Last December, I surpassed the 21-year mark in my role as a parent.
I have always taken this particular role very seriously because I knew, from a very early age, that I wanted to have children. It was something I could never explain when people asked; I just knew. It wasn’t even like I knew how many children I wanted or would wind up having; all I knew was that I wanted to be a mom. That was going to be my career.
Parenting isn’t easy, even when there are two loving parents, supporting each other and providing abundant love and security for the family; it is especially difficult when one parent is either too emotionally detached to co-parent or chooses revenge by undermining authority and using alienation tactics, regardless of the impact on the child. In retrospect, I realize that I have been a single mother, in many aspects, since the birth of my son, 21 years ago. I believe I have valid reasons for feeling that way; my son’s father was extremely self-absorbed most of the time, intensely focused on his past and how his step-mother “wronged” him. For the duration of our marriage, which lasted a little over five years, he only talked about being victimized and being unable to move past the “trauma” he suffered at her hands. He showed very little interest in co-parenting our son and didn’t even fight for custody in the divorce. For years, I implored him to be more involved in our son’s life; he would disappear for years at a time, resurface briefly and disappear again.
My daughter’s father sabotaged any opportunity for her to bond with me, from her birth until his death. He refused to discuss anything with me, regarding our daughter’s welfare, and then audaciously criticized me for the decisions I made in his absence. He would often observe [in the background] my attempts to manage conflict between my children or handle various situations that arose, without stepping up to present a united front. My daughter often told me she noticed him smiling while he watched me struggle to resolve things, smug that he’d successfully engineered a situation he could use to his advantage. He purposely refused to help me when things fell apart so that I would “fail” and prove him right in what he believed about me.
We have come a long way since being in that situation and, thankfully, I am in total control of what happens in our household. For the last five months, I have had to adjust to being “mum” and “dad” to my children and, although it’s easier than having a co-parent work against me, I still feel an enormous amount of pressure when it comes to single-handedly raising my children. The good news is: everything is down to me; the bad news is: everything is down to me. Being the sole parent is wonderfully rewarding and, yet, excruciatingly exhausting. Striking a balance between being the “fun” parent and the “meanie” is HARD. We single parents don’t get to decompress very often. We don’t have vacations away from the children. Dating is a nightmare because nights out and weekends away depend upon whether or not there’s a reliable, willing party to watch my daughter for prolonged periods and having to coordinate with different schedules and levels of availability. I don’t have the “built-in” support of a co-parent but it’s difficult to rely on friends with busy lives of their own to help out.
I just wish that there was more of an understanding of what being a single parent entails. I feel exhausted most of the time and worry that my kids are not getting the best of me. I sometimes feel like my life isn’t my own because I (as the single parent of a teen who is prone to self-harm) deal with crisis on [almost] a daily basis. There are times when I wish for someone standing beside me to offer support or a hug when things are highly emotionally charged or provide additional support for my daughter when she needs someone else, besides me, to confide in and boost her self-esteem.
I am a positive person who has a tremendous amount of patience (but it does wear thin, on occasion). I do what I have to do for myself and my kiddos. I want people to understand what it’s like for sole single parents who have had to overcome the difficulties brought on by their co-parents. I wish I knew how things were going to turn out and I sometimes imagine that, one day, my successful grown children will look back on everything and recognize how much I truly love being their mum.