Put your hands up!! (I was singing the song…not trying to rob you)
When I finally faced the reality that I was now a single mother, I threw tantrums and kicked and screamed. You see, being a single mother was not in my plan. I got married with the firm belief that it would last forever. My grandparents were married for 50 years, my parents were married for 25 (and would have stayed married but their divorce is a novel in waiting). So, I just assumed that it was a forever deal.
Sadly, it wasn’t and therefore I am a single mother of three beautiful girls. Now, there are many positives to being a single parent. I don’t have to back up someone else’s bad parenting decision to present a united front for the kids. On the other hand, I have no one to back me up when I have to make parenting decisions. I don’t have to negotiate with another adult for things the kids want. Ofcourse, I also do not have the luxury of giving them everything they want because I don’t have another income. Ok, so being a single parent is hard.
This wasn’t something I chose, it was just the consequence of the marriage I had. So, we make the best of it. My problem with being a single mother to 3 girls was there was NO representation (that I could think of ) in film, TV, or literature. So, I couldn’t envision what this single mommyhood was going to look like. I had no way to romanized it or spin it in a positive light. All I could bring to mind were statistics and bad outcomes of kids I had known growing up….and my own experience also. And it just was NOT what I wanted for my kids.
I finally remembered One Day At A Time starring Bonnie Franklin and Valerie Bertinelli and Mackenzie Phillips. From what I could recall about that show is that they were all sorts of screwed up. One of the kids had a drug problem, one had an eating disorder and Schneider was always hitting on the mom. Yuck. As far from the Cosby Show as one could get. So, it looked as though I was going to have to start my own sitcom, write my own novel, present my own screenplay.
Growing up, the majority of my friend’s parents were divorced. The ones who had intact families were the exception to the rule. So, I had role models. But it was the 80’s, the ME decade, and so, they were not the best role models. Or at least not the way I wanted to live my life as a single mom. I had to redefine single motherhood to fit the way I wanted to raise my kids. So, I have set about to make a life that I never expected to have to make.
I knew I didn’t want to make my kids my equal. I didn’t want to saddle them with the responsibility of making me happy or give them the role of caretaker of me and my emotions. I didn’t want them to see me as the victim. And above all I didn’t want them to grow up thinking that THEY were victims. I had experienced first hand “the victim as parent” and the children of that family were not stable, not well rounded individuals. Ok, so I had an idea of what I didn’t want. Now what did I want and how do I achieve that?
I wanted to have secure, emotionally healthy kids who grow up to be contributing, stable members of society. Isn’t that what every parent wants? I had to get over the grief that I had that there was no one to join me as a witness to my children’s lives. That took some time as grief has no time frame. Then I had to refocus on my kids and what they needed from me. And what they didn’t need. That took some investigating. Becoming the mother I wanted to be was time consuming. And not something that happened overnight or without alot of thought. When I was married I had the luxury of letting life unfold without a whole lot of thought, knowing I had another adult there to share the responsibility of all decisions good and bad. Now, my priorities had changed and I needed to be more focused because I want to avoid my family becoming a statistic.
I can’t tell you I have any answers, I don’t. So far, despite major tragedies, my kids are very centered and have amazing coping skills and don’t seem to be as damaged as I believed they would be. Yes, yes, kids are resilient…as kids. They do carry their hurt with them into adulthood and eventually they have to deal with the fall out of all the things that happened to them as kids. My goal is to give them the skills they need to be able to deal, as adults, when they finally have the words and knowledge to understand what they went through as kids. My job, as their parent is ever changing. I cannot tell you that if you and I just follow these directions then our kids will be perfect and have wonderful lives. I wish I could.
But for all of us single moms out there, we can do it. We can raise happy, healthy kids. Maybe we didn’t choose to be single mothers, maybe we did. But it is doable. Our kids have absolute trust and faith in us and we deserve their trust and faith. No matter how we came to be a single mother, I believe it is no accident that we are. We can create our own ideal, our own idea of family, our own standards and boundaries. It is hard, harder than having a participating spouse, but it is so worth it.
So, when you are sitting up late with a crying baby, or finishing up a school project, or teaching your teen how to drive, remember although you are alone in doing these tasks, you are not alone in your experience. There is something very special in getting to be the only parent. There is a closeness we single mothers get to share with our kids that is different from the closeness between moms and kids in two parent households. Not better, not worse, just different. No one can negate our experience or tell us that we are less than because we do not have a partner to share our kids with. We know, no matter the circumstances of our single mommyhood, that we can do this job as well as any other.
Our lives take a bit more planning, a bit more luck and a bit more work than a two parent home. We need to rely on others, we need to ask for help, we need to be stringent on who we allow in our children’s lives. We need to see everyone as a potential role model for our kids because they will make role models out of the most unlikely people. We have to accept that our family is not going to be traditional and our kids will most likely not lead traditional lives. But how wonderful that our kids will become adults that understand how to go with the flow, who accept others, whose “normal” is stretchy. Our kids will know that traditional roles don’t have to be followed because they have seen us, their single mothers, do it all. What an incredible lesson we can teach our kids!!
Our single mother lives are sitcoms. How many times have you been in the middle of some parenting dilemma (like the 6 month old just found out how to remove her own poopy diaper and the 8 year old is running to get you while you are spilling boiling water all over the kitchen floor because you tripped over the damn dog and the 4 year old has stolen the “childproof” scissors and is hacking away at the hair that she just recently grew on her previously bald head) and been simultaneously glad and sad that no one was there to witness the chaos? What can you do but laugh, clean up the mess and pray that the hairdresser can make your little girl look like a little girl despite her self inflicted crew cut in the front…
We wrote that. It is all ours. And it is funny. Just because there wasn’t another adult there to share it with does not mean it was tragic or less than. It is ours. As is the drama of the 15 year old and her grades and her boyfriend issues, as is the 11 year old and her perfectionism and her obsessions, as is the 7 year old and her desire to be as grown up as her big sisters but yet remain the baby for a while longer. It is all ours, the sweetness and the sour. Enjoy it with no regrets. Our kids rely on us for everything but we also teach them, by example, that they can rely on themselves also. Our example shows them that they never need another to make a life, they are complete without another. That if they choose to be with another, it is not a necessity, it is a compliment to the life they already have. What a great gift!!
I am a big fan of marriage and two parent households. I support all of my friends in their marriages and family pursuits. I enjoyed being a married person. Today, I enjoy equally my single motherhood. I never thought I would be able to say that. I know what the generalized risks are for my kids and yes, I worry. So does every mother.That has not a thing to do with being a single mother, that is just being a mother. My family doesn’t have to be a statistic. In fact, my family will be as unique and special as yours.
Oh yeah….Alice…The Partridge Family…Who’s The Boss! We are out there!! Now, I guess I have to get a bus, teach the kids to sing, find a nice italian man to keep house for me while I waitress at a greasy spoon….