At pick up from school yesterday-Sam gets in the car and immediately tells me I am going to hear from the teacher tonight in an email. I’ll just tell you that the use of some undesirable language was involved, and the back of another child’s artwork is where my young deviant scribe chose to write the word. As a poet, writer, and wordsmith in general I am hesitant to react about a “word”. But as a parent of a six year old, who may or may not be picking up some of that foul from me, I know I have to reset the appropriate button quickly. As a single parent another layer comes in: will other partnered parents hear of this transgression and judge him and me? As a transracial parent the you better have a cleaner mouth than everyone else because if not you’ll be judged differently than your lighter skinned peers voice enters in.
Then a few hours later-when I got home from my coveted hour of weekly therapy, the babysitter says; “The boys were not behaving at all. They were fighting so much..” I immediately freaked inside. All the benefits of the previous hour seemed to go up in smoke in an instant. I tried to breathe through the shame, anger, disappointment and use it as a teachable moment for her, and the boys. We went over expectations for behavior and consequences etc. But inside I felt like–my kids were BAD and always somewhere they are bad because I am not enough of a parent on my own. All of that thinking is messed up–as my kids are not bad, they just behaved badly-and it has as much to do with the lack of clear boundaries set by the sitter as it does with the boys themselves.
When we got home from driving the sitter home, I put the boys on the sofa and spoke very softly and seriously;
Guys–we are a threesome. We do not have a father, or another parent. We just have each other. We do great as you, and you and me. Right? I need you all to step it up a bit, and show yourselves and me, that we can take care of this family with all the love we can…
At this the boys started hugging and loving on each other and me. I rarely get like that with them. And I know we are not alone at all. But in some ways we really are. In a core way. Is that wrong to talk about I wonder? Or is it something also to celebrate for all our sakes?
This morning I found myself rambling over on the Love Isn’t Enough site after I read this post: The Love of a Single Mother is Enough . Of course my comments did not begin to address the piece itself, because I was so all over the place. Here is an excerpt of my ramblings:
I have this strange love hate relationship with the single mother thing. I believe that I work about 6,000 times harder than many two parent households to make sure my kids get everything their kids do-swim lessons, soccer teams, theater tickets, French classes, pool parties, authentic this, and meaningful that, not to mention the groovy weeks at the lake. I was raised in a very traditional suburban two parent, three kid, two car garage kind of setting. So I HAD all that and the summer excursions to Europe.
I am exhausted.
I have AMAZING friends who are married–almost exclusively- who are married or partnered. I agree that single mothers have little or NO TIME to hang out with other single mothers. I find that my friends love to be part of the boys lives–to help out. I schedule months in advance to get help with the pick up from school when I have a meeting that is going late, or to take them to swim lesson, so I can get the other to the non sibling invited birthday party (talk about hell for a single parent!!). I am great at asking for help.
My discovery early on was that folks really like to be asked. It is easy to say no. I can invite help and meaningful relationships with married folks–because there is so much room for the relationship here. A married man–is not “competing” with my husband/partner for my boys attention when he takes them to the Y to shoot hoops or takes them to a movie. What I mean is that the menfolk don’t have to posture or negotiate social cues to be in my kids lives. I pose no threat–and not because I am not an attractive woman–but because I don’t have designs on their husbands. If anything the threat I pose is that often married women think; “Wow I envy how much ease you have. You can make all the decisions, don’t have to negotiate this and that… have no in laws to argue with, etc. etc.” I work so hard to do this well, people think I have it easier some times!
When I was writing last summer about inviting relationships with people of color into our sphere with much greater intention in the last few years–I realized that that too might be easier for me–because I am not dealing with my partner’s internalized racism–or white mind too. I am just doing my own work with my community/family of choice.
I suppose I wish I could stop thinking I have to one up–or be not just as good but better than-everyone who is not a single parent. Truth is we are doing great. My kids are well secure in themselves, and in the love they feel. They will not be sucked down the vortex of statistical expectations of the stigmatized “child of a single mother” as long as I stop spending so much energy fighting against it…
I am re-posting my comments here–because they are a bit raw and unpolished which is perhaps more revealing in ways–and because my single parent life often feels marginalized too–like my transracial parent life. To be honest, I want to work on ways to transform my own thinking about being “enough” too. It’s hard work though. How do you do it? Do you have any single parents in your life? How do you feel about being involved in their lives?
