marriage motherhood

The Difference Between Being a Single Parent and Parenting Solo

The day our first baby was born was meant to be my husband’s first day of work. He was fresh out of grad school, and our bundle of joy decided to make his debut 15 days early. (For which I will always adore him.)

The five years that followed were a blur of diaper blowouts and bonked heads for me (WHY do little boys climb so much?) and late nights in the office for my husband. Some seasons were lighter than others, but for the most part, he was gone a lot.

I distinctly remember my mom’s look of shock one night in the week after our second son’s birth, when she got up at 2am to take a turn with the baby and learned that Ryan wasn’t home from work yet. That was life for me at the time, even with a four-day-old baby in the house.

And after that came the travel.

But I don’t write to share my sob story; I write to share a change in perspective that took me years to arrive at.

I can’t tell you how many times I thought of myself as a single mom. I drafted wicked Facebook statuses in my head, slamming my husband’s employer for keeping him from seeing his children during the week…or for sending him to Texas for six…or for ruining Christmas.

Five days a week (or more, at times), I handled every temper tantrum, every time out. I fielded every question a toddler’s inquisitive mind could generate. I put on every sock and put away every errant toy. I was walking exhaustion.

It was rough being a single mom.

But then one day, after listening to me go on about how hard it was, he casually said—

“Yeah, but you don’t have to hold down a job.”


At the time, I brushed the difference off in my head.

Well, obviously, I thought. But I do everything else. 

And at the time, it was true. I paid the bills. I took out the trash. I did all his laundry. Basically, I held down the fort for five years while he…worked.

And for five years I struggled to recognize how amazing that one thing was.


I never worried about when the next paycheck would come. I could take my children to well child appointments, because we had health insurance. I didn’t carry the weight of planning for our financial future.

A week ago we hired a babysitter midday on a Saturday so we could go climb a hill and sit. Something about sitting in dirt overlooking our city, our shoulders brushing, turned his mind to the future. I could see the wheels turning as I listened to him brainstorm career moves, talk real estate, and calculate how much we would need to retire at what age.

And I knew. I wasn’t a single mom. I may do some solo parenting, but I’ve never carried it alone.

photo credit

  • Kerstin
    January 14, 2014 at 11:43 am

    Oh wow. Thank you so much. I can’t tell you how much I needed to read this right now. This may just be the solution to the problem I have been trying to define for the past few weeks, going on months (and which has been driving me crazy).

    I will do some more thinking now.

    • Erica - Let Why Lead
      January 14, 2014 at 2:47 pm

      Thank you, Kerstin. I’m so touched to hear that you needed this right now. I know it is SO hard to be doing it on your own for a season, and I’ll keep you in my prayers! Best wishes, and keep in touch!

      • Kerstin
        January 14, 2014 at 3:00 pm

        Thank you! That is very kind of you. God bless you! 🙂

  • Ashley
    January 14, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    This is so very powerful, and amazing. I know a couple friends who need these words. God bless you, sister

    • Erica - Let Why Lead
      January 14, 2014 at 2:47 pm

      Hi Ashley, thank you so much. I hope you’ll free to pass on to your friends who are in this spot right now. Wishing you all the best!

  • Liz
    January 14, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    Oh man, that sounds rough. I’ve really only had my husband gone for a few days at the most and it was enough to go a little crazy.

    My husband and I are at a wonderful spot where I appreciate what he does for our family and he appreciates what I do. We laugh though because we both know that I have the more “challenging” job. Sometimes I’m envious of his quiet time at work but at the same time I know that he sacrifices to be there full time so we can stay home. God made us a team.

  • Kylie - The How To Mom
    January 14, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    I love this. I had a friend once remind me that I was not a “single parent” and that its so insensitive to real single parents to hear people say that. Yes, we have to do much of the “parenting” on our own, but we’ll never know what it feels like to drop our kids off at daycare, or have to choose between work and a sick kid. To have to work all day, and then come home and try to fit in as much laundry and housework as we can before we collapse from exhaustion. Being a mom is hard, but being a mom AND a dad is a whole different ball game.

    Thank you for this reminder! Love your posts, you are such a gifted writer!

  • Rachel T.
    January 14, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    Just perfect. A lesson I need to remember too now that I feel like Chad is gone all. the. time. Its not easy. But really its not that bad! And you caught a good one!

