“You won’t leave me; you can’t take care of two kids on your own. You can’t handle it.”
That was what husband number one told me days before I left him, one and three year-olds in tow, in Riga, Latvia. We took flights to Sweden, New Jersey, Chicago, and finally Des Moines. From the time I left to the moment I fell asleep at the kitchen table at my parents’ house, I had been awake for 56 hours.
Since those first long strides away from dual-parenting, I have been a single parent. Sure, some would argue that my second marriage doesn’t count as being a single parent because I gave birth to another child – clearly not a single person undertaking – and, I did, very technically, have a husband for nine years before I moved out. Those who might argue that would need to have a peek inside that marriage to know that one can be married and still be a single parent.
It has not been easy. Making decisions – from where to live to which job to accept; giving advice – from dating to college acceptance; doing daily life – from mowing the lawn to buying a new water heater: all of these things are the things I couldn’t do, according to husband number one.
Now, I will be the first to say that between throwing the bread loaf across the kitchen in a supper making frustration and dealing with first son’s post-high school rejection to coaching youngest son through the perils of two new schools in two years have not all been my finest moments. I certainly would do some things differently.
However, at the core of how I have and am parenting/guiding my sons is: imperfection.
They have taken turns over the years pointing out the abundance of my imperfections.
I have not done anything perfectly. In the early days of independent momming, I beat myself up for not meeting a set of mythical, invisible, unobtainable standards that seemed to flit around my conscious. Like the carpenter bees that dive bombed our front porch in Georgia, these standards came out of nowhere and served no real purpose other than to exacerbate the effects of the self-flagellation that every parent – single or no – goes through.
For years I fought this imperfection by trying to replicate the happy parts of my childhood. This proved impossible because even at his lowest salary, I’m pretty sure my dad made more money (relatively speaking) that I do now, at my highest salary. This proved impossible because even on the days when she had the least amount of time, I’m pretty sure my mom somehow had more time than I do on my most unfilled days.
The stress of trying to create a version of parenting perfection lead to things like the aforementioned bread loaf toss. This also lead to some resentment and sadness and stress for me and for the boys. But, gradually it occurred to me that I was, in fact, not only handling being a single mom, my imperfection had somehow helped us make a life where my sons were able to become creative and intelligent human beings despite my singleness and (hopefully) because of the environment we created together.
Somehow my sons have had some really great moments like when elder two sons had set up a war scene all over the living room with the little green plastic army men. Not being thrilled with war games, I asked what they were fighting for. Eldest son responded, “These guys are fighting so that girls can go to school in Afghanistan.” Parenting win number one. Another time all three boys – trapped inside on a rainy day – got out stuffed animals and created a farm. But not just any farm: they created animal farm from which Farmer Jones was banished and on which all the animals were treated fairly – their own spin on how the novel should have gone. Parenting win number two. But really, there have been so many more: on the soccer field, directing musicals, on the dance stage, in classrooms, around the world, in the community, and on jobs. We never really get to see the true achievements of our momming because they happen in our absence.
In considering everything, I realize that I wasn’t really single parenting; I had the love and support of three amazing young men. The teachers, friends, coaches, and family members that provided love and support throughout the years made single-parenting a contradiction in terms.
So, yes, husband number one: I can handle it. I did handle it. I am handling it.