When our children were younger, my spouse’s job required that he travel. Not often, but often enough that it disrupted our parenting routines and the egalitarian division of labor in our home. Since I was also working full-time outside the home, I needed to establish some ground rules for when he was away. At first, it was only one rule, really: “Ima needs compliance.”
I would instruct my daughter to perform a task, to help me from becoming overwhelmed by the chaos that she and her baby sister had caused in a matter of hours. The conversation would usually go something like this:
Me: “Because I need extra help while Abba is away.”
Her: “But why are you letting me watch t.v. again? I already watched Big Bird.”
Me: “Because when Abba is away you can watch extra t.v.”
To myself, I would say all kinds of things, such as, “Because I’m overwhelmed, exhausted, lonely, and I need you to stay occupied while I try to accomplish the housework that Abba usually does when he’s here.” Keeping these words from escaping my lips drained a lot of my emotional energy.
Me (perhaps a bit impatiently): “Now, please help me clean up these puzzles.”
Me: (emphatically) “Because sometimes Ima needs compliance!”
I recognized this response as a slightly more sophisticated version of “Because I said so,” and I wasn’t proud of my skills as a single parent.
Her: “What’s compliance?”
Defeated, I would sink into the couch and watch Arthur with her. But not before explaining that a good rule when Abba travels is to do what Ima asks the first time. At least I could take credit for her expanding vocabulary.
She couldn’t have been more than four years old when she devised the Single Parent Rules. While it’s possible that she was trying to help me cope with my spouse’s absence, these rules could also be viewed as an opening gambit in a negotiation, a kind of quid pro quo for her compliance:
- There’s no such thing as too much t.v.
- Desserts are not only for Shabbat dinner.
- Baths are optional.
- Bedtime? What’s a bedtime?
- Caffeine is a food group (for the parent).
When I learned to adhere to this set of rules and to celebrate our somewhat altered routines, we managed to survive each business trip. I also learned to laugh at myself more and lose my cool less.
My spouse is traveling a lot lately, leaving me home with our children, who are now 18, 15 and 11 years old. They are quite independent and easy to manage, but after a day or two of single parenting I usually feel overwhelmed, exhausted and lonely without him. So it’s a comfort to know that I can still invoke the Single Parent Rules—if it becomes necessary—while he’s gone.