Staying Afloat in Single Parenthood
About 5 years ago I got thrown onto the single parenthood boat. And for 5 years, I’ve straddled the line between sinking and staying afloat.
Life happens. Families change. And regardless of the circumstances, we continue to do whatever it takes to care for our children in the best way we know how. But it’s rarely smooth sailing.
When you’re trying to be everything to everybody—mom, dad, breadwinner, domestic goddess—you often have to let some things go. In our family (aside from a clean house), that thing was our yearly camping trip.
Until recently, I can’t say that I regretted it much. Sure, I missed that magical moment when the world seems to stand still in some spectacularly scenic location. But let’s be honest: camping with kids is a lot of work.
It’s hard enough for two parents to manage the weeks of preparation, activity planning, and care and feeding of children who don’t understand why we must brush our teeth at a spigot 100 yards from our tent. It’s impractical—bordering on unbearable—to do all of that solo.
Tent-building alone is solidly a two-person job. And while there are technically other persons in my family—Brontë, 17, and son Colden, 16—I won’t be the first person to admit that teenagers don’t always qualify as particularly helpful.
So when I consider taking a vacation these days, it’s usually a break from the single mom lifestyle that I crave most of all. Give me a day at the spa to unwind. Let me take the kids to the amusement park and we’ll call it a getaway. But camping? No thank you. It no longer seemed to offer the respite I needed.
Still, I knew in my heart that Six Flags didn’t offer the kind of quality time I wanted with my teenagers. I longed for the outdoor, sleep under the stars/reconnect with the kids/“get off the computer and back to basics” wilderness experience we had had every summer before our family of four became a family of three.
Brontë and Colden would be grown and out of the house soon and time for family vacations was beginning to run short.
So I started joking to my friends, “I will pay you to take us camping.” I was actually half-serious, but never had any takers.
Then, last summer, a friend who had just returned from an OARS trip suggested that it might be just the thing I was looking for—an outdoor vacation in which all I had to do, essentially, was just show up.
After scrolling through the amazing photos and personal stories on the company’s website, I found out that their camping/rafting trips were perfect for partner-less parents. Their professional guides would take care of everything from packing the tents and sleeping bags to the food and beverages and even games! They even provide a little luxury item called a Paco Pad, which makes sleeping in a tent a more pleasurable experience.
It seemed too good to be true. I booked a trip immediately.
A few months later, I packed up our clothes and toothbrushes and headed to Colorado for a five-day/four-night trip on the incredibly scenic Yampa and Green Rivers.
Pretty soon I found myself in the single parenthood boat again, but this time I had company.
Turns out there were three other single parents on our trip—all with teenagers. The community we created over the course of our trip was almost familial.
On the first night, another single mom offered to help me with the tent. On the second day, a single dad offered to hang out with my kids so I could enjoy a child-free day on the river. By that night, the four of us had started an impromptu single parent support group.
Not only was I well taken care of by the guides and well supported by my fellow travelers, but Brontë and Colden were too. The other teens and our guides—who are not only the best river guides around, but also play chef, teacher, Sherpa, housekeeper, activities director and stand-up comedian—provided constant entertainment for my easily bored brood.
On top of it all, I did not cook one meal, start one fire, clean one pan or set one table for five whole days.
Aside from the five minutes it took to put up and take down our family’s tents, all I had to do was be there—to watch my daughter geek out over all the local wildlife on her critter checklist and see how the sunlight looks on my “never comes out of his bedroom” son. Heck, I didn’t even have to paddle the boat if I didn’t feel like it. Most often, I did not.
After years of keeping our family afloat by myself, it was an amazing gift to just sit back and let someone else do most of the work.
Our rafting trip ended up being both the outdoor family experience I had hoped for and exactly the respite I needed.