Next month marks the end of my first year as a single mom. This wasn’t exactly the situation I planned for when I got married/knocked-up (not necessarily in that order, let’s be honest), but it’s the hand I’ve been dealt so I’m rolling with it as best I can. The first few months were a shock to the system – there’s a reason why you’re “supposed” to do the whole child-rearing thing with two people! – but after I settled into a routine of very little sleep coupled with a raging coffee addiction, it got easier. In all honesty I’m surprised that the year went as smoothly as it did, all things considered. After 12 months in the single-mommy trenches I feel like I’ve learned a thing or two…which is to say, I’ve learned enough to know I don’t know anything! Here’s the few things I think I can pass on with some measure of certainty, though:
People will have all sorts of advice/stories/opinions for you – don’t listen.
I can’t tell you how many people suddenly had things to say when my husband and I split up. Some of it good (“you’ll be fine”, “this is the best thing for you and Violet”), some of it bad (“OMG my life ended when so-and-so left me”, “kids from broken homes do worse in school, you know”), all of it unwanted. It reminded me of when I was pregnant – seems everyone had a horror story about labor and delivery (I didn’t know ripping your asshole during labor was a thing. It is. Do NOT Google it.), or those first sleepless months, or how eating soft cheese and sushi turned their baby into a mutant with 7 toes on one foot. I’ve learned in the past year that even though people mean well, the only gut you need to trust is your own.
Prepare to be lonely. And sad. Overwhelmed. Guilty. Basically all the feels.
A few months ago I came home after a particularly long and stressful day at work. Violet was cutting her back molars and needed the world to know how miserable she was. Our washing machine had broken and a week’s worth of laundry was stinking up my bedroom. Dinner burned. The dog pooped inside. Then Violet pooped where the dog did. So I did what any self-respecting, capable mother would do: I retreated to the bathroom and cried while picking accumulated Cheerios out of my hair. Some days are going to be harder than others. Some days, though, will be a breeze. There will be laughter and cuddles and dancing in the living room to The Wiggles and zero fight at bedtime. Those days you’ll collapse into bed smiling and telling yourself this isn’t so bad. Emotions tend to be magnified when there’s no adult around to bounce them off of, but that’s ok. It’s ok to be human. Our kids don’t need or want us to be some emotionless robot. This is the time when tiny eyes and ears are watching and listening to see how we handle life – yeah, no pressure!
One income vs. two = suckfest.
I’m just going to be totally honest here. Combined incomes makes life a lot easier, it just does. In the world of living paycheck to paycheck the added security of someone else’s wages makes everything just a tad more comfortable. But you’ll adjust. You will. One less adult in the house equals less groceries required, less laundry to do, less lights to constantly be telling someone to turn off. Be prepared for your finances to change drastically. Take some time to create a new budget based on your income alone. It’s certainly possible to adjust to one income, just be prepared that there WILL be an adjustment period. On the flipside, be prepared for the pride that comes with knowing you’re the sole breadwinner and that you’re handling it like a BOSS.
You’ll have a newfound respect for the single moms you may have judged harshly in the past.
This shit is hard. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. I always had mad respect for the single moms I knew. I was aware that their struggle was different than my own, but in an “I saw a documentary about it once” sort of way, not an “I have personal experience with it” way. Although I can’t pinpoint one particular instance to mention, I know a younger me has been guilty of a judgy side-eye or two while watching a solo mom wrangle two kids in a shopping cart who absolutely HAVE to have that chocolatey thing just outside their grasp. But now I know. Now I’ve seen. She has SO MUCH MORE to worry about than wiggly cart monsters; she’s wondering how she’s gonna buy these groceries and still pay the electric bill, and then there’s the report due at work that she’ll be up past midnight finishing, and doesn’t one of the kids have a dance thing coming up soon? We should be supporting one another instead of tearing one another down, even in the quiet of our own minds. As women – not even just as mothers, but as women – we should be finding comfort and solidarity in one another, even if our situations are vastly different. We all live, eat, breathe, love and die…there’s no room for judgment and I’m sorry I ever wasted space in my head and heart for it.
As if your time wasn’t valuable before, suddenly you’ll be wishing you had a clone. Or at the very least a personal assistant/chauffer/chef/housekeeper. Instead, you’ll just become all of those things and not get paid for any of them. Woo hoo! You’ll figure out a way to wear all your hats (mom, employee, friend, cheerleading coach) and still effectively manage your time. You’ll have to. Don’t worry, I’m sure there’s an app for it.
