Negotiations (Love Songs Optional)

I know this is going to come as a shock to all of you, but let me state for the record:

Parenting is hard.

It’s exhausting, troubling at times, and purely a pain in the ass at others.

Oh, sure, there’s joy to be found somewhere in between those crying spells (yours, not your child’s), but often it’s only reached by relying on your skills as a master negotiator, or even a mediocre one, to get to your happy place.

Parenting is all about negotiating – with your partner, boss, parents and family, your inner critic – for any number of things, including more time, more money and resources, more (or is it fewer?) trips to Target, the occasional trip down memory lane to a time when you had sanity, whatever. For single parents, though, negotiating isn’t just a way of life: it’s a necessary evil. For that matter, it’s the devil’s playground.

First and most obvious, there’s the ex factor. Now, I’m fortunate enough to have an ex-husband who I get along with, one who’s a willing and competent participant in our children’s lives. Our weekly negotiations end up being about relatively minor things: schoolwork (equally split, based on our nights with the kids…although I could swear the “fun” family projects always end up with me to finish), taking the kids for haircuts (split, although both my daughter and son have been known to come back almost bald from these outings with their dad); making and keeping doctor’s appointments (mmm, usually me); driving them to practices, parties and other events (split…sometimes); buying seasonal gear or supplies for sports or activities (typically me); deciding who’s turn it is to fork over lunch money, etc.

The toughest thing we deal with is scheduling our time away, whether for work or for pleasure. My ex likes to take one or two long hunting and fishing trips every year, for example, while I like to get away for a few days here and there. This year I’m in the midst of negotiating time around my wedding. Awkward.
I have it relatively easy, but what about the many single parents with less than supportive ex-spouses? The ones who make holidays heartbreaking? The ones who are constantly reneging on their custody arrangements or child support payments, driving the other person batty – and back to the courts for help?

In those dire situations I’ve heard more than one single parent wish their ex wasn’t in the picture at all, just so they wouldn’t have to deal or negotiate with him or her.

With and without an ex, there is wrangling with others, too – say, to get a babysitter or, if you’re lucky enough, family members or friends – to help out. I realize coupled up parents have these challenges at times, but a built-in partner helps significantly when you need to travel for work, or to the store (minus the toddler clinging to your leg), or to cut the grass (without the same clinging toddler), or to simply take a break now and then. Single parenting forces you to be more creative, particularly if you don’t have family nearby: you ask friends for help, beg your daycare staff to do a little favor on the side, swap babysitting with other single moms equally as desperate for a date or girls’ night out.

Heck, if we have an ex, we end up swallowing our pride and pleading with him or her at least once in a while to switch things around, if only so we can sit in the tub by ourselves for the evening – knowing darn well we’ll have to make up a “real” excuse for the switch, and that somehow we’ll pay the price later.

But perhaps one of the toughest things about being single is when you have to negotiate with your kids.

Wait, you negotiate with your kids?!

Uh, yeah. Don’t you?

I’m not talking about bargaining for love or anything like that, although I guess we all do that at one time or another. I’m referring to the battles of getting your kids ready in the morning or at night without extra help. The teaching of when it’s appropriate to use electronic devices without immediate, or any, back-up (and, no, Junior, when I’m talking to you is NOT one of those times you can play your Nintendo DS). The best way to discipline, to do homework, to be good to your sister…

Ok, maybe dealing with the ex isn’t so hard, after all.