Two for Joy // The Joys and Challenges of Solo Parenting

Rachel Joy Barehl The Joys and Challenges of Solo Parenting

Two for Joy is a collaboration between Columbus photographer Rachel Joy Barehl who photographs modern families and her intern, Lauren Hammersmith, who documents their untold stories.

In 2013, Michelle Obama, then first-lady and queen of everyone’s hearts, set the internet abuzz when she mistakenly referred to herself as a “busy single mother” during an interview with CBS. Critics gave her a lot of flack because she was not, in fact, single. But, it created an interesting conversation about the “married single mom,” in other words, the mom (or dad) who parents solo while his or her spouse spends extended periods of time away from the home for work. Of course, not all of us can have a full White House staff at our disposal to help with the chores, like Michelle (sigh). But there are real moms—real badass moms—who solo parent sans staff and kick butt in their respective career fields to boot.

Rachel Joy Barehl The Joys and Challenges of Solo Parenting
Rachel Joy Barehl The Joys and Challenges of Solo Parenting

Solo parenting is hard in many ways. There is one less person there to watch the children, help around the house, run errands. It can get hectic. Sarah, mom to Lola (age 9), describes a time when she left the lawn unmowed for days because she couldn’t get the mower to work on her own and didn’t have time to fix it. It wasn’t until her partner, Kerry, came home to kick it into gear that the chore was finished. And, for Eva (mom to Morgan and Elliott, ages 2 and 4) and Kirstin (mom to Elias, age 2), managing their own small businesses brings separate but no less pressing stressors. But, it’s not just the work, they say. There is also one half of a partnership missing. “There is this whole other aspect,” says Eva. “I can take care of myself and he can take care of himself. But, taking care of sexual and emotional needs sometimes gets forgotten. We have to take care of each other in that way, too.”  

Having a parent who is absent for work is also hard on the kids because their dads miss big events in their lives, like birthdays and holidays. “You can see it as they get older” says Eva.  

But, as they do, Sarah, Kirstin, and Eva put their heads down through the tough times, they get into a routine, and they have things working in a system. Morgan and Elliott get a healthy snack in the afternoon. Eli goes to bed at nine. Eva goes for a walk around the block after the kids go to sleep. And then Dad comes home and disrupts the whole flow. “That is where the resentment can come in,” says Kirstin. “Like I do everything here and you don’t know what’s going on.” When one spouse is absent for an extended period of time, he is not necessarily clued into the ever-changing schedules of the household. Bad feelings can build up.

Rachel Joy Barehl The Joys and Challenges of Solo Parenting

”Just like it takes us time to get acclimated after he leaves, it takes us the same amount of time to get acclimated when he comes back,” says Eva. “When he comes back, it feels like he is invading our space.”

“Lola had a difficult time because even from a young age, she could feel it from me,” says Sarah, “She didn’t want to have anything to do with her dad because whenever he came home, she knew that’s when I would leave to take a break and she didn’t like that.”

Rachel Joy Barehl The Joys and Challenges of Solo Parenting
Rachel Joy Barehl The Joys and Challenges of Solo Parenting

The way to get through this, Sarah says, is letting go of expectations of what you think the reality needs to look like or feel like. You have to say to your spouse: “Talk to me.” All three moms stress that communication is an important factor in keeping things afloat; you can’t just expect your partner to know what’s upsetting you. “As much as I feel the frustration,” Kirstin says,” I try to remember that it’s his job, not him. He doesn’t like this either. He wants to be here with us. If I could tell people one thing I have learned through this, it’s that I don’t need my husband to support me. I love being a mom and I love doing my business and I love my husband. But I always remember that I am not a wife first, I am so much more than that. Be your own cheerleader and fill your life with people who get it.”

Eva echos, “This has helped me realize that I don’t need my husband, but I want him. I am a strong independent woman. I know that I can parent solo and run my business. Just doing this by myself makes me realize that I am absolutely capable and I can do this.”


Lauren Hammersmith is an attorney and former bridal consultant, and she lives in Columbus with her boyfriend Sam and her cat Ruthie.