By Theresa Wells
Once upon a time I looked at single parents with a sort of awe. I didn’t know how they did it, parenting on their own as the primary custodian of their children, all while working fulltime jobs and maintaining a house and putting gas in their cars and buying groceries and all the other things we do as people. I stood to the side of them in stunned silence, admiring their ability to keep it together and keep on going. Back then I had no idea I would one day join their ranks, and yet here I am, flying solo.
I suppose I am fortunate in some ways in that my daughter was a young adult when my marriage broke down. This made the transition undoubtedly easier, as I did not need to seek childcare when I headed back to work fulltime. She is capable of caring for herself, and so that was one worry I did not have when I began to parent alone after my ex-husband made the decision to move to Calgary to pursue his career. But the other worries and challenges of parenting alone have been myriad, and while I have not lost any respect for other single parents I now know how they do it: you just don’t have any other choice.
Moving into a new house, the first home I have ever owned alone, was a novel experience. Packing up my old life and embarking on a new adventure was thrilling and terrifying, and what I learned in the process was that a new relationship was developing between my daughter and I. She came to every house showing, and she was a fundamental part of the decision in buying our new home. Suddenly our mother-daughter relationship was taken to a new level – we were becoming a team.
Going back to work fulltime was a challenge, too, because it meant my focus on occasion was not entirely on her, as had been the case for over a decade. The employment I found is one I absolutely love, but without a doubt it is demanding of time and energy and effort, and my daughter has had to become supportive of it because she knows it matters to me, and to our survival. It hasn’t always been easy, though, because her mom that once was free 24/7 suddenly wasn’t.
That leads me to share the realization of things I didn’t know would be associated with single parenthood, like guilt. Teenagers already have the gift of inducing guilt in their parents by making us feel inadequate, but add to that the guilt of not being the mom you used to be – the stay-at-home kind who was always there – and suddenly you are prone to massive fits of self-doubt and guilt over your inadequate parenting.
The guilt is a hard one to overcome. I am still working on it in fact, over a year into this new adventure, but there are still days that find me in tears as I feel I am not doing enough or doing it right or doing it well. I suspect these fears are ones that plague every single parent, because we have no one to assure us that we are on the right track, or to back our decisions. We must find that within ourselves, and sometimes it is hard to capture.
And yet somehow we are muddling through. I have found such unexpected kindness among others who have had the experience of single parenting, from the service advisor at my car dealership who assured me that things do get better from the friend who told me it just takes time to find the balance that works for you.
The balance is still elusive, though. I am still in the phase where minor setbacks, like my gate falling off or my furnace dying, evokes tears as I realize I am now dealing with every facet of life, good and bad, on my own. The caveat, though, is that I am not really alone as every time there has been a challenge one of my friends has helped me to meet it and conquer it, helping me to understand that maybe, just maybe, it truly does take a village to raise a child, especially when you find yourself doing it alone.
As we approach Mother’s Day, the second one I have seen since beginning to fly solo, I reflect on how far we have come since the last one. My daughter and I still have a solid and strong bond, but it has changed as she has grown and as our circumstances have altered. We are now a team, facing the world together, and with a fresh sense of honesty as I share challenges with her now that one day I might have kept silent, like difficult days at work and hard choices to be made.
I suspect, though, that I might now be an even better mother than I ever was, because while I am not perfect I believe I am modeling a life for my daughter that shows her that you can be independent and strong. I might be flying solo now as a parent, but in every sense that matters I am not solo at all. I still have beside me my daughter, the centre of my world, and together we can tackle anything – and to be quite honest I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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