  • Jenny
    January 14, 2014 at 8:37 pm

    You said this perfectly. My husband travels for work 100% of the time Monday-Friday ever single week and has for going on 8 years. I often feel like a “single mom” during the week. However you are correct solo parenting is not the same as single parenting. While it’s hard there are things I don’t have to worry about. Like you said there is a paycheck and insurance. But there’s also someone to talk to (even if far away) and someone to call in a real emergency. Single parents don’t have that same support. I’m going to use “solo parenting” from now on when I talk about my situation – it’s a much more accurate description. Thank you.

    • Erica - Let Why Lead
      January 15, 2014 at 6:06 am

      Hi Jenny! I cannot believe you guys have been keeping that pace for 8 years! You’re amazing. I’m so grateful to share this motherhood journey with great women like you. Best wishes to your family, and keep in touch!

  • Adrienne
    January 15, 2014 at 12:10 am

    Such a beautiful post. It can be lonely when our husbands are always at work and we feel like we’re “doing it all”, but I don’t take his paycheck for granted. It’s because of him that I am home. Where I always wanted to be.

  • Lisa-The Domestic Life Stylist
    January 15, 2014 at 4:10 am

    Right up my alley with this one. Perspective is God’s gift isn’t it? Thanking him for clarity and perspective.

  • Tiffanie Hoffmann
    January 15, 2014 at 4:17 am

    Erica, thanks for the reminder. I was very grumpy last night with Charney relating to this issue. The washer and dryer we have gone without for almost a month was delivered today but I can’t use it until Saturday when Charney gets back in town and can move it upstairs and hook it up. It was a nice change of perspective to think that if I can just relax and let it go for a few more days my husband will be home to take care of everything for me. How great is that!

    • Erica - Let Why Lead
      January 15, 2014 at 5:21 am

      Thanks, Tiffanie! I know the feeling! I’m always wishing Ryan would do this or that or something else, but at least I have him!

      I miss seeing you at preschool! I hope you’re enjoying the house and the neighborhood!

  • Rachel Hagen
    January 15, 2014 at 5:21 am

    Love this. I always cringe when I hear girls say they’re a single mom. My SIL was a single mom for a few years and it’s nothing like solo parenting. Single parenting is so lonely. Even though your husband is gone for days on end, you still have his support and love. You have someone to talk to and text funny pictures of your kids to at the end of the day. Also (now I’m going to go off), I’m sure these girls didn’t go into this job situation blindly. Yes, once you’re in the thick of it, it sucks and it’s super hard and I love to complain and vent with a friend. But the dads are missing their kids, wife, and home too. This isn’t the easiest for them, and then to add a complaining wife I can imagine hurts even more!

    • Erica - Let Why Lead
      January 15, 2014 at 5:48 am

      Hi Rachel! I love hearing from you. Your comment made me feel intensely grateful that I don’t have to experience that loneliness. It can be lonely single parenting (for sure!), but the comfort of having someone there is something most of us probably take for granted at times.

  • Jen Ferguson
    January 15, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    I love it when God reframes things for me, too. Sometimes all I can see is what I lack instead of what I have. Beautiful post.

  • Missy June
    January 16, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    I’m so glad to hear someone recognizing this distinction. As a single mother I found the complete isolation, lack of safety net and partnership extremely disheartening. Knowing that it ALL falls to you: to earn the rent, provide the meals, prepare the meals, teach the manners, instill Godly values, education, social life, and on it goes. Parenting wasn’t made to be done alone and women whose spouses are providing income, home, healthcare, even input for decision making and family direction need to recognize the value of their partners.

    If you know a single mom (or dad) tell her she’s doing a great job, even if there are balls that get dropped. Compliment something specific her child(ren) do: manners? imagination? mad social skills? Slip her a gift card or better yet, invite her and her children over for a meal. Remind her children to notice what a great mother they have who builds her life around their needs and who is doing everything she knows to do to raise them well.

    Then send her flowers anonymously just to let her know someone noticed she’s great.

    I wish there were not single mothers, I wish there were Godly men to stand in the gap for each family that needs it. If you have that, even though he isn’t perfect, be sure to thank your man!

    • Erica - Let Why Lead
      January 17, 2014 at 5:43 am

      Missy, I just wanted (needed!) to tell you thank you for this perspective. As one who has been both a single and married mom, I really appreciate your wisdom, and it reminded me to reach out more to the single moms I know, because I really do admire them like crazy. Thank you!

      • Missy Robinson
        January 17, 2014 at 2:19 pm

        I never knew exactly how isolating it felt until I walked that path…and I had a great support system! I think all moms have burdens and don’t want to minimize any of our struggles. I just have a special sensitivity to the single moms since I’ve been there. Keep up the good work!

