Single Mama, Alright

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I’m not going to be disingenuous and pretend this was easy to write. It wasn’t. Motherhood isn’t easy, my life is a hard one, and being a single mama isn’t how I ever envisioned my future. I can tell you daily one more reason I hate being a single mom. But to tell you what I love about it? I have to dig deep to turn it around and find something good. So here it is:

1. It makes me a less selfish person.

Before I met my daughter’s father, I was the definition of working for the weekend. The clerical work I did afforded me the ability to splurge on a market-rate warehouse district apartment with 14 foot ceilings. I lived across the street from the farmers market and at one point enjoyed monthly trips to the spa for a massage through my FSA account. I had my hair cut and colored in the salon with a facial every 6 weeks. I was on a raw foods weight loss plan and regularly purchased new clothes and accessories for my shrinking body. I didn’t have everything and I certainly lived paycheck to paycheck. But in all honesty it was a selfish kind of life as I had no one else to live for.

Flash forward 2 years and I’m a single mama. Her daddy left us and she is dependent upon me. I don’t get sick days or much of any opportunity to rest or have fun. If this sounds like My life is now more than me, more than romantic love, more than doing whatever it is that I want to do. I am needed, truly and deeply needed, by a helpless little human. The lessons I teach her will impact her entire life. The bond we share will matter. Suddenly I have something to live for, to put first, and it’s not me.

2. I get to choose my parenting style without debating with my partner.

It’s not as if her father and I never argue since we’re no longer a couple. We. Fight. A. Lot. We never really bickered as a couple–we fight often as exes. But our arguments tend to focus more on his lack of involvement and less on my decisions. At the end of the day, because I’m the single mama and he’s the distant dad, I get to parent how I feel I ought to and I do not have to argue with (nor answer to) a partner who disagrees.

Yet it’s not about having everything my way either. I am simply aware that I have the luxury of getting to make all decisions about how to raise my child and I am not stressed about her father’s reaction to those choices. That’s not to say he doesn’t stress me out or that I wouldn’t welcome some disagreement if it meant her father was more involved. It definitely doesn’t feel luxurious, but I recognize this freedom counts as a perk of single parenting.

3. It has taught me that I’m stronger than I think.

When I first realized I was going to be a single mama, I wanted to kill myself. I know, I wish I was joking, but having a baby without any emotional support from the father was at the top of my “things I never want” list ever. For a long time, I believed I couldn’t BE a mom without this man I loved. He was already a father to three boys while I was never certain about wanting to have a child myself. I thought I needed him to stand by me and show me the ropes.

But he never did. He was there for the delivery and some other ocassions, but through this first year or so he has never actually shown up and been present. This baby kept needing me, kept growing. I asked for help but he was not there. I finally had to do something that nearly killed me–I had to go. I left his part of the country and took our daughter back to my home state a thousand miles away. I brought the clothes on my back and two bags of baby clothes. I put her first when I was brokenhearted and would have otherwise done anything to be close to her dad.

I did it because I am strong. We got through colic without him. We still get through sleepless nights without him. Through my sickness and fatigue we have survived. I know our daughter lives because I have taken care of her when he wouldn’t. One day, perhaps while drafting this post, I looked back on her first 11 months and realized I am stronger than I ever believed possible for me.

4. It’s taught me what matters in life–and made me stand for those convictions.

As soon as her father told me I had to leave our apartment, well-meaning people began to lecture me about being a single mom. The common denominator was this: “Your life will be hard–let me explain to you how you are in for a hard 20 years or so. And let me pound it into your brain and say that you must do WHATEVER it takes to give this child as much money as you can. Work three jobs if you must. And don’t complain. This is life as a single mom.”

Really, people–that is how you sound. These same folks thought it was horrible that my obstetrician told me to quit my job at T-Mobile because it was too stressful during a high-risk pregnancy. Every time I was put on bed rest or hospitalized during that time, someone felt it was their duty to tell me I was being a bad mom before my child was born. Or I somehow couldn’t be a REAL SINGLE MAMA if I didn’t have a job that pays my bills.

That’s okay. These were generally the people I cut out of my life because they were so toxic whenever I expressed my goal to stay home with my daughter. Single moms don’t have the luxury to stay home unless they are independently wealthy. I heard this again and again. People called me lazy or a freeloader. They told me about all their hardships and how they handled it better because of me.

And all it ever really came down to was money. It still does.

It doesn’t matter to them that her father hasn’t  worked one bit harder to take care of his new baby. Everyone had (and continues to have) opinions about what I should but am not doing to make money. It doesn’t matter that I am working as a mom 24/7 and also working from home, because I’m not prosperous at present. In a way this has been a blessing because it has solidified my belief in what matters most–being there for my daughter and bonding strongly, particularly in her first 3 years of life. The criticism has taught me how much I value family, even though it’s just me and my daughter. It’s made me see that money isn’t everything and I never want to sacrifice her needs in the name of financial gain.

5. My daughter and I have a unique bond.

Because her father chooses to be less involved, my daughter only knows me as her nurturer and protector. That creates a really special, strong bond between us because I know I’m all she’s got and I’m going to do whatever it takes to meet her needs. By extension, she is going to grow up knowing that my love was an action–not empty words.

I have confidence that my sacrifices to instill the importance of family in my baby girl will go a long way to make her one day appreciate these bonds which can’t be bought. Some of us grow up wondering our entire lives if were truly loved by our own parents, or if they just had to love us out of obligation. I know that my daughter will be able to look back on our memories and traditions and cherish the fact that I put her and our bond first.

There may be many more things I hate about being a single mom than things to love, but I think the value of these 5 perks far surpass that of any gripe I have. It isn’t easy–I have to work to appreciate what I have as a single mama compared to moms with partners. But I know my daughter will always be worth it. I also know that no matter how unfair it seems that I have to work so hard while he enjoys living a typically child-free existence going out to eat or to the movies whenever he wants–I’m not the one missing out. He is the one missing out on knowing his daughter. He is the one lacking the memories of sacrifice or laughter and joy.

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