The Weight of the World

It’s a terrible image, really – Atlas, condemned to bear the weight of the planet on his shoulders, as punishment after being defeated in war.

Women with the weight of the world on our shouldersDivorce can be warfare for some of us and what follows, if it is also a battlefield of sorts, may leave us feeling as though we are carrying an impossible load. It is some terrible “payment” in the wake of defeat.

Life is full of challenges that don’t relate to relationship status — health issues, family issues, money issues, job issues — burdens that we bear, which are at times beyond our control.

Sometimes, our burdens are intertwined with our most profound sources of love — children with special needs for example. What one might deem a burden, another comes to see in light of appreciation for the joys that so many take for granted. We celebrate hard-won milestones and cherished moments.

We All Have Challenges to Bear

I was asked recently about challenges in life. Mine have been many, and mine have been few. Like most of us with a small bit of good fortune, our obstacles are the “usual,” however difficult they may seem at the time we’re confronting them.

As a single mother, a solo mother for all intents and purposes, surely the challenge of raising my sons is the greatest that I have had to date. I cannot express the extent of my fatigue, particularly during the last five years of that ten-year period. I cannot possibly say how many times I thought I couldn’t make it through another week, much less a month, or a school semester, or a summer, or a year, or five more years.

Carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders?

That’s precisely how I felt, unable to set my “celestial burdens” down to rest.

And yet, I consider myself a fortunate woman. I was born with a good mind and a strong back, my childhood wasn’t easy but it also came with extraordinary gifts, we all have our crosses to bear including our foibles, our weaknesses, our unanticipated false starts. We also possess opportunities – to shape what we are dealt (to a degree), and to beat back the demons that seem, at times, overpowering.

My challenge was to raise two incredible little boys to be decent young men, though circumstances left me feeling more like Sisyphus than Atlas at times. My challenge was to do more than “raise” my boys; I was a dealt a heavenly hand – my children were smart, talented, funny – and with such open hearts. Yet they were not without challenges of their own, namely the background conflict that went on for years and surely took a toll. But to do anything less than my best for them would have been inconceivable.

Raising Kids Solo

The world of single motherhood is often fraught with games and competition, with comparisons that leave us in-fighting rather than forming community and reaching out to help each other – without judgment.

There are the single moms who share custody 50-50, who have some sort of weekend “off” arrangement, or who have variations on these themes where they have more or less time with their children. Sometimes the father has primary custody, and he takes the lion’s share of the daily parenting activities.

For those who have weekends free or a shared arrangement, it may be easier to pursue a social life – even if “the weekend relationship.” It may also be easier to pursue career ambitions, or at least hold your own if not advancing. Even if we care for our children full-time, naturally, we figure out how to manage as best we can, in order to pay the bills and keep on going.

As for me, there was no family to help, no circle of other single parents with whom to form necessary communities, no real community of any sort, no regular employment to provide stability or hedge against the issues with my ex. As an “older” mother, I also began to feel the strain. Dealing with toddlers at 40 is nothing compared to dealing with teenagers at 50!

One stalwart friend helped out at critical times – when I was in the hospital, twice, when my mother passed away and I had to leave town to take care of things – and for that friend’s kindness I will always be grateful.

But the solo parent carries the load. It is a challenge. We are not meant to do this alone.

The Privilege of Raising Children

While I carried the weight of the world on my shoulders when it came to my little boys, growing more isolated and tired over the years, that is not to say that I didn’t recognize my good fortune or know great joys.

I did. I have. And more importantly, I believe my children feel the same. I certainly hope so. Parenting is a remarkable privilege under any circumstances, and a decent childhood, the least we owe our sons and daughters.

BIO smFor all the missed opportunities (professionally and personally), there were even greater gains – I hope for my boys – in having a mother who was not helicoptering (I was far too busy), but who was deeply invested in their becoming themselves. 

Money was always tight, so overindulgence was out of the question. We lived by these values: learning, honesty, respect, open-mindedness, tolerance, the necessity of humor, the essential quality of creativity, and an open door policy when it came to my kids’ friends.

They, too, have been a privilege to know and love.

With each week, month, school semester, summer, and year – with each bout of laughter – the weight of the world on my shoulders lightened.

And of course, my children kept me going through the toughest of times, times when I think I might have otherwise given up.

The Legacy of Difficult Years

My greatest challenge in life so far? Those three thousand eight hundred thirty-two days, give or take, of raising my beautiful boys through a blur of fear, worry, isolation, and an assortment of troubles. Alongside those difficulties, there were discoveries, sweet moments, and incredible acts of love.

