single parent when your child gets sick
When Liadan Hynes’ marriage fell apart she had to work on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, ‘Things Fall Apart’ she explores the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves. This week, it’s how she handles parenting a sick child while working full-time
My daughter was sick twice in the last two weeks. Silent scream. As a single parent who works full-time, it should have been something of a disaster. A friend who has been separated for years once told me that sometimes parenting on your own, each parent individually, is easier, except when they get sick.
When we first separated, I rather obsessively put a system into place to hold things together. Hold us together. Family members slotted into weekly evenings and activities, to help shore things up. The schedule, we called it.
And then things became easier, or I knitted back together and became stronger, and I needed the schedule less. Life needed to be less rigid. We were stronger, and therefore able to be more flexible.
So now we don’t need a schedule. Or such an extensive one. Such formality. I have my own schedule now; with me and her, with her father, with family when I need them. I know when I go off-schedule, away for a day or two with friends, I need to make extra plans so re-entry to real life is easier; prepare the food for when I get back, the school kit needed.
These are the things you think of when there is not another adult in your house to take up the slack – where is the gym gear before I go away so I will not spend Tuesday morning frantically tearing the house apart for it?
You get better and better at running it all yourself. You get to the point where you want to. Rely on yourself. Except when there is a tear in our time continuum. An unexpected event that throws all into disarray. My child gets sick, and I have work planned for the next day that cannot be cancelled. Another schedule, a work one, which it is too late to unpick.
But the original structure, the framework, is still there to be called upon. I catch my brother before he goes to bed – can you come over tomorrow first thing, she’s sick and I have a meeting.
The following week, sick again. I work while she watches a movie on the couch. The structure of my flexible work catches us that time. I’m lucky. I have a network, and I have flexible work. Invisible nets that catch us when our own schedule breaks down.
As single parents go, I have an unusual amount of support I think. To be honest, as parents go, separated or not, I think I have an unusual amount of support. Many of my friends would be cast into far greater disarray by an unplanned couch day on the part of their child.
We need to stop ignoring all that goes into childcare, into parenting. Everyone should have an invisible support network.
Read more: When everything seems too much, a child can keep you in the here and now
Read more: If you’re losing it over socks, there’s something else going on
Read more: JLo, Brad Pitt and the annoying double-standards of ageing gracefully