The life of a single parent is … well … different.
Yes, we confront many of the same issues married parents face — money, children, work — but we are, to the point, simply misunderstood.
This misunderstanding was the impetus for me creating this website and its weekly blog.
When I decided to become a single parent more than a decade ago, I soon discovered a certain echo chamber where single parents and their children are misjudged, criticized and ridiculed. It shares studies and statistics of poverty, addiction and criminality at higher levels for us than other populations. It condescends to our needs — as they see them — a sort of charity porn, if you will. It hides our unique perspectives behind stereotypes and lumps us with so-called “others,” following the infamous “including” at the end of a sentence.
These points of view have rooted themselves into the media, our politics and our culture. We are presented in crazy extremes it seems from selfish, noncommittal, nontraditional, burdensome and immoral to self-sacrificing, courageous, independent and strong. Such a mishmash can make us feel stomped on and uplifted at the same time. Like the ingredients being added to and stirred in a mixing bowl, we get tumbled about quite a bit.
Through the years, I have had to place these points of views and portrayals in their proper perspective. These people just don’t know me. They don’t know my life. They don’t know my relationship with my son. They are simply outside looking into my “alien” world. They want to compartmentalize or marginalize my existence whether consciously or subconsciously, so they can understand it or justify their own biases or beliefs.
OK, I could live with these limitations, but not always.
A friend once asked if I was replacing my son with a husband. I was baffled, then hurt and then a bit angry. How could a child substitute for a partner? Where did this assumption come from?
Before I moved into my own house, my son and I lived with my parents. The metropolitan area where we resided at the time had a high standard of living, and my small income was stretched among childcare costs, lawyer’s fees and personal expenses for my son and me. I was so grateful to my mother and father for their generosity and kindness. They provided us with the safety and security we so desperately needed.
However, my living situation became a source of ridicule and resentment. Some people would joke about it, making fun of my decision, suggesting that I was a child as well, unable to make it on her own. The jabs did sting. Others simply objected, saying that I was taking advantage of them, or quietly submitted me to their disapproval with glances and passive aggressiveness.
Looking back on these exchanges, I realize how far I have come. Then, I was scared, insecure, conflicted and overwhelmed — sometimes I still am — but over the past few years, I have evolved, transformed, undergone a gradual metamorphosis.
A dear friend described to me one evening the complexity and depth of the relationship between a single parent and a child, particularly that of a mother and son.
“No one will ever understand that relationship unless they are in it. Your son will always love you and appreciate all that you did as his mom. He will always be there for you, worry about you. And you will always be there for him. Your relationship is special,” she said.
Her words struck me deeply. I realized that the opinions of others, so casually and freely expressed, essentially meant nothing. My son and I were on our own journey.
Over the years, the ying and yang of parenthood — the mother and father roles — had been dissolving within me, and a new, stronger me has been emerging. It was inevitable. I had to learn to acknowledge and adapt to so many different experiences in my life and my son’s life. I had no one to pass the responsibilities to and if I failed to address them, my son would be hurt, as would I. Or a surprisingly joyful moment would be lost.
My child is experiencing a parent who braves each day and its challenges regardless of the echo chamber and tormentors. I may not be perfect but at least I try. He is learning that he can be whatever he wants to be and knows that my love for him is boundless.
I have realized that my growing self-awareness is so freeing. It helps me identify and deal with the outside misunderstandings for what they are. Don’t get me wrong, it takes work to do so — a conscious decision to push those hurtful opinions aside —but I need to be true to myself and value my decisions. I have to. I don’t know any other way. The lies I tell myself and hear others say only blind me, weaken me. And I can’t afford that.
I want my child to learn that he can overcome any adversity and misunderstanding and find the freedom to be himself and choose his own path. I hope he sees some of that determination in me.
On Thursdays I will be sharing a blog about a day in the actual life of a single parent. Every fourth Thursday, instead of a personal post, I will put together one where I assemble news on and about single parents nationally and globally.
I would love to hear from you! Feel free to send any comments and questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also on Twitter @parentsonurown and can be found by searching #singleparentandstrong.