Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
I am a single mother to a 12-year-old son. At the start of the pandemic, for various reasons, my son went to stay with my sister out-of-state. He will have been there for 18 months. However, we are now making plans for him to come home.
Prudence, I’m sure I’m not alone, but in some ways I don’t want him to come home. I feel like a terrible parent for even thinking such, but it’s true. In the past 18 months, I have managed to finally get my apartment clean and in order; picked up extra shifts at work; gone out a few times with groups of people; and I’ve even started to overcome some of my social anxiety issues and branched out into online dating. In short, I really have been enjoying my life as a single person! It wasn’t something I’ve really had the chance to experience before.
I miss my child, but now that I’ve had a taste of what things could be like, I find it hard to reconcile. I also think my sister has probably done a better job of raising my son than I did! I’m introverted by nature and my job requires dealing with a lot of people, so I’m often drained. It means that prior to the pandemic, I didn’t always spend as much time with him as I would have liked (or he would have!), while my sister spent time with him every night. And she cooks really healthy foods, while I rarely cook.
In short, I’m still torn on whether his coming home is really the right thing. He wants to come home. My parents (who watch him while I’m working) want him to come home. But how can I get over this feeling of being an inadequate mother and not really wanting to do it anymore?
—Am I Inadequate?
It’s great that your son got to have a good experience with your sister, but you miss him, he misses you, and you’re his mom—no one can replace you. You might find parenting a bit more manageable (and more enjoyable) if you are easier on yourself. Remember that lots of overworked, drained introverts raise children. Your son needs you to love him and keep him safe and that’s pretty much it. I promise he’s not evaluating the macronutrients in the foods you microwave every night or judging you for failing to spend hours doing TikTok dances with him. You only have a few more years until he’s managing his own life and busy every afternoon and weekend with his friends and activities, and a few more after that until he leaves home. I don’t want you to waste them feeling inadequate.
But single-parenting while working full-time is hard. It sounds like this experience taught you that you need a little more time to yourself, as well as more support. Can you recruit the grandparents to take him for regular overnights, or pair up with the single mom of one of his friends and take turns keeping both kids for the weekend? Maybe make a plan to send him back to his aunt for half of each school break, so you’ll always have a little kid-free time to look forward to?
I’d also suggest having an honest conversation with him about how you’re feeling. “I’m so happy you got to have some time with Aunt Cathy. I wish I could cook like her and spend lots of time with you every night because you’re a great kid and you deserve it. I know I’m tired a lot but if you ever need some extra attention or want to talk, will you let me know? I love you.” I bet his response will be “Sure, I love you too, Mom. Can I have the iPad?”