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Single Parenting the Opposite Gender

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As a widow, I was thrown into the deep end of the single parenting pool when my kids were 5, 3, and 1 year old and from day one, I knew it would be tough.  And while I can sympathize with the pain of divorce and can understand how hard it must be for many parents to relinquish what is most important to them – their children – on a regular basis to someone they’re not all that crazy about anymore…my struggles as a widowed single parent are a little different.

Because I don’t have the other parent to pick up the slack.  At all.

I have three children and they fall girl-boy-girl, each two years apart.  That’s right.  My son not only lives in a house filled with estrogen, he’s right smack in the middle of his sisters.  And when it comes to dealing with the girls, that’s usually a no-brainer for me, even as I begin the journey into the teenage years with one of them.  Having once been a young girl myself (with a sister four years older, the same age spread that is between my two daughters), I can usually understand and empathize with them when they don’t get along and give them the “don’t think you can pull that on me” look when they misbehave.

But dealing with my son has always been difficult for me.  And when “boy” issues arise…those are the moments I miss their dad the most.

After my husband’s death in 2007, I went through a long and exhausting phase of trying to be both parents.  I abandoned who I had been and tried to mold myself into the perfect hybrid of the both of us – some sort of combination of redneck genius and soft, soothing comforter.  The woman who could bake the perfect cake while putting a lift-kit on a Jeep.  Someone who was shockingly good at anything to do with math and science and could teach anyone how to throw the perfect spiral, while still finding the time to show up to every classroom function for all three kids.  I was positive that I was not going to be a good enough parent to raise my kids alone.  And that I needed to figure out a way to be both Mom and Dad at the same time.

There have been many times that I feel like my kids – my son especially – have been gypped by getting stuck with me as the only parent.  The night that my little boy decided to join the Boy Scouts, I felt completely lost as the leader talked about showing the boys how to use power tools.  When he has a question about how something works, I swallow the lump in my throat (because I know that his dad would have known the answer) before I reply, “I’m not sure.  Why don’t you Google it?”  And when he shows me some contraption that he’s made using just popsicle sticks and ingenuity…I wish with all my heart his dad could be here to see it.

Single parenting is lonely – I know because I’ve heard that from others who are in my situation as well.  I’ll never forget sitting with a group of father-&-daughter-789502people who had lost spouses and one widower saying, his face beet red, “My daughter told me that we have to go bra shopping this weekend.”  Other men chimed in with how they couldn’t figure out how to make their wife’s lasagna or fold a fitted sheet.

We all commiserated with each other on our feelings of inadequacy as parents.

But in the last year, my focus has changed quite a bit.  It could have something to do with the fact that I’ve gotten more comfortable in my role as The Great and Powerful Mom. But it’s also that with time, hopefully comes wisdom and I have learned that sometimes you just have to change your perspective a little bit and focus not on what’s lacking…but what’s actually there.

I can’t teach him how to use a circular saw, but I was pretty excited when he asked me for cooking lessons last fall.  I have no idea how to connect a TV to a DVD player or an Xbox, but my inadequacies in that department have furthered his technological abilities – in other words, because I can’t figure it out he has been forced to and is, therefore, the go-to person in the house when it comes to anything that requires an HDMI cable.

But I’m here to hug him every night.

I’m here to be proud of all of the things that he’s accomplished as a 9-year-old boy that I couldn’t hope to figure out as a 37-year-old woman.

I’m here to bring to his life everything I can and support him as he figures out the rest.


One of my proudest moments as a single mom was just a couple of weeks ago when I got a letter from my son while he was at camp.

“Happy Birthday, Mom,” it said.  “I love you and I hope this gets there in time!”  camp

And it did.  It arrived on my birthday.

I know that doesn’t sound like much.  But I realized that even though there have been many times when I’ve questioned my parenting skills when it comes to my son, he is turning out to be a pretty great kid.  And even though there will always be a little part of me that feels sad about the things he’s missing with his father, that doesn’t mean that I’m not a good parent.

After all, if I can raise a son who is thoughtful enough to not only send his mother a birthday card, but worry about it getting there on time…I’m not doing such a bad job after all.

Catherine Tidd is a widow, mother, and the author of the upcoming book “Confessions of a Mediocre Widow” (January 2014). She is the founder of, a free peer support website dedicated to anyone who has lost a significant other and has a Facebook peer support page under the name Widow Chick.   She has been published in several books about grief and renewal and also writes a blog on anything that pops into her nutty brain called Bud Light Wishes and Cheeto Dreams.

Photo 1, Photo 2, Photo 3

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  • comment avatar Amber Johnson July 10, 2013

    This made my heart go out to both of you! When my kids were younger, I felt like I could be everything to both of them. But now that they’re growing older I realize how each is gravitating to their own gender. My son is still a mama’s boy but there are definitely things I can’t relate to or help him with as well as my husband. That said, how blessed your kids are to have a mom who does such a great job of filling in that gap. Your husband would be proud!

  • comment avatar Gena Henrich July 10, 2013

    My husband died about nine months ago when I was 20 weeks pregnant with our second child, a son. We also have a 4-year old daughter. My husband was an amazing dad, so I can relate to this post. I make myself crazy trying to fill his shoes and mine, and I find my heart breaking when my daughter says things like, “We don’t have a family anymore because daddy’s gone.” I never thought I’d be faced with single parenting two children, especially two young children, while also working full time and running a household. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. Oh, and the grief. That damn grief.

    wearing two hats
    she loses her head
    single parent

  • comment avatar Tonya July 10, 2013

    I completely understand the lack of knowing how to raise a boy. I have two sons now 20 and 17, and a daughter who just turned 13. Our 17 year old son constantly talks about joining the military and asks me tons of questions of which I know NOTHING!! He would talk to his dad endlessly about military things, baseball and football. That being said, I can only hope I am raising them to respect women, how to be sensitive to other people (you never know what they are going through) and how to take care of themselves. I pray that they don’t grow to think women are a pain…LOL! Good luck to all of us in raising children alone. As we all know it is a lonely and trying experience none of ever dreamed we would face.

  • comment avatar Anyana October 15, 2013

    I am happy to stumble upon your site. When my husband died at the beginning of this year I was left with a son who turned 6 just days after his funeral, a daughter who turned 8 in April, another daughter who turned 3 in July and our baby who just turned 1 last week (he was just a few months old when his daddy passed). I am continuously wondering how I am going to play the role of dad to my boys. I do not know how to tie a tie! (I just watched youtube today to figure it out!), make a paper airplane, and I do not know how to throw a football, but I can play soccer, baseball and hockey, so I have that going for me! I have a brother and my dad, but they live 45 min away and my dad travels a lot. I just hope I can pull this off!