I Love My Husband, but Sometimes It's Easier to Parent Alone

Mom and sons playing
Aleksandar Nakic/ iStock

I never thought I’d say this, and friends look at me like I’ve lost my mind when I admit it, but sometimes I prefer to parent alone. It’s not like I’m pushing him out the door to leave, but on the rare occasions he goes away for a couple of days or a week, I don’t really mind that he’s gone. No, I’m not headed for divorce -- we actually have a pretty amazing relationship -- but sometimes it’s just easier to be the only grownup in the house. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only mom who feels that way.

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Here’s an example: it’s 6 o’clock and I’m making dinner. My kids are in the living room, fighting over a video game on their iPads. The TV is on, but no one is watching it. My husband is in the kitchen with me, talking about his day as a teacher. Only, I’m not listening to him -- I’m listening to the fight that’s escalating in the living room while I dump pasta in the boiling pot of water, stir my spaghetti sauce that’s been simmering all day, and make sure the garlic toast in the oven doesn’t get too crispy while my husband gets in the way trying to help by setting the table. I give the boys a five-minute warning on dinner that I know they don’t hear because they’re too busy arguing. My husband is oblivious (in fairness, he’s just come from dealing with 150 hormonal middle schoolers, so two kids fighting is just white noise to him). At some point, I snap and say to my husband, who is mid-sentence into a very long story, “I’m not listening to you. I can’t even hear myself think and I’m trying to get dinner on the table.” I feel like a lousy wife and mother, and we haven’t even sat down to dinner yet.

When my husband is gone, dinner is so much easier. My sons are okay with eating chicken nuggets every day and I’m good with a bagged salad or deli sandwich. It feels like a treat to just eat simple, pre-made food that didn’t take an hour to prepare and require another hour of kitchen cleanup. My husband says he doesn’t care what’s for dinner, and he’ll even offer to make dinner if I’m not in the mood to cook, but then I feel like I’m letting him down. I know this pressure is coming from my own expectations of myself, not from my husband. But still, I feel like I need to do more when all of us are home. And when he’s gone, I can slack off for awhile.

Other chores and responsibilities also fall off my radar when I have to parent alone. My husband and I share household chores and childcare pretty equitably, so it seems like I should be exhausted doing everything by myself when he’s out of town on a work trip. And yeah, there is physically more work for me to do when he’s gone because he’s not there to take the trash out or carry the laundry basket and haul the vacuum up and down the stairs or empty the dishwasher in the morning. But the mental work of managing our four-person household feels like it’s cut by half or more, not by a mere quarter, when he’s gone. I’m relieved to let go of some of the mental work, but at the same time I’m frustrated that I have to carry that load at all.

When he’s away it feels like there is less conflict at bedtime and the evening routine is more peaceful. When it’s just me, both kids are in bed and asleep by 8 o’clock — something that’s unheard of when both of us are home. When we’re both managing bedtime, the clock ticks on toward 8:15, 8:30, even 9 o’clock before both kids are in bed. When I’m the only parent, when I say it’s bedtime, they just go to bed. It’s amazing how easy it is, actually, and I wonder if they somehow sense I have run out of patience to deal with their usual shenanigans. The truth is, my patience wears pretty thin when both my husband and I are home and we still can’t manage an 8 o’clock bedtime.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s easier for my husband when I’m gone, too. Maybe he finds it more relaxing to let the kids stay up a little later, or let them play video games for as long as they like. I think it’s important for each of us to spend time alone with the kids. My sons tell me they like our time together when their father is gone because even though I won’t let them stay up late or buy them toys when we run errands, we still have special things that we do together, like watch movies in my bed (with popcorn!) — something four people can’t do in a queen-sized bed but feels just right when it’s the three of us. And I know they do things with their father when I’m gone that they don’t do when I’m home. I think it probably balances out, but I’d still like to learn to let go of some of the frustrations of the day-to-day routine I feel I must maintain.

I recognize that the most important reason I can enjoy my lone parenting adventures and find them to be easier is because I know it’s only a temporary situation. We can all pile into my bed for a movie and it doesn’t feel overwhelming or lonely—it’s just a special treat with my kids and I know my husband will be home soon. If I’m not up for supervising bath and story time or taking the kids to the park next weekend, I won’t have to because he’ll be here. No matter how many days he might be gone, I don’t ever consider myself a single parent—just a mom flying solo for a little while. I know too many single parents to think it’s an easy job to do full-time. So I will enjoy the occasional times alone with my children and be grateful that my partner will be back, and have my back, soon. And hopefully I’ll learn to let go of the expectations I have for myself so more days can be as relaxed and easy as the solo parenting days seem to be.

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