July 19, 2023
By Jamie Gordon
Imagine that you are married with children, and your spouse becomes ill. Would you raise your children and care for your spouse the best you could? It is not easy to be a single parent, but it is even harder to take on the challenges of a single parent while also being a caregiver to your spouse. I know this struggle intimately.
When I was young, I dreamed that I would be a stay-at-home-mom and care for my children after I married. For a while, this is what my life was like, but then everything changed. When my husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness that we knew would take his life, I was left to raise my children and care for my husband. As the single parent caregiver in my family, I became the mom, dad, disciplinarian, breadwinner and everything in between. I had a hard time with the fact that children need two parents and now I was doing it all by myself, I had no one to talk to about the kids and how to raise them. I had nobody to back me up. I had to make difficult decisions on my own that affected the entire family, I also had to work to sustain us financially. It was so hard to be that ONE person that had to do it all.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation states: “Nearly 24 million children live in a single-parent family. 14.5 million children live in mothers-only homes, and 3.4 million children live with fathers-only, 6 million live in cohabitating homes. Statistics show that more than 20% of children born into married couples’ home will likely experience divorce by age 9, 50% of children born to cohabitating parents will likely experience a parental breakup.”
However, my situation, that of being a single parent while also being a caregiver to my spouse, is not very common. The Well Spouse Association states that there are some feelings that those taking on both roles in parenting and caregiving to their spouses feel:
- They’re a partner without a partner, as intimacy in the relationship gradually disappears.
- They must take over tasks that were once shared.
- They battle constant medical bills and insurance companies.
- They become the sole breadwinner, which decreases income and increases financial burdens.
- They experience grief that resurfaces with each “new normal”.
- They feel alone, unable to connect with their ill spouse, family or friends that do not understand what they are going through.
- Their whole life feels like it is consumed by their ill partner.
- Family and friends usually ask how the ill partner is but not the caregiver.
Does anyone ever want to be a single parent? I don’t think anyone wishes to be a single parent, but things happen in our lives that we are not prepared for, so we need to work through and learn from them.
What has being a single mom to my kids and a caregiver to my husband taught me? Sympathy, empathy, loneliness, and how to be the strongest person in the entire world. Being a caregiver of your spouse and a mom is the hardest job on this earth. Yet I have been blessed with many different things as I travel this journey: I have made so many friends, I have become very independent, I have learned a lot and have been able to use the skills I have learned to help others, and most importantly, I have been blessed with the most amazing children. Teenagers can be so hard to raise and my children were so respectful of me and my choices. My children have been very helpful with the care of their dad as well. .
There are also some parts of this journey that I have found to be very difficult: parenting alone, not having even an ex-spouse to discuss things with, overwhelming loneliness, and having to make decisions on my own that will affect both of us and our children. I never expected my life to be this way, but I would not change a thing. You might ask why? Because I have the best kids and the privilege of caring for my spouse. I totally understand the song lyrics from Kelly Clarkson “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I have become a stronger person because of the trials that I have faced and I am alive to tell my story.
Jamie Gordon is a Senior at Brigham Young University-Idaho and will graduate in July 2023, with her bachelor’s degree in Marriage and Family Studies. She was born and raised in West Jordan, Utah, and just celebrated her 25th wedding anniversary with her husband Jaren. They have two daughters and one son. She likes to advocate for families, especially elderly, and disabled people. She is looking forward to working on the Homefront Kids project this semester. She can’t wait to learn new things from her internship at UFI.