Friday, April 20, 2012

Single Mom, Wonder Woman

When I was a kid, I never dreamed of being a Mom. I wasn't interested in pushing baby dolls in carriages or playing house. I wanted to be Wonder Woman! Beautiful and powerful, she was my idol. I used a skipping rope as a lasso of truth, tin foil for bracelets. I spun around hoping I would magically end up in a bathing suit and boots. Now I find myself suddenly a single Mom, something I never imagined I would be, but I'm quickly realizing that being a single mom IS being Wonder Woman! Fighting the forces of evil, protecting the innocent, standing up for what's right, making the world a better place (for your children in particular), doing the seemingly impossible and doing it all on your own.

There are a lot of us out there. Nearly one quarter of mothers now are single mothers and almost 50% of today's moms will be the sole custodial parent at some time. Almost half of single moms were never married. The other half are divorced, separated or widowed.

Lately, I've been fortunate enough to talk with a number of single moms. Each has her own unique story. Some were abandoned, as I was, during pregnancy or after. I thought that my story was unusual, (in my 40s pregnant unexpectedly and abandoned), but I actually met another single mom whose tale was almost identical. She was 40, became pregnant to a man whom she'd only been dating a month (just like me). He left her, without warning, at the three month point (mine was at four months). She was due in July (just like me!) but ended up having her son prematurely. Luckily he was a healthy, happy boy and is the light of her life. His father only came to see him once, in the hospital, just after he was born and made no subsequent attempts to be a part of his son's life. Of the other single moms I talked to, most were divorced. Some escaped toxic and abusive relationships (alcoholism and other substance abuse, infidelity, physical and psychological abuse.) There is also a new breed of single mom -- the single moms by choice who decided to go it alone and create a family without a man, either adopting a child on their own or using a sperm donor to have a child without a relationship. If you want to start a family and Mr. Right doesn't show up in time, improvise! Despite the differences between them, these single moms are all extraordinary women. I am in awe of their independence, strength and determination, the deep love and close bond they have with their kids. I never expected to find myself in this situation. I can only hope that I'm up to the task.

It can be a daunting task. Let's face it, in this economy, families struggle to survive on TWO incomes, never mind one. To earn enough to support her children and still have enough time to spend with them can be a challenge. A single mother has to be resourceful, enterprising, hard-working, organized, a master of time management, able to juggle the needs of career and childcare. Having the support of family and friends can be a great help. I am fortunate to have a mother and sister that are extremely supportive. I've had family and friends donate maternity and baby clothes. My sister is giving me her crib, change table, rocking chair, toys and many other items which is a HUGE help. Money will be tight to say the least. Especially when I go on maternity leave. I'm not actually sure how I'm going to manage, what arrangements I'll have to make before going back to work. The plan originally was for Mike, the baby's father, to watch the baby when I went back to work because he worked from home (yeah, if you can call it that.) Now I'm not sure what I'll do but I'm trying not to worry about things that are a year down the road. I'm taking it one day at a time and trusting that somehow everything will work out.

I had no idea I'd be going through this alone. Mike had promised he was sticking around. He told me he was excited about the baby, wanted to be a family. He kissed my belly. He called her Michelle. He loved us. Or at least he seemed to, up until February. In spite of his history and his issues, he seemed happy living with me. He gave no indication that he wanted to leave. I still don't understand how he could turn his back on us. One day I will have to explain to my daughter who her daddy was and why he's not around. I'm not sure what I'll say since he left without a word of explanation or apology (if you missed my earlier posts, "Feb-RUE-ary" recounts his random disappearance when I was four months pregnant). It was baffling. I can't understand it. I don't know what to think. I don't want to believe that he was just cruel, heartless and selfish, that he didn't care about us, that he just wanted his freedom and took off so that he wouldn't be tied down. I would like to think that letting go was the only option he thought he had -- that he thought we'd be better off without him. He wasn't prepared to be a father. He was more of a burden than a help (financially and otherwise.) Maybe he didn't feel worthy of us, thought it would be a more difficult, more stressful life with him around (which is probably true.) Perhaps he felt like he didn't belong in my world. (He'd made mention of the disparity between our "worlds," said that we were from different levels of society, even described himself as a "bottom feeder." The place he had been living before moving in with me was scary to say the least. A dirty, dingy basement apartment with holes in the walls, a ceiling black with mould, yellow walls.) A boy from the wrong side of the tracks, rough around the edges, with piercings, tattoos, spiky hair, chains, a proclivity for dropping random F-bombs, he did seem to feel a bit out of place in my conservative suburban neighbourhood.

