Thousand Pound Boulder

This post may appear self-serving but that is not my intention. People who know me well can attest to that. It is about giving a glimpse into a realm that you may not experience and raising awareness of an effort to enter that realm in whatever way possible.

As a child growing up, I did not have an awareness of or exposure to any single parent households. All of my friend’s parents were still married. In high school, I remember one girl’s parents getting divorced but I was not that close to her. No one I knew had lost a parent or lived with grandparents. It just was not something that I was exposed to.

Upon graduating, let’s just say, I entered the real world via college and work. There were people everywhere that I met that had one parent, were raised by grandparents or were single parents themselves. I began to have this deep awe and respect, even though I had no clue about this realm, for single parents and often wondered how in the world they did it.

At 23 years of age, I began babysitting for a mom who had recently divorced. She was a nurse and had two boys, ages 5 and 7. As a nurse, she was paid more money for the night shift than day shift but had not been able to work that shift due to the two children. We worked out an arrangement. I would pick the boys up from after-school care (mom was already on the way to work by then) take them home, feed them, help with homework, bath, bed, the whole nine yards. I would then sleep on the couch that night. I would wake up the following morning, get the boys up, dressed for school and drop them off before heading to my day job (mom would arrive home after we left). I did this three times a week (or more if she picked up extra shifts) on the nights that she worked for about nine months. I remember when I had my last day working for her (I was getting married in 2 weeks). She was saying how much she appreciated what I had done. She began to cry and say that she didn’t know how she would have made it financially if I had not been able to take care of the boys. She had looked for a replacement to no avail. I had even asked all my single friends but no one wanted to take this job as it would cramp their social life. I remember thinking that they just did not get what a huge help it was to this family. Yes, I was paid for the time with the boys but the real reason I did it and kept doing it was because I knew that I was making a difference in the life of this family, in the life of this mom. I often think about that family and wonder where they are and how they fared. My awe and respect of single parents grew through this experience. As I began to serve in children’s, youth and women’s ministries and encounter other families, the awe and respect that I had for single parents continued to grow.

Life is complicated and filled with frustration and pressure even for single adults, no matter how good life is. Marriage adds another realm of complication, frustration and pressure again in the midst of good moments. Becoming parents, no matter how life affirming that is, blows the lid off of all the others. It has been said that parenting is the hardest job in the world. I totally agree. If you are single, take the frustration, complication and pressure of just taking care of yourself and your responsibilities and multiply that by a couple of hundred and that is the realm of marriage. In marriage, you share the burden of frustration, complication and pressure. Even though the burden is bigger, you have someone who helps carry the load, a companion who knows the weight of the burden just as much as you do. Now, multiply that by about another couple of hundred and you have the realm of parenting. In this realm, the children do not share part of the weight of the burden but again there are two of you to carry it. Multiply that burden by about a thousand and that is the realm of single parenting. Only the burden is now carried by one. Unimaginable, unfathomable and honestly on most days, impossible.

person carrying boulder

The reasons for how someone ended up in the realm of single parenting do not matter. The grief on top of the burden being carried is the same whether it is divorce, abandonment or death. Then, for good measure, throw on top of that the fact that the children struggle through their own grief and loss, again no matter why the loss. I have often said over the past 3 years (since I think most of this began for me when Travis became sick) that being a single parent feels like carrying a thousand pound boulder up a mountainside every day. There are no breaks, no respite from weight. Even if I put the boulder down and just sit there, it is an overwhelming presence of responsibility that stares me in the face and covers me with its shadow. Even in sleep, the weight is constant, although I may not sense it as much, it makes its way into my dreams. The undeniable weight of financial responsibility, parenting responsibility and household responsibilities is simply overwhelming with no time clock in sight to let you know when your shift is over.

It may seem easy at this point for someone to utter that I need to let it go, trust God more, allow someone else to carry the burden and so on. Those seem to be great philosophies but what do they mean? I cannot let it go, I have children that are my responsibility and that depend on me. It is what I signed up for when I decided to become a parent. Responsible parenting means that the boulder is mine and it is my job to get it up the mountain. Trusting God seems like a great option as well but again, what does that mean? I can say as much as I want that I trust God, ask  Him to help me with the burden but in reality, I still have to shoulder the weight and put one foot in front of the other. He may offer me peace and calmness inside or He may not, I still have to carry the boulder. It may be the way He has called me to suffer. Also, someone else cannot carry my burden, it is mine. They may help me by putting a hand on the weight to steady it when it begins to fall, holding my arms in place when they begin to shake from the effort, offer me water as I climb or simply walk alongside encouraging but the weight cannot be transferred. The philosophies that we want to say and maybe firmly believe because we have not experienced that realm, only offer us a way as individuals to not become involved. We have the tendency to become so wrapped up in our lives, our frustrations, our complications that we fail to see anyone else’s struggle with their burden or that they may carry alone. These people work next to you, shop next to you, worship next to you and live next to you.

It is easy to get involved at this time of year. The holidays make us want, for a brief moment, to help someone else who might have it harder and relieve our conscience for the year. Isn’t that just as bad as the philosophies we say? What about the rest of the year?

Take a single parent’s children to shop for school supplies or basic necessities like socks and underwear every year before school starts. Offer to clean their house, do laundry, pick up kids from school or stay home with a sick child so the parent can go to work. Take their children to ice cream or just be involved by giving the children another outlet besides mom to share and vent with. Gift cards to restaurants (eating out is extravagant for these families) or making ahead dinners to put in their freezer. Several people gave us money and specifically asked us to use it for vacations and trips with the kids (again, an extravagance). If you have a timeshare or vacation place, offer them time to stay there. One person purchased annual passes to Disney for us. It might seem extravagant but honestly, when we go to Disney or on vacation, I get to forget for a while that it depends on me. I get to leave that world behind, have fun with my kids, enjoy just being together instead of wondering what’s for dinner, how I am going to get a child somewhere, who needs shoes and so on.

It takes more in order to be aware, to be intentional, to be involved in a life that might make you uncomfortable, put a dent in your wallet or your time schedule but to the single parent it could be the thing that gets them to shoulder the burden the next day and keep climbing. We can all do more than nothing. Yes, it takes love and kindness to do anything at all for anyone at anytime of year. It takes courage and boldness to love intentionally and consistently, to walk out of your world and be willing to expose yourself to someone else’s. Became aware of those around you and make a choice to love intentionally and consistently, not just this month but the other 11 months out of the year too.