  • Amy @ {Life to the Full}
    January 19, 2014 at 1:13 am

    There are certain times of the year I feel like a single mom – my husband works long hours during planting and harvest time and is gone at times over the weekend for military duty. I definitely can fall into the trap of feeling bad for myself but you wrote such a good reminder here!

    I’m reminding myself everyday that God blessed my husband with a job! He blessed us with a baby that I am able to stay home to care for. My goal is to be more grateful for everything rather than whiny (my default!). I often think of Proverbs 24 and know that I don’t want to be that quarreling wife! “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.” Proverbs 25:24

    Thank you for this heart check 🙂

  • Alexis @ We Like to Learn as We Go
    January 21, 2014 at 11:19 pm

    What a great perspective! I think I would have been really mad if my husband said that. 🙂 But I think it is important that we do realize how much they do for us while working. We both have stresses to worry about and their’s is just as hard. And I think as moms we sometimes forget that.

  • Mariah
    January 23, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    Thank you. My husband is a firefighter, and is gone for 24 or 48 hour shifts. And I think “I’m basically a single mom here… at least 50% of the time” But I’m not. I parent solo a good bit, and I’m used to doing it all by myself, except for that one thing. Thank you for such a grounded perspective. Thanks.

  • Callie
    January 23, 2014 at 10:06 pm

    This is a good reminder for me, because Derek has a job like that right now, where he is gone all the time. I like that, “parenting solo”. That describes it perfectly. I don’t know how single moms do it.

  • Mary @ Giving Up On Perfect
    February 10, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    Well, now. How did you know what I needed to hear? 🙂 Great reminder and perspective adjustment…the same one I need on a pretty regular basis!

    • Erica - Let Why Lead
      February 11, 2014 at 5:56 am

      Oh I’m so glad you could use this today, but I’m NOT glad you’re in the middle of one of those seasons, especially with a newborn. When I have a newborn I need a daily (hourly? minute-ly?) perspective adjustment. 🙂 Hang in there!

  • Single mommy
    July 28, 2014 at 11:19 pm

    I am a single mom of two children, one just turned five and the younger one just turned two. I am twenty four. I got married young to my high school sweetheart and when I was pregnant with our second son he died of a massive heart attack at age 21 due to a rare heart disorder that we didn’t even know he had. I gave birth to our second son two weeks after laying my husband to rest. I used to be able to stay home and care for my son and do the household work. I would do ANYTHING if that’s what I could do now. I have to work full time now and do all the household work. I usually go to bed around or two and we have to be up at 6 to get ready and be out the door by 7 so I can make it to work. Then I get to get off after a long day and work around the house do baths, soccer practice, church clubs, and all the chores and shopping. It is exhausting to say the least. And some days I cry and break down. Be thankful for having your husband even if it’s not as often as you like. I would do anything to have mine for even five min so he can just meet our son

    • Erica Layne
      July 29, 2014 at 2:36 pm

      Thank you so much for your sweet comment. Comments like yours remind me why I wrote this post – but with so much more power, based on your life experiences. I am so sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine. Your kids are lucky to have someone as devoted as you. I hope you don’t mind if I share your comment, or part of it, with my readers via facebook. It’s just such a heartfelt and important reminder – that so many of us need to hear. Best wishes!

  • erin
    February 3, 2015 at 11:16 pm

    I live this lifestyle too. Thank you for helping me see differently. Your stories are always so uplifting and I’m thankful to know I’m not the only mom out there that lives similatily. I still struggle with giving up my ideal of what I thought family and marriage should be but reading your stuff, I am realizing I have much to be grateful for.

    • Erica Layne
      February 4, 2015 at 9:30 pm

      I really appreciate your comment, Erin. It makes me want to keep on writing! I find that the ideals in my head are often my biggest problems in life. 🙂 Always a work in progress – trying to match my ideals and reality. Best wishes to us both, but especially to you – It’s hard carrying most of the homefront on your own. Hang in there!

  • Chelsea
    September 25, 2015 at 1:55 am

    You said it so well. My husband does shift work (and LONG hours) plus various studies over the past few years – and I always have to remind myself that I’m very lucky he’s there making sure we have money to put food on the table and a roof over our heads, even if I’m doing most (if not all) of the housework, childcare, travel plans etc etc. It’s definitely different than single parenting. Thanks for the perspective x

    • Erica Layne
      September 27, 2015 at 7:42 pm

      Chelsea! I’m sorry I’m so late responding to this comment, because I so appreciated hearing that you experience this too. It’s often a post that resonates with women, both single and married. I hope you have a great week!