Maybe he was being cruel to be kind, for the baby's and my own good. Maybe it broke his heart to leave but he felt it was for the best for us. Well, I'd like to believe that anyway. He may have just been a monster, a misogynist, a sociopath too damaged to develop human attachments, too hateful and angry at the world to have any sort of conscience. But I saw a tender side. The way he comforted me. The thoughtful little things he did. The way he slept hugging my pyjamas. Beneath the tough exterior was a little boy who needed to be loved. And he was. And he seemed happy. I offered him a better life. For the first time, he had a good woman that he could trust. He had a daughter on the way. He had a beautiful home, a family, a purpose he had never had. How on earth could he let that go? I can't imagine that he could just leave and forget us. How could he not be haunted every day of his life knowing what he gave up? Knowing that he has a child out there. Even if he tried, he could never forget. When the time comes and I have to tell her about her father, I will show her pictures of him and the letter he wrote me at Christmas. She will see that he did love us, at least for a time. For whatever reasons, (financial, emotional, psychological) I guess he had his own demons to wrestle and couldn't stay with us.

Given the life that he had had, Mike really didn't know what it was to have a family. They say that the first few years of your life from 0-5 years are the most important. You learn more during that period than you will in the rest of your lifetime. More than just how to walk, talk, eat, read. You learn to love, learn about the world and your place in it. It is when you learn to bond with others. Not getting the right nurturing during this stage can be catastrophic. This period shapes the person that you will become. In those first few years, Mike suffered abandonment. He never had a father and even lost his mother when he was one year old. In and out of foster homes, he never had a chance to feel safe, secure, nurtured and loved. He would go the rest of his life with a chip on his shoulder. A black hole of need that would never be filled. Distrustful (especially of women), suspicious, defensive. In some ways, he was like a wild animal. A survivor. A lone wolf. Ironically he seemed to seek out situations that would perpetuate his anger and despair. He wouldn't let himself be happy. Maybe he didn't know how to bond, to settle down, to stay in one spot, to be part of a family. He seemed to want that with the baby and me but maybe he got scared, afraid of the unknown, feeling like a fish out of water. I recall him saying that he was nervous about holding the baby. He said he wouldn't hold her when she was a newborn because she'd be too fragile. I said "Of course you have to hold your own baby! You just cradle her, support her head with your arm. You can learn!" But maybe he was overwhelmed by the idea, by the responsibility. He was a drifter who was used to just picking up and leaving. He wasn't used to staying and especially having to care for a child. So maybe he just got scared. Found it easier to return to the life he knew, as dark and meaningless as that world might have been. I hated him for a long while but I have to make my peace with this. I have to forgive him for my own sanity. And the truth is, he has done us a favour. I just wish he had at least given us a goodbye, a note, an answer I could give our daughter when the time came. Despite all the pain he's caused me, I can't truly hate him because he has given me this extraordinary unexpected gift, a child that was meant to be. A love unlike any I've ever experienced. The adventure of a lifetime. I believe in Fate. It's not my place to question it. It had to be this way for whatever reason.

The truth is it may actually be easier not having him in the picture at all. It will just be the baby and me. So many women go through ugly custody battles with their exes, have to deal with the stress of seeing them because of the kids. All the animosity between the parents impacts the children. You cannot hate each other publicly, in front of the kids, without affecting who they are. Maybe a clean break, an absentee father is better, simpler. No one to argue with. No one to battle for control. I see too many couples who let the animosity they feel for each other poison their children. Sometimes they use the children as pawns to punish each other. It's no way for a child to live. I will never speak an ill word about my child's father to her. It would only hurt her. No matter what, he's still her dad. She wouldn't have existed without him. So I will focus on the good things about him. There were some. His sweetness at times, his intelligence and sense of humour. If she gets anything from him, hopefully it will be those qualities.