When you write, “But inside I felt like–my kids were BAD and always somewhere they are bad because I am not enough of a parent on my own,” it strikes a cord with me. I can’t claim to know what it’s like to be a single parent. I’m sure there are challenges that are unique to that experience. But as a gay papa raising a child of color with my partner, I often worry I’m not enough and that other people will think that too, particularly when things aren’t going smoothly. Even when I know rationally we are enough, relative to what other families offer their kids, I can’t shake the feeling that I have to work extra hard…to compensate for whatever might be missing…not just with race but with us being a family without a female parent or a family that is highly conspicuous. I say kudos to you for sharing some of the raw, less processed emotions about your experience.
More to your question about do we know single-parent families…we don’t have any in our life right now. But I know, assuming we were close, I’d want to be involved. In general I’d like to see less highly defined, separate households in my small world….more back and forth with child care and play times and commiserating over parental stress and success. However, I think I’d need to explicitly hear from those single parent friends that they want involvement. I’d feel shy about coming across as trying “to help” where help is not necessarily what’s needed so much as sharing, companionship, and the occasional reprieve from the stresses of feeling we’re not enough.
What a great reply, You totally get what I am talking about. Somehow it is like I feel every behavior is magnified in some ridiculous way. I can’t move out of that thinking on the days I need to most (like today when things feel harder than most). I agree totally about the need/wish for less highly defined households. I am a big believer in the co-housing movement and hope to realize that someday too… Thanks for the reply.
There are so many things about this post, and the other LIE post that inspired it, that resonate with me. I would say more, but I am too tired. 🙂
But Mama C, I do have to comment that I love the photo you chose at the top of this post. As another single mama–also by choice–I see and feel that expression on my own face all the time. I look at that photo, and I think, oh. I know exactly how she feels.
It’s so good to hear from you–come back if you feel able and tell us what resonates with both pieces? Would love to know. So fun that you get that picture!
Mama C, I love your blog and personally was inspired from your writings about seeking out people who share an adopted child’s race. I have good friends of many races but none live near us and I took your advice and put myself out there- the result was that I have made some fabulous friends and have steady play dates- so THANK YOU!
I am not a single mom but I am an adoptive mom with SLE so I, too, spend a lot of time wondering if I am enough for my daughter. I mean, my husband got told prior to our first date about my lupus, the agency and social workers knew, the birth family knew before choosing us BUT my daughter never got a choice. She has a mom who is limited in what I can physically do with her. I can do puzzles, play games, read to her, and take her to lessons but I will never be able to take her skiing, sledding, skating, running, ride bikes or play sports with her. These are things my husband says will be his job but the fact is that sometimes kids want moms to join in the fun, too. So, I ask myself will I be enough as a mom? Can I be everything she needs and deserves???
As for the single mom query- I have lots of single mom friends but most don’t live near us now. These friends do it flying solo and don’t always have the back-up of family and friends and are often just in need of someone to listen and sympathize- if I was closer I would do more. Because even though my one friend jokes I am a single married mom due to my husband working 100+ hours a week, the fact is that I have a husband and that means a lot of stress she and other single parents feel is not something that I share in with her. We have discussed how she would love offers to help once in a while even if it was a mutual thing like someone offering to take her kid to the park with their own kids while she had some alone time and then she would reciprocate at another time. I wish I lived closer so I could be there more for her. BTW that idea of co-housing reminds me of that old show “Kate and Ally,” with the two single moms who lived together with their kids and were each other’s back-up…And for the record, Mama C, you are an inspiration for many and I don’t think I am alone in saying that you are one heck of a mama to your boys! 🙂
So happy to hear that you had such a positive result from the work you did in reaching out. And of course you relate. We all bring what we bring to the table. Nothing more and nothing less right? How amazing for your daughter to see you meeting her needs in all the ways YOU do, and how all the other people in her life will meet other needs that are not yours to accomplish. I can absolutely relate to that self talk, and how unsettling it is.
Here’s something light, but it reminded me of this post of yours (which I read originally earlier today):
Of course, you are much MORE than a single parent or a white parent or an adoptive parent or or or. You are a unique individual and a mother who cares a lot about her kids and talks to them. I never think that single or two-person or whatever households are necessarily better than any other option. If the parent(s) love and care about their kids and each other, and work hard to solve problems and talk about issues, that is the important thing.
That said, I don’t want to take away from the obvious challenges! Money, time, etc… that is certainly difficult.