It was Day 4 of my daughter’s flu.

Four nights of “sleep” broken into 20 or 30-minute increments, thanks to the incessant coughing that kept waking her up through the night. I had been mostly homebound all week, with the exception of picking up and dropping off my son at school. Their dad had taken my daughter for two afternoons so we could take turns getting work done, but now he was out of town for work and I was on my own. I was mostly healthy and it was just a cough/cold/fever kind of flu, so things could have been much worse. Still, after I put my kids to bed on that fourth night, I lay down on the floor in my living room, too wiped to even make it to the couch, and I cried. And cried. And then I wondered—how do actual single parents do this?

I don’t call myself a “single mom.” I’m a “mom who’s single,” which sounds like semantics, but it’s a significant difference to me. I am a co-parent, raising my children with an equally capable co-parent who usually has them 50 per cent of the time. True single parents are the ones who are doing it completely alone. For whatever reason the other parent isn’t in the picture and they are the sole adult responsible for feeding, sheltering and caring for their kids. And after seeing how handling it all alone kicked my ass in such a short time, I’m experiencing deep admiration for anyone making it work on their own.

I hope that single parents have family, friends and community support but I know that’s not always the case. And I know those supports aren’t always available when needed—especially when you’re at work and get a call that you have to come and pick up your sick child. I have substantial support from family and friends but the moment my kids become little disease vectors, those supports (understandably) go into hiding, sending their best wishes for a quick recovery. The parent is left to figure it out, make it work and hopefully manage to hang onto their job and their health.

I like to think I can be pretty tough, but I learned otherwise as I was crying on the floor from sleep deprivation, cabin fever and plain old exhaustion after only a couple days without my co-parent to help. What the hell would I have done if I was sick too? Some moms and I were discussing how bad it gets when you and your kids drop at the same time, with stomach flu being the worst case scenario. We’ve all taken turns on the toilet while puking into a bucket or bowl, then leaping up to let our child have their turn and ensure they hit their own bucket. Some people say seeing kids acting badly in public is a great form of birth control. I say every sex ed class should be shown what parenting through stomach flu looks like, as a friendly reminder to always use condoms until they’re ready to face just how disgusting having kids can get.

I know that as a co-parent I get a lot of judgment, but I believe single parents have it even worse. Parenting one or more kids alone is incredibly hard and there always seems to be someone hanging around with an opinion on what they think you’re doing wrong. There are many different reasons someone can be a single parent. But instead of coming down on them, why don’t we focus on helping them? It’s a lot easier to pass judgment on the parent—usually a mom—struggling to handle things as it’s more visually apparent when things aren’t going well. It’s a lot harder to recognize and critique the parents who have walked away, died or weren’t in the picture in the first place. And yes, there are those who choose to be single parents even before the baby is conceived. But that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a little care and support when stuff gets hard.

I hope that as parents we can recognize we all share a similar struggle, but to varying degrees of ability, resources and privilege. It’s incredibly easy to dump on other parents to try to make yourself feel better about your own shitshow. But instead of trying to one up each other, I hope we can all identify opportunities to lift each other up, no matter how small. Yes, we all have our own hectic lives, but it can be as easy as offering to hold a baby while you’re on an airplane so the parent can get settled in, picking up a neighbour’s kids when you’re getting your own or even just dropping off a care package when you know a family is sick and homebound. This consideration and generousity is great for anyone, but it’s especially kind when provided to a single parent who’s doing it all on their own. We really are all in this together, especially when illness turns our lives into hazmat zones. Why not take an “all for one and one for all approach” and see what happens?

Erin Skillen is a coffee-addicted mom and media producer in Victoria. To ditch stress she shakes her booty to Beyoncé, spins around in a giant metal hoop and writes romantic comedies with another mom.