Vanishing the way he did, he obviously had no intention of being part of her life. So it's less complicated. I get to be in control, make all the decisions, with no one to fight with. Financially, he wasn't in a position to help much or contribute anyway, so I'm better off on my own. Truthfully when he lived here, the bit of money he gave me didn't even cover the costs he incurred me, feeding and caring for him and his three pets. My household bills were double with him here and my grocery bill nearly quadrupled! I didn't realize until I looked at my credit card bills later that I was spending $800-1000 a month on groceries while he lived here! Now my groceries are only about $250 a month. He was eating me out of house and home! A ravenous 6'2" eating machine who could devour an entire dinner for a family of four as a light snack. Not to mention feeding his pitbull who ate all his own food and the cat food. I could hardly keep up with it. And it would have been exhausting dealing with all of them on top of caring for a baby.

Though it can be a struggle in many ways, there are advantages to being a single mom. Having a man around can be like having another baby to take care of! Not all men are helpful. In fact, many of them are not. Many of them barely pick up after themselves much less do anything for the kids. It is tough to make ends meet on one income, but if the man in your life happened to be unemployed or underemployed then he was a liability anyway and costing you rather than saving you money. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, my baby brother being one, he has a good job, is a wonderful father and husband and very helpful in every way. He and his wife share the responsibilities of caring for their children and share the finances. But I am going to go out on a limb and say that this is rarely the case. From what I've seen of married and co-habitating couples, 9 times out of 10, it is the WOMAN who shoulders most of the burden. When a baby cries, she's the one to get up and feed/change him. Mom is the one who does the cooking, cleaning, most of the household chores, on top of caring for, nurturing the kids and her husband (and pets if they have any). Mom is the organized one who remembers special occasions, school and extracurricular schedules, doctor appointments. Men don't seem to be wired that way. These days most women work outside the home as well so she gets to do it all, inside and outside the home. Dad has it relatively easy. With a new baby, most of the time it's Mom who does the feeding, getting up in the night when the baby cries, changing the diapers, playing with them. When it comes to parenting, it seems that dads may make an appearance but it is Mom who is the star of the show.

I remember reading years ago that statistically, marriage is bad for women, but good for men. Single women live longer than married women. For men it's the reverse -- single men don't live as long as married men. Why would this be? It would appear that when a man gets married, his burden is lessened -- he now has someone to take care of him, to fulfill his needs. Unfortunately, when a woman gets married, her burden is increased. On her own, she only had herself to take care of, which she could do quite well. Once married, she then has to care for her husband and children (and pets if they have any). She ends up doing it all, meeting everyone else's needs while her own aren't being met. She can wind up stressed, exhausted, depleted. Women are naturally better nurturers. Men often just don't get it. Frankly, men need us more than we need them! (Sorry guys, please no hate mail here! I am generalizing of course. I am speaking of the majority. There are no doubt some men out there who are capable of nurturing, who are very involved in their children's lives and very supportive of their wives. I know that my brother is one of them. I also know that he is the rarity.) Most of the women I've encountered do the lion's share of the work at home, with a new baby or older kids. So single mom or not, chances are if you're a woman, you're doing it all. Of course if the man in your life does anything at all, it is a help, as opposed to going it completely alone. With a male figure absent from their lives however, single moms may be more apt to bond with friends and family and develop a network or support system to help them out. The truth is, you are never alone. There is always somewhere to turn. There are a lot of us out there and we need to support each other.

Even in Hollywood, there are a lot of single moms. Here are just a few in the media recently:

Hot Mamas -- Celebrity Single Moms
Halle Berry
Sandra Bullock
Katie Couric
Sheryl Crow
Minnie Driver
Jennie Garth
Kate Gosselin
Kate Hudson
January Jones   
Heidi Klum
Bridget Moynahan
Natascha McElhone
Kate Moss
Denise Richards
Sharon Stone
Charlize Theron
Liv Tyler
Michelle Williams
Kate Winslet

Say what you will about her, but I think Kate Gosselin is one of the most strong, courageous women out there. Imagine taking care of 8 kids on your own?! I feel like I'll have my hands full with just one!

