Balancing Single Parenthood and Distance Learning: Why I Refuse To Take Time Off From Work

Modeling perseverance, flexibility, and humility when your child is watching

Photo by Kristina Paukshtite from Pexels

As a single parent, it took me years — almost six, to be precise — to figure out how to balance being a good parent and being a fully-functioning adult. Of course, the hardest parts of parenting are made much easier by the fact that my daughter goes to school during the day. Or, she used to.

Distance learning is difficult for kids, teachers, and parents alike. Being a single parent while managing and supervising distance learning is extra difficult, but doable. Trying to make it work while you, too, are on Zoom all day is a totally different ball game.

Balancing single parenthood, full-time work, and distance learning is no walk in the park. It’s more like a walk through a video-game-style dungeon on hard mode with a blindfold on, limited hit points, and no remaining potions — while your child is watching and cheering you on, oblivious to the fact that failure is imminent, if not guaranteed.

I could decide not to walk through that dungeon. I could take some time off from work. I could sit next to my daughter all day, help her with classwork, make elaborate meals, and keep the apartment nice and clean at all times, letting not a single piece of dust accumulate in untouched corners. This would be nice — idyllic, almost — but I don’t like the message it sends.

You can’t control everything, but you can control the behaviors you model to your child. I choose to model perseverance, flexibility, and humility.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Modeling perseverance

Modeling perseverance means being honest with my child about what I’m dealing with and trusting that she loves me enough to cut me some slack. It also means teaching her that failure is normal and embraceable. This is how I choose to model perseverance:

  • I am not going to take time off from work unless that time is spent relaxing or doing fun things with my daughter. Otherwise, I’m teaching her that women can’t make the decision to be stay-at-home parents on their own, but that circumstances make the choice for them. I would be teaching her that vacations aren’t to rejuvenate, but that women do indeed need to stop working to raise children, to help with homework, and to take care of the house. It’s okay that there is a mess in the living room. We, together, will persevere.
  • I share a desk with my daughter. She gets to see me in a position of power at work — but she also gets to see me fail and pick myself back up. She has seen me put my head down and cry after a rough day. She has also seen me celebrate as I solve new problems in software engineering. It’s okay that work and school were hard today. We, together, will persevere.
  • I am going to cut corners, but not in the things that matter most. I’ll cut corners by ordering takeout for lunch. I’ll cut corners by having groceries delivered. I’ll cut corners by letting the mess in the living room wait until the weekend. I won’t cut corners by pretending my kid doesn’t have homework or by putting off a medical appointment. We, together, will persevere.
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

Modeling flexibility

Modeling flexibility means showing my daughter that it’s okay when plans change, and it’s okay to rearrange responsibilities so that we can maintain a happy work-life (or school-life) balance. To teach my daughter otherwise would be to teach her that if something isn’t easy, you might as well not do it at all. This is how I choose to model flexibility:

  • We can shift responsibilities around, but we can’t abandon responsibilities. If she’s having an easy morning, I’ll start work earlier than usual so I can finish early, too. If I need quiet so that I can present something to my entire company, she’ll take her laptop to the other room for an hour. There are 24 hours in each day, and we can use them as we see fit. We, together, will be flexible.
  • We can save some work for later. If we decide to take a walk at lunchtime, I’ll make up my missed work in the evening — but the work doesn’t go away, so I might not be able to watch TV with her. If she decides to play video games after school, that’s fine — but that means she has to do her homework over the weekend, since the homework doesn’t go away. We can’t decide not to do things, but sometimes, we can decide when to do things. We, together, will be flexible.
Photo by Terry Magallanes from Pexels

Modeling humility

Our home doesn’t look like this, and that’s okay. We can strive for an idyllic, Instagram-quality life, but humility needs to be at the forefront of everything we do. To teach my daughter otherwise would be to teach her that life as we know it isn’t good enough, and that anything we accomplish likely wouldn’t be good enough, either. This is how I model humility:

  • It doesn’t matter that we can afford sushi for lunch. Today’s lunch is macaroni and cheese from Target. Go microwave it. Bring me one, too. We, together, remain humble.
  • We work hard, and sometimes we splurge. The Nintendo Switch that you’re about to receive for your birthday is going to light up your life. I’m glad that we are able to enjoy the fruits of our labor — but two games is more than enough to start. You can earn the rest. We, together, remain humble.
  • A software engineering principle that I picked up at work and brought home is the concept of failing hard and failing fast. You are not immune to failure, and neither am I. We will fail early, and we will learn from our shortcomings so that we don’t fail at the things that matter most. We, together, remain humble.
  • My promotion to a more senior title is not guaranteed, just like your promotion to second grade is not guaranteed. We are not too good to fail, and we must work for everything we hope to achieve. We, together, remain humble.
Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash

No matter what life throws your way, remember that your child is watching, learning, and emulating.

We can spoil our children with attention, we can spoil our children with material items, and we can spoil our children with opportunities. You are the parent, and you should raise your child however you see fit — but don’t miss out on the opportunity to spoil your child with your presence as a consistent, reliable model of perseverance, flexibility, and humility. These are amongst the most valuable pieces of wisdom you can impart on another human being.

Your child will eventually turn into a teenager, and then into an adult. FYI, when teenagers encounter grown-up challenges, they don’t always turn to their parents for guidance. If you’ve been a consistent model of these core tenets, regardless of what life throws at your child, chances are that they’ll be just fine.

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technical writer • site reliability engineer • engineering leader • all views are my own • 👩🏻‍💻