I grew up in a single parent household. Before you frown or furrow your eyebrows, rest assured my upbringing wasn’t the unfortunate result of death, divorce, or desertion. My entire life it’s always been just me and my ma, and unlike some portrayals of what it’s like growing up with one parent, my life wasn’t riddled with hardship or longing for things my mom couldn’t afford. Since I was a kid, my mom has always worked her ass off to make sure I was spoiled. Never when I was growing up did I look at my friends’ families and think, “Maybe if I had a mom and a dad I would have that toy.” I’m unbelievably lucky to have grown up completely ignorant to what lack truly is: the strain to make ends meet that a lot of single mothers experience. Maybe it’s because I was so fortunate to have a selfless, hard-working mother that when I envision being a mother myself, my ideal has started to look a little different from the norm.
I’ve been looking forward to having kids since I was kid myself. Despite sometimes telling people I don’t like kids (have you seen some of the people that are procreating lately?), having a family is one of the few exciting aspects of adulthood I have left that life hasn’t ruined or disillusioned for me. What I’ve been noticing recently is that my concept of what the perfect family dynamic looks like compared to the typical nuclear family are two very different things.
When I was a little girl, I’d play play house like all the other hopeless romantic girls my age. I’d have a mystery husband, a few babies (stuffed animals usually–now THAT’S an episode of Maury I want to see), and I’d constantly be cooking (my how things have changed). Back then, it wasn’t even a consideration the trajectory my path to parenthood would follow: find a man, get married, and pop out a few kids when the stars align (and the finances allow). Now that I’m into the child-bearing years and more and more people I knew from high school are getting pregnant (often intentionally!), I’m noticing for myself that a husband might not need to be the independent variable in the child equation.
Don’t get me wrong–I’m still in love with the idea of being able to share in the joy of having a child or even children with a man, but would it be so horrible if I wanted to do it all on my own? My mom was able to do it, and I turned out okay, right? (That‘s a rhetorical question.) When I think of the relationship I have with my mother, I can’t help but wonder if we’d be half as close as we are if I had grown up with a dad having a hand in raising me. It’s entirely possible to be close with two parents–I have a lot of friends that have good relationships with both their mother and their father–but when you grow up having only one parent, the dynamic is totally different. Not to get all sappy, but I truly believe the bond a single parent has with their child is something special.
Sometimes when I think of how much I love and appreciate my own mother, I wonder, “Will my kids ever love me that much if someone else is involved?” Call it the naïveté of my youth, call it my selfish only-child outlook on life, call it silliness, but the idea of sharing my child with anyone, even with the man that helped create him or her, bothers me. I’m not just talking about sharing in terms of affection, either. In a two-parent household all the decisions have to be discussed. There’s a consensus that has to be reached about every detail: naming the child, figuring out daycare, deciding about schooling, religion, privileges, chores, etc. I know everyone likes to get their way, and this really is no different–only it’s infinitely more important than a simple disagreement over which movie to see. These decisions are over matters that concern my child. The very same one that will take up residence inside me for nine months and make me fat. And let’s not even mention how that little bundle of joy will check out of its luxurious in-utero staycation.
I want a child-raising monopoly, with hotels on Park Place and Boardwalk and everything else that implies. I want to decide whether my son signs up for baseball or soccer. I want to pick out what color my little girl’s room is painted. Despite not being anywhere near the point of planning to have children, I already have some pretty specific ideas about how I want my spawn to be raised, specifically concerning religion. What if my future baby daddy disagrees, what then? There are certain issues I’m not willing to sacrifice. That means the options are to either find someone who agrees with me entirely and supports the way I want our (really my) child(ren) to be brought up, or I embrace the prospect of single motherhood. Frankly, the thought of being a single mother doesn’t seem like an admission of defeat, an unfortunate circumstance, or an unfit environment to raise a child, to me.
I think that a lot of women feel that children must accompany being in a long term relationship, as with marriage. I see the reasons for that–they’re just about endless and they’re legitimate. A two-person household offers the possibility of two incomes, the opportunity to share in the work/stress/joy of being a parent, and the existence of a bigger network of family members and friends to help out when needed. For all the ways life is made easier by having a partner in the task of child-raising, I find being a single mother becomes even more valuable and deserving of merit because of how the process is made so much harder. Unlike myself at age 7, my 22-year-old self sees that a man isn’t absolutely necessary, and I’ve learned I’m not willing to settle for some guy just so I have a husband and a steady sperm supply. Why? I’ve got about a hundred reasons, but most importantly, because that dude I marry isn’t just a husband–he’s a future father, too. I’m not letting the wrong guy taint my children. …But I have no intention of letting the “right” guy taint my children, either.
Men of the world, forgive my skepticism. I really think it’s just a product of how I was raised. Growing up seeing my mom do everything solo and knowing the great relationship I have with her, I can’t help but see fathers as a bit of a novelty. Yet at the same time, I know most men have the capability to be good dads. When I see a proud papa with his son or daughter up on his shoulders, I can’t help but feel my ovaries do a somersault. I’m not suggesting I don’t want a father in my future kid’s life–that’s still the goal, people–but I just don’t think the alternative is a situation deserving of ridicule or fear. I’ve seen single motherhood done right and with incredible success, if I may humbly suggest.