Sometimes, in our impatience to live out the pretty, idealistic pictures we paint in our minds, we help life along a little bit more than we should. So when my friend, who is nursing fresh emotional cuts and bruises from a breakup with her fiancé, emailed me information she had corralled about single parent adoption, I winced. I have much respect for that rush-rush sense of urgency that women experience when it looks like they’re not going to be able to check things off the ol’ life accomplishment timeline. I’m not shy about admitting that I’m there myself. I’m actually the life timeline ambassador.
But raising a child solo isn’t a show of independent woman empowerment, like buying your own darn diamond ring or purchasing a house, even though stone-age thinking folks in your circle may advise you to wait for a husband. It’s more complicated than that—for the mother and for the child.
I’ve been doing it for 13 years now, which is hard for even me to believe. And most of the time, I feel like I’m walking across a thinly frozen pond in 5-inch stilettos: tiptoeing, barely making it, getting across, but not nearly as graceful, strategic or appropriately equipped as I should be. I always have this gnawing sense that I’m not teaching my daughter enough, telling her enough, preparing her enough. That’s because I’m only one person doing a two-person job.
Folks make single moms out to be superheroines—people break their necks, bless their hearts, to give us accolades on both Mother’s and Father’s Day because we’re pulling double duty. But there’s pressure in being a representative pillar of strength and maintaining the façade of being able to masterfully balance and juggle and perform. Holding down everything all at once by yourself is hard work. I’m convinced that’s why so many of us are mentally checking out and very noticeably spazzing out, cussing at our kids, flying off the handle.
So I long ago came to the conclusion that I don’t want my daughter thinking I’m some she-ro, this miracle-maker who is capable of effortlessly doing all things. I don’t pull many punches when it comes to explaining to her that raising her on my own is no cakewalk. That’s because I don’t want her to repeat this lifestyle.
Sometimes I think moms, God bless ‘em for their protectiveness, try to shield their kids from the hardscrabble honesty of raising children solo because they don’t want them to feel guilty or obligated to shoulder their stress along with them. Either that or they’re so busy with the actual childrearing that they make it look easier than it actually is. That’s the way I operated for a long time too, especially when Skylar was younger. You just don’t need to saddle a third grader with the vicissitudes of grown-up-ness. Then I realized that being secretive wasn’t helping to break the cycle of single motherhood.
I want her to understand the struggles, the setbacks, the hair-pulling, how-am-I-gonna-do-this calculating. It’s made her a lot more sensitive to the needs versus wants in our household, which is an added bonus for sure, but it’s also given her a reason to hold off on having kids before she has a good man in her life. There have been plenty of times that I wish I’d waited until I had a husband, when my limited time demands are stretched just thin enough to require me to be in three or four places at once.
My mom begged me to get married before I had children too, and me being the head-in-the-clouds kid that I was thought my romance was so original and so groundbreaking that my ex and I would defy the odds. Now I regret not listening, not because I don’t adore my child but because I didn’t learn from watching Mommy’s experience. I hope Skylar will learn from mine.
I don’t knock women for wanting to take matters into their own hands and plan families minus the men. If it’s your dream to be a mother, be a mother, especially if you’re a woman of certain age. Unchecked regret, especially on something as major as having a child, will erode your soul. I just hate to see more of us sign up for what’s become an unfortunate—and difficult—norm.
Does choosing single parenthood instead of falling into it by accident make it easier?
Image via Evil Erin/Flickr