Most of these celebrities are divorced. Charlize Theron is a new single mom by choice who chose to adopt. It is good to see strong, beautiful, independent moms out there who love their kids. Of course celebrities naturally have a financial advantage over the rest of us. It's hard to take them too seriously when they say how hard it is to balance work and having time for their children (as Madonna had remarked in a recent article) when we know that with all their millions they could afford the best in childcare, could take a break from work, etc. Money would make a lot of things easier! Celebrity or not though the most valuable thing we can give to our children is love, which cannot be bought. From what I have seen, children of single mothers know that they're loved. They are grateful for their mom's sacrifices. They feel an even closer bond because she was there for them when no one else was. One of the sweetest men I ever met grew up with a single mother (his father was an alcoholic and took off on them.) He was extremely grateful to her, protective of her and consequently put women on a pedestal. If only there were more men like this!

Life often doesn't go quite the way you plan. I grew up reading fairytales and waiting for my Prince Charming. Yeah. He didn't show up. Does Mr. Right exist? Sometimes we think we may have found him but it turns out to be an illusion. I met a woman who married her high school sweetheart, had a fairytale wedding, had a family together, then one day he told her that he had never loved her. What do you do when your dreams fall apart? Many of us end up in dead-end, destructive relationships. We get discouraged. We find ourselves still single later in life. Or we marry the wrong one and end up divorced. I believed I'd meet Mr. Right, fall in love, get married and get a house someday. That was the plan. I guess it is for a lot of us. But it didn't play out that way for me. I spent 9 years in a relationship and didn't marry him. I had a series of relationships lasting anywhere from several months to several years but never found "the one." (And being a hopeless romantic I was waiting for the one, my soulmate.) So, I found myself 36 years old and still living in a basement apartment in my parents' house. I may never have moved out, except that someone dared me to, years ago. She insulted me and I'm grateful because it set off a chain of events that would change my life in ways I never imagined. I made the most daring move I'd ever made. My first declaration of independence.

I bought a house out of spite. I had no intention of buying a home. No desire to. Where I used to work there were a lot of single girls. One day they were discussing all the girls from work who had purchased homes recently, on their own. Some had gotten condos, others had moved into townhomes. When the conversation turned to me, one of them said "Oh Ann Marie would NEVER get a place on her own! She'd only move out if she got married or moved in with a guy." I was fuming. She did have a point. I was a serial monogamist who was never without a boyfriend. In a way, I did always feel that I needed a man in my life. I just never found the right one, one that I would actually marry. I kept thinking I would move out when I got married but what if that never happened? I was angry. I thought, "I'll show her!" I went into my bank, almost as a lark, to see if I qualified for a mortgage. When I did and they told me that I could get a house, on my own, it was incredibly empowering. I could really do this! By myself! I am woman, hear me roar! I didn't need a man! I could be a single homeowner. It was a possibility, a reality that I'd never considered.

Now the problem was finding a home in my price range. The town where I'd been living with my family was out of the question but a friend at work suggested I look in her neck of the woods. I was getting discouraged with overpriced cookie cutter uninspiring townhomes that all looked the same. I didn't want to settle. I wasn't willing to settle for a man, so why would I settle for a house, my largest and most important purchase ever? I was looking for a sign, looking for a house I'd fall in love with. Then it happened. I walked into the trailer of a new home builder and all the homes were named after artists! Being a painter myself, I took it as a sign. When I saw the prices I was shocked -- detached homes for less than the price of a townhouse where my parents lived. Beautiful homes that were actually in my price range. So I bought the "Monet." The advantage to buying a new house (aside from it being entirely mine and getting to pick everything out, design it the way I wanted) was that I only had to put a small amount down and by the time the house was built I had saved up the rest of my down payment (living with my parents was of course a huge help.) Also, the house had gone up in value before I even moved in. It was surreal moving into my new home. Moving to another city, on my own, at first it was frightening and overwhelming. I wasn't used to living alone. Most people have a bit of a transition -- they rent a place with friends before they buy a place. I'd gone straight from being with my parents to buying this house, on my own. I had left my on-again off-again boyfriend of a few years because he was an alcoholic and I couldn't save him. So I didn't even have a boyfriend when I first moved in. At first I panicked. It didn't feel right. It felt cold and alien. After getting settled in and putting up my artwork, it began to feel more like home. A friend gave me a kitten to keep me company. Soon, I loved my house. I knew it was the best thing I'd ever done. And all it took was someone daring me to do it. Mocking me and telling me I couldn't. (Later she would take credit and say that she was using reverse psychology. I'll never be sure...) My Mom was initially against the move. She didn't want me to go and had come to believe that I'd never leave the nest. Her other birds had flown away and I was her last one. But even she was happy for me and proud of me once she saw my new place. I just had to make sure to visit her often, or suffer the Mom guilt (the possessive Scorpio Mom guilt, yes unlike my ex, she's one Scorpio that never leaves my life!)

