“I’m not a single-mom, I’ve got my shit together,” I told my therapist. Noreen had at this point been seeing me for almost five months, and I had been separated from my husband for 16. I was unable to admit to the fact that I was single with a child because I perceived the label in a negative light. I hated when people said, “I’m sorry,” when they learned I was doing life without a man now. I felt I was being perceived as a weak, broken woman without help. I felt the need to overcompensate for my status and prove I wasn’t relying on state checks and donations to live. Emotionally, I was falling apart but my constant smile and outward positivity created a façade that was tough to foil. How could I admit I was a single mom, without admitting I was hurting and struggling?
The problem wasn’t the label, but how I assumed the label would project on me and my values. I have been fiercely independent since day one, but to suddenly be the primary care taker of a young child on my own was not something I had planned for. If I could not admit that I was a single mom, then what could I say I was? How could I get over the obstacles that this new status left me to battle without admitting I fit this label? Slowly, with Noreen’s help, I began to understand that the term “single mom” was not one of a weakened single status, but one of a very strong type of woman. Single mothers usually do what two people in a household do (physically, emotionally, and economically), if that isn’t strength, I’m not sure what is.
After being able to admit out loud that I was a single mom, I was able to get over my pride and ask for help when I needed it. I knew I could do this all alone, but I also knew I was becoming emotionally and physically exhausted from carrying the sole responsibilities that came with the independence I now had. Being able to ask for help when I needed it allowed me time to take breaks, recuperate, re-energize and not break down in a fit of anxiety. With time for myself to re-energize, I was more productive and pleasant. My daughter fed off of this positive energy and it helped with regulating her schedule and temperament with our constant life changes.
Single mothers usually do what two people in a household do…
The next step to owning my single mom status was to stop trying to defy the perception that a single mom wasn’t good enough. It is an exhausting and insignificant battle. The energy I put every day into trying to defend my “title” was emotionally exhausting. I heard it all. That single moms had a hard time getting remarried, that they had a hard time keeping a job, a hard time staying financially afloat, and a hard time keeping their sanity. I started shaping my life to prove these people wrong, to show my strength even when I honestly couldn’t conjure any. I ended up handling more than I physically or emotionally could and was very unhappy. When I finally decided to stop defending my title to people who didn’t matter, I began to live life the way I wanted, the way that was beneficial to me. Learning to say “no” to invitations so I can have the extra time to focus on my home and daughter was one of the behaviors I began to change.
The most terrifying part of owning the single mom status was getting over the fear of actually doing it all alone. Not having a financial or emotional safety net, no one to take out the garbage (I loathe taking out the garbage), fix a clogged toilet, or change a light bulb is a scary reality. The only way to get over this fear was to learn to trust myself. Trusting myself meant not listening to the crazy voice in my head telling me to follow the directions I wrote for my life before college. Trusting myself meant to listen to my gut and the feelings I had that made sense for my life at that moment. If it made sense to move into my parents’ house to get help with my daughter and give me a head start at saving money, then I should trust myself and stop thinking about how I am a failure for not being able to comfortably afford my own place. It also meant I would trust myself to make decisions on my own for my new life and family.
Getting on your feet as a single mom can be daunting and terrifying, but there is no greater pleasure than accomplishing so much on your own. With the help of friends, family, and a good community, a mother truly finds the strength that lies within her soul to create a beautiful life for herself, her children, and the countless others that rely on her. The most important piece of advice that I have taken away and would like to give back, is to enjoy life and live in the moment. So many times, as single moms, we dwell on the past and fret about the future. We end up losing the present, missing out on the miracles that happen and complicate our happiness. So please, the next time you meet a single mother, do not apologize, there is nothing to be sorry about, but everything to be proud of. If she has a heartbeat and a smile, you know that life has beaten the crap out of her and she’s still winning. Here’s to strong single moms, may we know them, may we help them, may they prosper.