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A Year of Studying Solo Parenting

Must-Have Parent

I'll never forget the day, the moment, actually -- when I realized that I was a Must-Have Parent.

It was 2004. I'd been a mother for all of two weeks and had just taken my husband to board a flight bound for Afghanistan. It hit me then, during the drive home, that I would be the only person responsible for keeping the tiny infant in the back seat alive for most of a year.

Probably, that's something I should have considered before then.

That realization took my breath away. My track record with house plants and pets was not good. I didn't have any family members nearby to relieve or coach me. I didn't think I was up to the challenge.

That beautiful baby boy seemed doomed.

(You have to read that last sentence to the tune of ominous music. Something like, "If not for the courage of the fearless crew, the Minnow would be lost; the Minnow would be lost.")

My husband and I had been busy -- as you might imagine -- preparing for and bringing home a baby and packing for war. There had been so many things to consider. The nursery was assembled, the car seat installed, and my husband's bags were packed. I was learning to breastfeed, we were mastering diapering, and I looking for Afghanistan on a map. Nobody was sleeping. Baby clothes had been washed in Dreft, and love notes had been slipped into the pockets of DCUs (Yes, DCUs; it was 2004) for my husband to find later.

We'd both been so busy that we -- and I suppose by "we" I really mean "I" -- hadn't thought much about what it would mean for me to do this parenting thing on my own. And, back in 2004, we certainly hadn't thought it would be something I'd have to do alone, a lot.

In the years since, I've spent a great deal of time thinking about solo parenting, but never as much as I have during these last 52 weeks.

This, right here, is the 52nd Must-Have Parent column. For a full year now, I've reflected each week on what it means for those of us who -- for whatever reason -- find ourselves doing most of the parenting.

It's an interesting topic because we Must-Have Parents live a hybrid life. We're not single parents, but we're not like typical married parents, either. We're proud of what we've been able to do on our own, but we don't want to get so smug that we devalue the contributions of our partners.

We have to be OK with -- even look forward to -- our long, lonely nights, but we still have to crave time as a couple. We can never get set in any ways because our ways are always changing. We have to make tough decisions on our own, but be willing to share the authority too. It's a life of constant adaptation.

Mostly, we have to turn on a dime. Life changes fast and it changes frequently. Must-Have Parents have to do a lot of pivoting, balancing and tip-toeing.

Really, if parenting is a circus, Must-Have Parents are the tightrope walkers, the Flying Wallendas of the domestic world.

In the 51 columns I've written before this one, I've tried to illuminate the struggles of solo parents without digging for pity. None of us wants to be pitied, and I firmly believe that our lives are not harder than anyone else's, they're just different.

I've tried to share the knowledge I gather without acting like I know it all. I most definitely do not know it all.

I've tried to inform, entertain and inspire. I have not always succeeded.

You've read, commented, shared and liked, and some of you have let me know when I didn't succeed. I'm good with that. This is a growth process.

I hope that you'll keep reading, commenting, sharing, liking and letting me know what I can do better throughout the coming year. I hope that you'll tell me your thoughts on being a Must-Have Parent. I hope you'll share your own experiences and the wisdom you've earned on your own solo parenting journey.

But mostly -- I won't lie -- I hope that you'll just continue reading. Thanks for giving me a fascinating year. Let's keep this conversation going.

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Rebekah Sanderlin Military Parenting

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Contributor

Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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