I used to be a single mother.
Although I rarely describe our history in a public format, my eldest daughter regrettably remembers the rage and regulation in which we lived our former lives with Blu-ray clarity (things I have long since buried in the convenient catacombs of my mind).
For the most part, I try to keep our former life discreet, because I don't want to look like the bitter ex or a liar. But it is safe to say that safety wasn’t part of our ecosphere, even if common abuse denominators like black eyes and fat lips weren’t always present.
For many, becoming a lone parent is terrifying and exhausting at best, but for us, it was far easier than the previous alternative. While in the past I kept a Taser next to the bed to guard me from the person beside… on our own, health and happiness became a constant.
We painted our living room “Frida red” and called it the freedom wall. We bought a freedom cat (now you understand the ironic co-dependency of feline and I). And for Father’s Day that year, my then three-year-old gifted me instead of a male recipient (I can’t mow a lawn, but I sure as hell make a great Dad).
Often, single parents (in this case, moms) are described as heroes or martyrs, but for me and many others, it breaks down a hell of a lot differently.
Single motherhood for me meant not being able to fall asleep at night without mentally enacting every worst-case scenario that could befall my children and how to protect them. (International spies and rogue ninjas be warned: I have a plan for you).
Single motherhood was rewriting my Will and Testament 30 times, because I would do anything to prevent your children from falling into the hands of their past.
Single motherhood was holding my daughter while she weeps for hours before departing on limited 24-hour visitation, and when she asks, “Why can’t you stop this?, offering powerless silence in return.
Single motherhood included a police officer explaining that “unless the child is brought into the courthouse in front of the judge and lit directly on fire,” no one cares about the tears, bruises and fear.
Single motherhood was realizing that the gender-slanted sayings we offer our daughters -- “Don’t walk alone at night” or “Never leave your drink unattended” -- make little difference when the danger is contained within four, perfectly painted, expertly decorated walls.
Single motherhood was biting your tongue for truth and repressing fact, because the high road -- however laborious -- is the only option. (And yes, this is a slight detour off said high road, but at least they won’t read xo for another decade.)
Single motherhood is tirelessly worrying that my own initial weakness in life will destroy the rest of theirs. It is knowing that if I had left the first time I tried, I wouldn’t have my second daughter… and therefore, it’s inherently worth it.
Single motherhood means never being able to pass the baton at bedtime, during temper tantrums, or when all you want to do is lock yourself in a bathroom and ugly cry. In fact, it requires a PHD in silent sobbing (lavatory acoustics be damned).
On the other hand, it also means finally having a right to your own voice… your own body… your own life. I will never have a toddler ripped from my arms again when trying to flee an inflamed situation, thus forcing me to stay. I will never have someone block a doorway and take my keys when I just want to get my babies away from all the yelling.
No one will ever tell my child that she should stand in her own pee in the middle of the night as punishment for a potty-training accident at 3. No one will ever tell her they’re going to lock her in the basement at night so she can stop having nightmares or being afraid of the dark at 4.
Sure, they may still be told these things in the fleeting instances of exposure… but now it’s a lot less often and they have the space and strength to understand what they truly deserve.
I look at my girls now and I can’t believe what they’ve endured and overcome in their tiny lifetimes. They had to accept adults for their true colors at an age when the Tooth Fairy should be the highlight of their subconscious, and realize that sometimes people never change... but situations can.
I am not a single mother anymore. I met my now-husband a couple of years ago, and like to say that my daughters chose him for me, not the other way around.
He has healed a great many wounds by staying when we push, by hugging when we turn away, by giving love that’s unconditional, even when none is shown in return. Also, he’s a damn good dad, and there is nothing sexier on earth.
Yet even now that we are happy, healthy and whole, I still harken back to a time when it was just a triad of women living on our own, learning what freedom really means. Fear is included… so is exhaustion, hunger, anxiety, and loss too.
But when push comes to shove (which fortunately, it doesn’t anymore), being a single mother was more than 100% worth it.
Because it gave the three of us something irreplaceable: self-worth.