Of course I didn't stay alone for long. I ended up reconciling with an old boyfriend who was still in the picture as a friend. I wasn't very good at being alone. I always felt I needed to have a boyfriend. I'd go from one to the next with little or no break in between. I would stay in relationships too long even when they weren't working, because it was too frightening to not have someone there. Sometimes I would want to leave someone and someone else, usually his opposite would show up to give me a way out. I continued this pattern for more than 20 years. On a pendulum swinging back and forth between two types of men (strong but emotionless or sensitive but falling apart) when what I really needed was someone somewhere in the middle -- a man who could be strong AND sensitive. Right now, being pregnant and alone since the start of February is actually the longest stretch of time I've gone without dating anyone in the past two decades. My friend kept telling me I needed to be alone but I wouldn't listen. Now I have no choice. The baby is keeping me out of trouble! Of course I'm never really alone. She's always with me. I love feeling that bond, feeling her move, talking to her. No matter where I go or what I do, she's there. And when she kicks or nudges me it makes me smile and whisper "Love you baby." It's our secret conversation. I can't wait to hold her in my arms. This is a different sort of love than the romantic love I'd been seeking most of my life. It is a deeper love and one that I know will endure forever. Romantic love has so many conditions. The love you have for a child is forever, completely unconditional. It can never be undone.

In a perfect world, every child would grow up with two loving parents. In the real world, it doesn't always pan out that way. Sometimes Mr. Right doesn't show up. Or turns out to be very wrong. I think that a child having one loving parent is preferable to having two parents in a bad situation, who are unhappy, arguing, at each other's throats. Having no father in the picture is better than having a bad one. An abusive parent is more damaging than an absent one. Some people claim that they stay together "for the kids" and then subject their children to a toxic, hostile environment. A war zone where mom and dad hate each other. A nightmare where mother and children walk on eggshells hoping dad won't lash out at them. Children need to feel safe. They need to be loved. A single mom who has her whole heart to give may be all that they need. So if dad doesn't want to be there and takes off, frankly, he's done you a favour. And if dad is still in the picture but doing more harm than good, to you and your child, for Heaven's sake, get out.

I am a single mom. I don't know if I can be Wonder Woman. I don't have superhuman powers but I'm sure going to try to be the best Mom I can be. It's scary. Most of the time I can be positive but there are moments when I'm exhausted, when I feel overwhelmed, moments when I cry and doubt myself and I wonder how I'll get through. But I have a source of strength, a meaning and a purpose that I've never had before. This baby is my life, my reason, my hope and faith. I only have to think of her and then I know that it's going to be OK. She is a miracle. She was meant to be.

I've lived through quite an adventure so far and I know that the best (and the scariest) is yet to come. So much pain, so much joy, so much love that my heart may burst. It terrifies me but so far the things in life that scared me the most wound up being the most rewarding. They stretched me. They forced me to grow beyond what I thought was possible. The surprises and bumps in my life have become my life. Not what I planned, but so much better than my plans. In many ways I was hiding, from life, from myself. I thought I knew what I wanted. But there were things I never allowed myself to want. I was a caterpillar that never dreamed of being a butterfly. Now going through this metamorphosis I see a whole other world open up to me. Beyond my imagination. And whatever I have to go through, it's worth it. I know that everything will be OK. I know that I will be strong enough. I know that I will do whatever it takes because I have no choice. I have to love and protect the most precious being in the world, my baby.


  1. Ann Marie, I love reading these blogs!! From start to finish I just can't stop! This one about men not being so helpful made me think of an email I got called "Survivor for Men". I'll have to find it for you!! You'll truly appreciate it! Keep up the great work!!

    Love May xo

    1. Thanks May! Glad you like them! Yes men are not always so helpful! Sometimes the biggest help they can be is leaving so they don't create more work for you! Now I will just have the ONE baby to take care of! LOL
      Ann Marie