I had a near miss of a car accident recently. The fool, driving a one ton truck, crossed two lanes of traffic and came perpendicular to my drivers side door. My guardian angel was keeping careful watch over me, I am 100% sure. I would be dead if he hit me straight on like that. Honestly, I don’t know how he didn’t hit me. I think my angel moved my car.
After that I was having a conversation with my best friend and the topic was morbidly, “What would happen if I died?” (However, it all feels less macabre for Catholics who live on a steady diet of memento mori.) What would happen to the kids? How would the family stay together? All that. Big questions with complicated answers. My friend said, “I’d take care of your kids” quickly followed by “not alone though of course.”
My first thought was, “Well, I take care of them alone” quickly followed by “I absolutely do not take care of them alone.”
It is a huge deception that a parent (married or not) can be everything to their child. Children need a safe network of trustworthy adults to help them reach adulthood as functional and happy people. I am under no illusions that I can be everything to my kids. No parent can. And those that try end up with neurotic children and/or parenting burnout.
It doesn’t hurt my feelings at all when my kids, as they get older, branch out and find healthy ways to have their needs met. When they need someone to talk to, I am glad there are healthy adults in their lives who are not me. Because, let’s be real, probably half the time they need to vent about me! I am at peace with that. I believe it does no harm to a child for them to get help and support from people other than their parent. In fact, I think it is good and far more realistic to teach them when and how to reach out for help from friends, teachers, mentors, pastors, etc.
I need people too, for when I am having an overwhelmed mom moment to say, “Hey, do you think I handled this OK? Was I too harsh? Or not tough enough?” And the trick is to surround yourself with people who will not just affirm you, but will also tell you what you don’t want to hear. “Um, yeah, I think you should probably dial that back.” Or even more dramatic, “You need to calm down. For real.” I have those friends. They ask tough questions, they pull no punches, but they love me completely and so I trust them.
Single parents live with the constant temptation to rely on themselves and their judgement alone. You see this idea rear its irrational head on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. The well-wishes go out “to the parents who are both mother and father.” That always rubs me the wrong way. It isn’t remotely healthy. The best thing I can be for my kids is not both parents. That’s impossible and teaches an unrealistic goal. The best thing I can be is fully their mother, leaning into the gift of maternity.
Parenting alone is a falsehood. Anyone who ever tried it I am sure would admit that it is not recommended. Looking after the practical needs of a child as well as their eternal soul is far too tall an order for even the best parent. No parent can work full-time, have a clean and tidy home, balanced home-cooked meals, all the homework done and checked, keep up with the birthdays/events/social calendars, keep the doctor/dentist/therapy appointment straight (and never accidentally bring the wrong child to the wrong appointment), keep connection with extended family/neighbors, be involved in the local church, keep up with the maintenance schedule of the car, maintain the garden/yard, walk the dog and remember when she needs to go to the vet and get licensed, and still have some time and energy to listen when your child needs to talk and snuggle and connect. No one can do this, I don’t care how organized you are. You will lose your mind if you try. The only solution is to let some things go and outsource.
Every parent needs a support system, to keep us balanced and sane and interested in the world and from having a toddler-sized meltdown. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but I think that village is there for the child only in a secondary way. Primarily the village is there to support the parent. And a parent who feels supported is a better parent.
I recently met a woman in a similar situation to mine who lamented that finally after a decade of single parenting she is starting to go out, but for years she has had no social life outside her kids. The look in her eyes implored me to relate, “It’s how it has to be, right?” No. This is not how it has to be and I absolutely refuse to put that burden on my kids. They are lovely and they are my friends and I adore my children. But I will not make them the center of my universe. That is too much of a burden for a child to bear on behalf of their parents.
This is why I do not feel guilty when sometimes after a long day of work I do not rush home, but instead go out to drinks with the girls. This is why sometimes on a Saturday I do not do housework or run my kids all over the place, I choose to meet up with a friend and go hiking. I need the village. My kids need for me to need the village. The only possible loser here is the laundry pile, which will never be done.
What would happen if I died? I know without a doubt my kids would not be alone. They would have support and love and affection and acceptance. I know this because that’s what my village does for me and they love my children too.