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The Married Single Mom

Shawn Nielsen

A few years ago, my husband, Tony, bought out his partner in the restaurant they owned together. It was great news, except for one thing. “Do you realize I'm going to have to work every day for quite a while?” he said. I nodded, I understood, I was supportive. And we had it figured out: Tony would run the restaurant, and I'd take care of our three kids (then 12, 10, and 4). During my chunks of free time, I'd write.

Figuring it out—and then actually living it—are not the same thing. Tony left at 9:30 a.m. and didn't return until midnight. Mornings were a blur of getting the kids off. In the afternoons, I orchestrated homework and playdates, and the evenings were spent rushing to music lessons and sports practices. For a full year, I flew completely solo, becoming more exhausted and resentful by the day. Then at dinner one evening, Mary Elena, our youngest, said, “Is Daddy coming over tonight?” The older two quickly corrected her (“He lives here, silly”), but her words were like a punch.

“It's like I'm divorced,” I moaned to a pal the next day. “No,” she noted. “If you were divorced, you'd get a break every other weekend.” She had a point. With new acquaintances, I mentioned “my husband, who works a lot,” not wanting them to think he was dead, in jail, or living a double life.

Honestly, it was only through sheer determination that I survived that first year. Now Tony gets an occasional day off. And we've gotten smart about couple time. We manage a Monday dinner or share a laugh as we walk through Home Depot on a Wednesday. Sometimes, late on a Saturday, we go for a midnight drink at a neighborhood pub. I also came up with a mantra: This is my life for now. I joined a book club and started volunteering at church. Simply being with friends lightened my load.

It defies logic, but Tony and I are happier than ever because time apart makes us appreciate time together. Is our life ideal? Far from it. Is it the best we can do? Right now, it is. And that's good enough for both of us.

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