive with the spare. I needed to get to the shop, but what about my kid? She had to be wondering where I was.

Finally, she sent me a text: "Mom, there's a bug in the house. Please come home soon and kill it."

Relief. She was alive, and her biggest concern was a bug in the house. I returned her text, telling her I had car trouble and I'd be home ASAP.

I hopped into my meltdown mobile, my mind about three seconds away from snapping, and inched it all the way to the auto repair shop while folks sped past me, honking.

In my trunk sat the shredded tire on a rim, which, I believed, was now garbage. So, on the way, I chucked it in a dumpster. Apparently, throwing one's rim out is a not a good idea, and, to add to my anxiety, I got to be chuckle-material over at the auto shop, where, amidst the laughter, I also could hear the grating chimes of ka-ching.

About four hours later, I returned home. My child? She was fine. And the cats? They hadn't partied too hard. But I know my kid, and as soon as I opened the door, I asked her the $64,000 question: "Where is it?" I might have been Homework Delivering Mom when I left, but now I was The Exterminator.

My daughter looked over at Sugar, our fat and lovely cat, winced, and admitted the bug-killing Tabby had already taken care of business. After a couple of good, deep breaths, I realized that even though it had been a rough day, it was just another day in the life. And although part of me wanted a nice, long, self-indulgent cry, I really didn't want to trip my kid out with my problems.

Still, I couldn't stop the tears from welling up in my eyes. I went to the kitchen to prepare her something to eat, looked at her and said, "Sometimes it's hard being a grownup. And, at times, it's really hard to do it all."

Relieved that I was home, but sad to see me cry, she said, "But, Mom, doesn't it make you happy that you can do it all? You should be proud of yourself for being that strong."

That's the kind of stuff that makes it all worthwhile: the little moments when you realize your child actually acknowledges that you are human.

I've heard people say things like, "This is going to be the death of me" or " I can't do this anymore" or "I'm going to have a nervous breakdown." No, it's not, and yes, you can.

And the whole idea of having a nervous breakdown? That's an indulgence reserved for people who can afford to freak out, people without responsibility, people who don't have a child depending on them for, well, everything.

Balancing the hardships of life and staying somewhat cool for your kids is tough enough, but you have no idea how tough it is until you've walked a wet mile in the shoes of a single parent who has no assistance, no baby-sitters, no after-care or relief plan, no friends in the area and no family member in the vicinity who can simply take over, even for an hour.

Those of us who do it all -- and, believe me, there are plenty of us -- we simply don't have time for nervous breakdowns.

I survived cancer and took care of my child throughout the entire process. I was uprooted from my home and moved to a place where I had no friends or family and I continued to take care of my child, day in and day out. I lost one career and started another. Still, I took care of my girl.

Every single day of my life is spent in work and struggle -- just like everybody else -- but, as a single parent, I'm doing it alone, without help.

I'm doing it to keep my daughter healthy, safe, clothed, educated and fed. Oh, believe me, I would gladly welcome help. I wish I had some crazy huge inheritance or a magic trust fund. As it stands, Ellen DeGeneres hasn't shown up at my door with a new car -- or even a new tire, for that matter. And Oprah Winfrey's never offered to buy me a home. It's just me, doing it all.

But one thing I don't lack for is love -- my heart is covered. I've got lots of love in my house.

So, nervous breakdown? Sorry. Not an option. Not on my watch. And my watch is 24/7.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.