If you created a warning label for solo parents, what would it say?
CAUTION: Long nights ahead.
ATTENTION: You are going to need a lot of wine.
WARNING: You are not ready for this.
Because that's just it, isn't it? No matter how many warnings we get or give, no one is ever ready for any form of parenting. We are especially not ready for renegade, maverick, lone wolf parenting. ("Lone Wolf Parent" sounds much more exciting than "figure-out-a-way-to-be-two-people-and-three-places-at-once-Parent," doesn't it?)
I got to thinking about this earlier this week when I received a message from a young woman who works with a guy who, sometime back in the Pleistocene Epoch, was a private with my husband in the Army. He gave her my name because she's about to marry a soldier and she wanted to know what she is getting into.
She asked two questions:
- What's the hardest part of being a military wife?
- What's the best part about being a military wife?
In other words, the SAT was easier. But I came up with some answers. I told her that it really depends on each situation. For me, my husband is gone much of the time and we have three kids, so the parenting is all on me, but that's not true for everyone in the Army.
That said, any military marriage is, in my opinion, more difficult than a civilian marriage because the service member is already "married" to the military.
I told her that my husband and I don't get to make decisions together -- the Army makes decisions for us and then we adjust. Marrying into the military is a sacrifice and a service. You should know going in that your marriage won't be like your friends' marriages, and that yours will most likely be harder.
I told her that the best parts of military are mostly intangible, but it is an amazing feeling to know that you're doing something real for your country. I will live the rest of my life knowing that when our country needed us, my husband, children and I stepped up and sacrificed. I'm incredibly proud of that.
I told her the military community is fantastic. The friendships you build tend to get close quickly, and the bonds never go away because you're tied together by a shared difficult experience.
I think I gave her pretty good answers, yet marriage and parenting warnings are about as effective as paper umbrellas. We can't know until we're in those situations the depths we'll sink to, the hurdles we'll overcome and the victories we'll enjoy.
I have two older sisters who both married and had kids before me, so I heard plenty of marriage and motherhood warnings and advice from them. I was raised by a single mom, so I thought solo parenting during the deployments would be a breeze.
It was magical thinking.
The bad parts about military life are easy to anticipate -- things like deployments and moving around -- but they're impossible for anyone to understand without experiencing it.
The same is true for solo parenting. The challenges are obvious: You're solo, and you're a parent. That means the work of two must be done by one. It doesn't take a mathematician to sort out that that equals twice as much work.
But the good things are much harder to quantify and nearly impossible to explain to someone who hasn't gone the lone wolf route: Marveling at how awesome these little people are and realizing that much of the credit for that belongs to me; being the one they cry for when they're hurt or sick; knowing that their world would truly crumble without me; and getting to see every mind-numbing, awe-inspiring minute of their lives.
So, a warning label for would-be solo parents and military spouses? Maybe something like this:
WARNING: It's gonna (mostly) suck -- but you'll still (mostly) love it.