I haven’t showered in three days and my nights have been reduced to three hours of sleep. I look down at my shirt and wonder if I’m looking at yogurt or puke. Yet these crazy days have made me want to sit down and write because I want to commend, encourage, and honor single parents for the sheer volume of work they put in daily to parent on their own. Each one deserves praise, not to mention a little break and a bag of groceries.
I’ve been a single foster dad to nearly 30 children, the vast majority of whom were older than age 6 and even teenagers. The kids knew how to dress themselves, use the bathroom, amuse themselves, get their own snacks if need be. I currently foster a 3-year-old who requires more care than the older children but can still eat and play on his own.
But never have I had a child under 2 years old. Now that I have a 14-month-old foster child, I have all new respect for single parents who juggle parenting, work, other children, household duties, and family relationships. I have great respect for foster parents who welcome an infant or toddler while also parenting other traumatized children.
Life with a toddler is labor-intensive in a whole new way. She is learning to walk and talk, testing boundaries, and getting sick as young children so often do. On a recent night her temperature was 104 degrees and I didn’t know what to do. Do I take her to the emergency room? Who will stay with my other children? Where is the fever-reducing medicine? Is this a sign of a more dangerous illness? My appreciation for single parents of young children grew by the minute.
However, there are some things about parenting a toddler I can relate to. When I was a street kid in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, I had no time to sleep. I had to juggle lots of things—like finding food, avoiding bullies and predators, and finding a safe place to rest. I learned to function in that chaotic environment.
Welcome to the world of parenting a toddler. I truly didn’t know how much work it is to keep a toddler clean, fed, and entertained. I’ve also come to realize there can be a huge disconnect between those on the outside looking in and the real life of a parent of young children. We may look at single parents and wonder why they look stressed, aren’t working, or keeping up with the house, a job, and bills. We may question a new mom experiencing depression, we may wonder how hard it can be to manage one child or several children.
If the other parent goes off to work each day, he may have no idea what’s happening at home. It’s often a man working outside the home, though a growing number of dads are the parent at home these days. The parent comes home and wonders what, exactly, went on. Toys are strewn everywhere, dinner is nonexistent, and mom has a cool towel on her eyes. How hard can it be to be home all day, he may wonder.
I truly understand that disconnect now. I know the work it is to be the parent of a toddler and to do so on my own. Thank you to all the single moms, dads, and even grandparents out there, who juggle so many things alone every day. Thank you, all parents, who keep their children fed and breathing from day to day.
As a single foster dad with a toddler, let me offer a few pieces of advice.
1. Cut single parents a break. Don’t judge them and don’t think they aren’t trying their best.
2. Offer help. Bring a meal, mow the lawn, offer to watch the baby for a morning or afternoon.
3. Be available. Offer a listening ear, be the one they call in an emergency, be there to do a quick load of laundry.
4. Love them. Parenting is hard, sleep is infrequent, kids are a lot of work. Show and speak your love in these difficult years.
Peter Mutabazi is an advocate for children, foster dad, and speaker who lives in North Carolina. He is author of the book "Now I Am Known: How a Street Kid Turned Foster Dad Found Acceptance and True Worth."
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