I’m finally admitting it. I’m a married single parent. It’s hard to say those words when I notice the shiny diamond ring on my left hand. My husband so proudly chose it all by himself. He used to love telling the story of that special purchase.
I’ve seen a lot of talk lately about the idea of married single parenting. Some claim that, even if you are in a marriage where the other spouse is largely absent because of work or hobbies or whatever, parenting alone under those circumstances is still not the same as actual single parenting. Because if you are married, there is still another adult around to interact with, even if it’s not a majority of the time. That’s not the reality that I have been living.
I am still legally married. But all the things that a marriage typically brings, especially in the world of parenting, do not exist in our marriage.
My husband suffered a traumatic brain injury from a motorcycle accident. The accident didn’t kill him or leave any visible scars. Still, it changed everything about him and his ability to contribute to the world and our home.
Before my husband’s accident, we both had full-time jobs. We shared household chores and child-raising responsibilities. He and I were partners in life. We held each other up, encouraged each other, and supported each other. Our marriage wasn’t perfect, of course, but we had each other’s back.
Now, looking back on those days, my heart aches for the strength he brought me—physically, spiritually, and emotionally. The memory of what it was like to have a partner is a painful longing that I will likely never experience again, even though I am still married to that person.
The doctors initially said he had a mild head injury. They encouraged me that once his road rash and concussion cleared up, he would be good as new. The days turned into months, into years. His prognosis changed. After two years, the same doctors reported that my husband had reached “maximum medical improvement.”
I felt like Jacob that day when he wrestled with God and was left with a limp.
My vows echoed in my ears
Everything that I had been holding out hope to “get better”—his memory, vision, hearing loss, angry outbursts, sleep problems, and more—was suddenly thrown in my face. “For better or for worse” echoed in my ears. Until that day, I hoped the man I married would someday return.
The man I married was an extrovert. He was godly, caring, loving, gentle, with a thriving social life and many friends. He had a zeal for life and an exceptional sense of humor. His kindness and generosity for others knew no bounds. He was a kind and gentle father.
Now he was none of those things.
I was angry with God for messing up my “happily ever after.” I felt that He had taken my husband away from me. Instead, I was left with this shell of a man I didn’t know and would never have chosen to be married to. I remember thinking that if my husband had died in the accident it would have been easier than this new reality.
Over 90 percent of marriages do not survive a traumatic brain injury. My therapist told me this statistic, trying to make me feel better. Trying to give me validation for my desire to run away fast and never look back. My friends, even his friends, counseled me to leave and start over. I have recently empathized with the news tabloids of B. Smith’s husband, who brought a live-in girlfriend into his home while he cares for his spouse, who has Alzheimer’s.
And yet, I have stayed faithful in my role as a wife and married single parent.
A typical day
It hasn’t been easy. I start my days curled up as far on my side of our king-sized bed as I can. It’s the only way to avoid the constant shaking, trembling, jerking, and terrors that his injury brings nightly. I tiptoe to the bathroom only to hear him yell because I startled him by closing the bathroom door. (Noise and light bother him greatly.)
We generally have the same daily routine, especially during the school year. Still, every morning he asks the same questions. “What are we doing? Are you going anywhere? What day is it? Are you cooking breakfast? Do I need a shower?”
As the day progresses, he might find something to do outside or with the dogs. Usually though, he sits outside my office door as I work from home. I had to give up on the traditional office work life after he nearly lit the house on fire a few times by leaving a pan on the stove or food in the oven on broil.
Meals are another tricky thing. He will forget to eat or make himself food, but then walk away from it and not remember why he’s so hungry.
The evenings are the worst. His brain has completely “had it” by this time. Unlike the non-injured brain that only uses about half of its capacity on a daily basis, his brain uses 100 percent capacity every day. After 10 hours awake, he’s done. He’s easily confused and often combative. The only way an evening activity is possible is if he’s been able to have a several hour nap mid-afternoon.
Not what it looks like
Roll our three kids into this drama, and my husband quickly becomes more like a fourth child than a partner. I am his caretaker, his secretary, his calendar, his alarm clock, his maid, his cook, his nurse, his map, his memory, his provider … and still his spouse.
He has no memory of our children’s births, vacations, birthdays, special occasions, first steps, first words, parenting milestones. He doesn’t even remember what he did 10 minutes ago.
But if you saw him next to me you wouldn’t know any of that. Outside of an occasional face twitch, (because he can no longer feel his face) you wouldn’t think anything was wrong with him.
So, I claim the title of married single parent.
I am not the SAHM bemoaning that my husband works long hours. I’m not complaining that we don’t have much family time. It’s not that I had to attend that soccer game alone because my husband was busy with a work trip.
The only thing separating me from the unmarried single parent is the fact that I am still bound by vows to be faithful to the person God joined me to in marriage.
There is no child support, no second income, no pillow talk, no co-parenting. Instead there are many lonely days and nights hoping and praying that I’m making the best decisions I can as a married single parent.
This is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I have to ask myself often: What is marriage really for? For our comfort or security?
No, marriage is a sanctification process that was designed to demonstrate the love of God to His people. If I believe that God is who He says He is, then I have to believe that this trial and this marriage is part of His plan. He has the power to use it for His glory.
God is still God; He doesn’t make mistakes.
And on those days when my husband remembers to open a door for me, or at least not lock me out, I hold onto those glimpses of grace and mercy. I try for just a fleeting moment to remember what it used to feel like when we slow danced in the kitchen or rode motorcycles through the mountains.
I cling to the good memories and to my solid vows. I’m sticking with this life and trusting God to make something wonderful in it.
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