Ultimately, I launched my children into the world and for now, they’re dealing with it well – one still in college and the other recently embarked on his first “real job.”

My challenges now have more to do with stamina, with hopefulness, with trying to manage the fallout of the past years. I am fortunate in being strong-willed (and persistent), and as a general rule, optimistic. But those years of struggle as an “underfunded” solo parent certainly took their toll on my professional life, my finances, my belief systems.

We are always changed by our challenges and our challenges change. So I soldier on with many good things in my life, dealing with the legacy of those years and still, relieved by the relative lightness of the load.


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  1. says

    Every single mother on Earth should read this heartfelt post. And, every single absent father too.
    What a horrible shame to leave you totally on your own to raise his children, as if they were not his children. I admire you so much. Your sense of truth compels me to examine, to think, to understand more than I ever have. I believe I can sum it up with 2 words: You Rock !!

    • D. A. Wolf says

      In all fairness, Marsha, my ex saw the kids every 4 to 6 weeks, for a weekend. He would fly in and stay 24 to 36 hours or so, the full weekend if he could, then fly out again. He traveled on business.

      I was constantly juggling and shifting my schedule for his late arrivals (some of which couldn’t be helped), or needed changes, and so on. My life wasn’t “my own.” I once calculated the actual amount of time I had my kids in those 10 years – 95%. In the years prior, though I worked full-time, I worked at least partially from a home office and my then husband traveled. Even then, I was carrying the load.

      I can’t help but think of how little some of us saw of our own fathers in the 50s and 60s upbringing. When they were there, they weren’t “there.” And for some of us, like me, our dads traveled so they weren’t there. The net remains the same: It takes that village. We have lost the concept of loving more communally, whatever our family configuration, but the necessity for kids to be raised by more than one person doing it on their own.

      • says

        the loss of the village is something which we have so readily stepped aside from…but why??? throughout human history, there never was this modern concept of doing it alone, as you did so bravely….i do often ponder why we have gone down this path of 2 generation only living, when it only works in the best of circumstances…what will they be doing in another 100 years from now, i wonder?

        your story is extraordinary, your gift to your boys is extraordinary…but i also rather guess that your boys are no ordinary ones as a result…i bet they are far more resilient, more observant and more aware of other’s plight than they would have otherwise have been, had their journey been a different one…

  2. says

    Wonderfully executed D.A… you have such a gift to tell it as it is without too much emotion that the words are smothered but with such brilliance that the challenges and difficulties you faced resonate deeply.

    I am sure your boys are testament to the willing sacrifices you made… Life’s challenges, they do make us who we are…

    Thank you as always for your insights… xv

  3. says

    Your piece captures the angst and struggle of doing something so worthwhile as raising your boys. I can only look forward to that day when my own children are ‘launched’ and I can see the fruit of so much labor in this season. I did it alone, completely solo prior to my remarriage and can already feel the weight of background responsibilities subside.

    However, even with a step parent, the actual training, discipline, day to day responsibilities fall to me. I’m just ever so thankful for someone who can take care of me while I’m pouring myself into them.

    Kudos on the fine young men I sense you’ve raised! I liked reading the list of your values.

  4. says

    This was beautiful and very inspiring. Vicki brought up something that made me think of when I first found your writing: that it is like a bullet train! No time is wasted and yet every syllable not only counts, it is essential. And so I appreciate not only the what you have to say (very much) but the how–and I know that concerns a challenge that you put out there for yourself every single day. You are an amazing woman and Virginia is right, undoubtedly your children have grown for it despite the difficulties.

  5. KH says

    A late comment and thank you. For your candor, for your strength in sharing necessary truths, and for your acknowledgement of fatigue.

    I came here today to catch my breath on a day when any measurable progress seemed impossible. When between the morning rush and after school pick up, I just fizzled out.

    This solo parenting life (amid an ugly undercurrent of post-divorce stress that ought to have faded by now, but is being perpetuated) is *just* as you described. I’m so exhausted and yet, thankful.

    You’ve helped me to know exactly how I am feeling in the moment. And certainly now, I feel less isolated. Through your honesty I’ve opened to how difficult this situation truly is and yet, how hopeful I remain despite carrying significant weight today.

    Tomorrow will come and will be easier for my having allowed myself to breathe and take pause here. The upside of being deeply tired is being forced to go looking for wisdom and then finding it.

    Take very good care. There is much ahead– for both of us!

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