Mama Bear mode kicks into overdrive.
Chances are, you’re still in Awkward Phase with your child’s father. That’s OK, it happens. For some people it takes years to figure out their new relationship as co-parents, and some never get to that elusive happy place. While you’re searching to redefine your relationship, you’ll be hyper-vigilant about the ways in which the split effects your offspring. I get incredibly upset when V’s dad cancels a weekend visit, or says he needs to bring her home early for whatever reason. I know when she’s little like this it doesn’t matter, she doesn’t “know any better”, but it worries me for the future. I don’t want to explain to my crying and heartbroken child why Daddy isn’t coming to get her again this weekend. I know what that can do to a kid. When I get glimpses of this it turns me into She-Ra the Warrior and I become fiercely protective of my daughter and her well-being, even if the ones she needs protection from are her own family.
There is absolutely nothing you wouldn’t do for your child, and you’ll have to test that a few times.
I visited the local food bank a few times this year when medical bills ate up my last pennies and there was more month than money at the end of my paycheck. It was embarrassing. I hung my head shamefully while collecting my bags of food and tried to forget the experience each time it was over. But I’d do it again in a heartbeat if it meant providing for my daughter. I’ve had to completely throw away the notion of what I thought “providing for” my child meant (a two-parent family, a house with a big backyard and a white picket fence) and focus on what our life looks like right now, this very second (a nice roof over our heads, albeit an apartment roof, and yummy food in our bellies – thanks food bank!). But trust and believe that I’d stand in that line a million times over if that’s what it takes.
The bond you share with your child will grow exponentially.
I loved my daughter pre-split, obviously. But in the last year I’ve become her sole caretaker, save for the days she’s with her father on the weekends. I don’t have back-up. I’m Good Cop AND the Bad Cop. I play make-believe and dress-up but I also discipline and enforce boundaries. Violet has come to realize that I’m playing both Mommy AND Daddy, and after a few power struggles in the last 12 months she’s learned to trust me. She knows I’ll take care of her. She knows it’s just me and her, and that that’s exactly how I choose for it to be. She doesn’t wander around the house anymore peeking around corners looking for Daddy…she doesn’t sit at the front door in the evening like a puppy dog, waiting for him to come home from work…she doesn’t steal furtive glances after I discipline her, waiting for Daddy to come to the rescue. She knows our life is just me and her now. Now I’m the one she runs around the house giggling after, I’m the one who’s coming and going from work can be the worst part of her day or the best part, I’m the one she listens to when it comes to discipline and time-outs and she respects my boundaries and knows where her limits are. And at night when I rock her to sleep, she holds onto me tight and pats my back and strokes my check…she looks up at me half-asleep and murmurs “love Mommy” as she nuzzles her head into her “nook” on my shoulder and her body goes limp with sleep. It’s in those moments that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she and I are OK. Not WILL BE, but ARE. Right here, in this moment. Together.
We are not victims of circumstance. I carved out this life, despite its inherent difficulties, because I knew that even with whatever new struggles came about we’d be happier and healthier on our own. And we are. Sometimes the right choice isn’t the easy choice. I’d venture to say often it isn’t. And I’ve wondered: if I had a Magic 8 Ball and somehow knew years ago that this is ultimately how my/our life would turn out, if I’d do things differently. There was a time when I’d have said yes, absolutely – a time when a more scared and unsure version of myself doubted that I could pull this off. But now I know better. Now I know that nothing happens by accident and life really is what you make it. My daughter’s father and I loved one another once, and that love gave us our beautiful daughter. Even if I never do another worthwhile thing for the rest of my life, I can rest easy knowing that creating her and being her mommy (even though it’s hard right now) was the best thing I’ve ever done. And I know that Time, that great healer of wounds, will eventually be on our side. The struggles of today will help us get through the struggles tomorrow is waiting to unleash. And in another year I’ll look back on THIS year, my rookie season, and laugh at myself for ever doubting that I was capable of managing it all.
So here’s to the struggle, the late nights, the past-due bills, the hushed arguments on the phone over childcare and who’s turn it is to buy diapers…here’s to the moms and dads who put the needs of their children above their own, who might fight behind closed doors but at the end of the day just want to see their kids happy…here’s to throwing caution to the wind and embracing this crazy journey called Parenthood, and knowing that YOU ARE ENOUGH, right now, today, exactly as you are.