I’m a single mother. Never would I have chosen it. But here we are.
Where is “here” exactly?
The runnels of my old life in some ways have not changed. I am still the caregiver for my children, the cook, the housekeeper, the guardian, the hurry-upper and time keeper. But where there used to be a boundary in my day created by the entrance of another, those boundaries no longer exist.
Now my days and nights flow into each other. On the rare occasions I am without my kids I find myself not racing around to do all the things I never get to, but instead sitting down in an armchair with a cup of tea or glass of wine hearing the silence. Staring at the yard. Looking into space.
As a single parent I feel infinitely more finite than I once did, and the realization of being a single parent has filtered into my consciousness only slowly. For much of the beginning I had no time to think at all (survival being its own kind of mercy).
My energy now does come to an end, abruptly. I have yet to recognize exactly when that last detour is going to leave me stranded before bedtime. Which last fork in the day’s road is going to prove a greater distance than there is gas in my tank.
And then there are the IEDs – your Intense Experiences of Divorce when your single parent-ness knocks you upside the head with a silent, deadly thwack.
“We’re out of milk, Mom!” And you open your mouth to speak but instead just stare into the blackness of the kitchen window. Because you’ve realized that the only person who can buy more is you.
“Mom! … Mom!… Mom!… Mom!…” And you open your mouth to call but realize as you pick up another sodden bath towel that of course they need you – who else is there?
“The dog’s vomiting, Mom!!” And — you get the point.
“Here” for me at the moment is somewhere out on open sea.
I am far from any shore I have inhabited, and still too far from any new one to be seen. I’m the only navigator, the only oarswoman, the only nurse, the only provisioner, the only lap, the only shoulder, the only arms, the only heart. I have no direction to go except forward – and I pray in faith that I am in fact moving (not drifting).
“Me” is the only raw material I’ve got to work with to keep afloat, and I clearly fall woefully short of what is required. In addition, “Me” is all my two small beloved passengers have to work with as well.
When I was married, I used to look at single-mom-friends with a mixture of awe and terror: “My GOD, how do they do it day in day out?” I now know that you do it simply because you can’t not. There is no perfect formula of recovery, no smooth transition, no preordained map. It’s just wide open sea. Everywhere you look.
It is the season when I’m starting to realize that – no matter how hard I try – I am never going to add up to two imperfect people sailing the boat. I’m coming to terms with the fact that I am now just one imperfect person trying to do what was designed to be done by two. And the squalls are going to hit regardless, and the nights be just as long.
This week I felt I was going overboard until I slapped myself upright with a paradigm shift. A shift from “What did I not manage to do/provide/finish/nurture this week?” to “Of what was possible to get done as one person this week, how well did I reasonably cope given the flaws in my character and the hours in a day?”
This allows me to lift my face to the sun and feel not shame and inadequacy, but grace.
Because if there’s no grace, the future for the one imperfect person left to steer the boat looks very bleak indeed.
If you know a single mom, she’s almost bound to be overstretched, overreaching, perhaps overcome. Don’t judge her, the position’s taken.
My experience of single motherhood is that there is nothing to say. But a hug from someone else helps a lot to soothe the hurt of my own finitude.
How about you?