Dear Single Parents,
How the hell do you do this?
I thought this as I sat crying in my car.
Single-parenting is relentless, and every little decision seems to contain the potential for mass destruction:
“They had chips and gummy bears for dinner? They are going to end up in a gang, searching for more structure.”
“You didn’t drive three hours for your kid’s two hour practice? They’ll have abandonment issues.”
Experts scare the shit out of us with statistics. According to them, my kids are more likely to be alcoholic junky gangsters who get impregnated by their abusive partners and suicidally drop of out of school.
Can this be real? I know a lot of fucked up people who grew up with two parents in the home.
As a single-parent, I feel there is some universal eye scrutinizing me for the slightest parental infraction. Which mistake breathes the damn butterfly effect into existence? Shit, I was late driving them to play practice. And, my god, what about the time I missed the parent/teacher night because I was working? I might as well get them on the waiting list for rehab now.
Maybe all parents feel this way. But the fact is, this new parenting declaration has my John Hancock scrawled across the bottom. Nobody else’s.
In my years at church, I was taught it was God’s will there be two parents. From an evolutionary standpoint, having two co-protectors of the young makes sense too. Why? Because even nature knows this parenting thing gets really fucking hard really fucking quickly. It doesn’t matter if a kid’s other parent is deceased or fled to Brazil — my definition of a single parent is one whose original co-founder is no longer available for consult.
Totally alone, you sometimes make a choice that leads to you crying in your car.
For over two decades nearly every decision I made was either wrong or had to be stamped with approval by the god/husband. Now that I have freedom, I am often so fearful of making the wrong decision, I do things like have my teenage daughter pick out my new glasses (because it would take me six hours and then I’d still second-guess myself) or ask my twenty year-old if I should go skiing for the weekend. Skiing in the Dolomites should not be a difficult decision to make!
I started listening to a book during my Mom-taxi service called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (which I highly recommend), and one point it brings up is: by who’s standards are we measuring ourselves? So, friggin’ what if my kid had mac and cheese for dinner? When my kid gets home from a twelve hour day (school + commute) and finds Mom is not in the kitchen cooking a healthy, balanced meal, but is, let’s say, teaching adults how to write essays that will help them succeed in college, and the kid pops a frozen meal in the microwave that would make a normal human’s mouth feel itchy, I should not feel badly about this. At least my kid is eating. Do I want them to eat healthy food? Yes, but it’s just not going to happen sometimes.
Before you lob cow-pies of judgement at me, I do keep food in the house that doesn’t come wrapped in plastic; and my teens know how to boil water or use a debit card to pick up a salad at the train station on their way home; so I’m not promoting leaving latch-key preschoolers in the apartment with nothing more than a half-eaten bag of Doritos and case of Mountain Dew (that would be abuse).
The point is: my kids are not going to turn out to be criminals because they ate frozen pizza! I love when we sit at the table together and have a meal I prepared, with love, from scratch. Those are beautiful moments. Instagram moments. But I can’t expect those every day. Why? Because I’m not that mom anymore.
I had the big house in the country, 1.5 dogs, 4 kids and never looked at the grocery bill. I was the homeschool mom with an actual school room we rarely used. I had the latest mini-van with leather seats that made my ass feel like it was cushioned by baby angels burping marshmallows. My profession was to raise the kids. And while the puppet shows and plays and experimental gluten-free vegan baking sessions were fun, I was miserable inside. It wasn’t the tough part of parenting (cleaning feces and vomit, for example) that made me unhappy; it was the fact that I was trying to live life according to someone else’s impossible standards.
By doing that, I was a Robot-mom, who would run marathons just to gasp a single breath of real life. Robot-mom was always busy keeping the family looking perfect for the blog, while rusting on the inside.
Which brings me to my next point: people from two-parent homes can be fucked up adults too.
My kids have been going to German school for over three years now, and the stories they bring home make me rub laughing Buddha’s belly. There are ‘good’ families (i.e. Christian, professional, two-parents) with kids who are complete asshats. Young teens who are emotionally abusive or physically violent. There are kids with drug and alcohol problems; kids who hide their ‘real’ lives from their parents; kids who lie to get any sort of freedom; kids who abuse freedom; kids who need medical or professional help and don’t dare ask for it because their perfect parents would freak the hell out.
My kids and I have great communication, (as far as I know). I assume we do, because they tell me all sorts of shit. Sometimes I have to stop them. TMI, dear, TMI. But I trust them. I give them the benefit of the doubt. They honestly have not disappointed me. When they make mistakes, they can talk to me about it, and they learn from it.
My kids are also learning something I never did: how to make a fucking decision on their own. What do you do when there’s no one to consult except your own instinct? And don’t tell me what a dead-deity would do. Tell me what YOU would do. Because YOU are the one who has to decide whether you try jingle-jangle with your buddies or call mom at 3 am for a ride home.
I want my kids to trust themselves, even if they fail once in a while. We, as humans, don’t always make good choices. But no matter how hard we fall, it is always possible to stand back up again. It is wonderful if you have people around strong enough to pull you from the dirt. But what if you’re alone? What if you’re faced with that terrible choice of dying from exposure or cutting off your own leg to escape the boulder?
I’m not saying kids from two-parent homes cannot learn these things. It’s just that sometimes, by force of necessity, my kids must learn these things. The boulder has fallen on them.
While single-parenting feels im-fucking-possible at times, it can also be the most freeing experience in the world. I don’t have to consult with anyone (except the kids) about the decisions I make. I don’t have to battle with an ex about doing what’s best.
Any decision I make with the kids is like a Pharaoh’s decree, so let it be written, so let it be done. There’s no arguing or fighting or googling ‘best family lawyer near you.’ And when I do something right, it’s an incredible high — and I can stand on the peak and breathe it in. It is the profound realization that I made a good decision — and despite it all, these kids are not going to be fucked-up adults. Hell, they’re not even fucked up teens!
They are, in fact, some of the best people I have ever known. Parenting according to my own unique standards is worth slogging through those low places. It’s what keeps me going. I don’t even need the kids to say, “Thanks, Mom” on camera in front of a thousand cheering fans. The way my kids handle life now, despite the shitty times, is a huge reward.
I am learning that we are going to be okay, no matter what’s for dinner.