Monday, February 1, 2016

Time spent in the Single Mom world


In some ways, being a single mother was a badge of honor, in other ways, it was the deepest shame I had to overcome in my life. But I made the choice to identify with it as an honorable trial that I went through. Not everyone respects me for it. Frankly, I don't give a damn. I've been through too much and come too far to allow that to hold me back. But it began with shame. The shame of getting caught having sex before marriage. Not getting caught by your parents but getting caught by the world. Like your virginity or lack of virginity is no longer private. Now everyone knows. And in some ways it's not like I cared that much but it was just one more thing I wasn't ever going to be able to lie about conveniently if I needed to, because it's nice to have the option of being innocent even if you're not. Oddly, I remember thinking, well, that's it. I will never be Miss America. The secondary shame of "getting myself pregnant" (how did I manage it?) Isn't it interesting how it always lands in the lap of the woman. She let herself get pregnant. Let's see. For the record, I begged my mother to let me stay on birth control and she told me to stop having sex. I didn't. My boyfriend refused to use any birth control and when I tried to go to planned parenthood, he told me he was most certainly sterile and made sure I didn't go. Not that I am blaming anyone but the two of us, but these are just facts. Then there is a the general naivete of being 17 when you think nothing bad can happen to you. You know, women try to get pregnant for years... it just wasn't happening and if it does, you know, I think I can handle it cause I want to be a mom anyway and he loves me and is going to stay with me. I was way too smart to be that stupid. And my boyfriend was pretty controlling. I was not who I am today and I am afraid I was raised to accept and accommodate a man controlling me. Then came the catch 22. Do I stay with the asshole who is abusing me and marry him "for the sake of the child" or do I leave him and face the shame of being a single mother? It is a relationship born in shame. I ran away from him when I was five months pregnant because I could no longer defend myself from the beatings and I feared he would kill the baby or me. I remember ridiculing myself for fearing him. I was tougher than that. But my baby wasn't, and it was time to go. I wish I had made that decision when I just had myself to save but it wasn't until I had a child to save that I felt the imperative. So, no. I did not do what my mother did. I did not marry my abuser. Aren't moms always saying don't make the same mistakes I did? No, I made different same mistakes. Being a single mother or giving my child up for adoption were my only viable options. I didn't have the emotional strength to give my baby away. I had to choose between living with my boyfriend the abuser or my father the abuser. I had run away from my father the abuser the year before and now I was running away from my boyfriend who had within months become the abuser. In spite of all the things he promised me. In spite of the way I believed he never would. He became all those things that I now see the signs that he would become. For two years, he never hit me. I was emotionally abused in many ways but he never hit me. So, I really thought I was safer with him. Until he hit me again, and again and again. And promised me he wouldn't and then did. I was recently told how I shamed and hurt my mother. It's not like I don't realize that she was ashamed but I am pretty sure that was her problem and not mine. Your kids are going to embarrass you. You get to stand up and claim them anyway. It's called being a parent. I have several friends that are adopted. I cannot imagine the shame their biological mothers went through. The religious shame. The general shame. All the shame I chose to live with that was made impossible for them. Seriously, the Catholic church needs to take down that statue of Mary if they want to shame single mothers...it's ridiculous. But that was not the worst part of all that shame. The worst part was admitting that I did indeed need help. That I am not an island and that I need a support system. There was a whole lot of "you got yourself into this mess." I hated that part the most. You got yourself into this mess with your promiscuous behavior. In some ways I will always be "the single mother". It was my first experience of parenthood. My parents paid those bills for me but there was no physical help for a long time. I had to learn my lesson first. If I wanted to keep that baby, I had to do this one hundred percent by myself. No one got up all hours but me. No one changed those diapers. No one else fed him and took him to the doctor and walked him until he gently fell asleep. Because I was learning my lesson. It hurt that it was more important to teach me a lesson than to lend a hand to an exhausted eighteen year old girl who was doing her damndest to grow up as fast as she could. But I was too stubborn to beg and too proud to admit I was drowning a little. Sometimes a lot. In a funny way, I was proud to be a single mother. I was modern. It was harder than anything else I had to do at that point in my life, but I was not going to allow the judgmental assholes of the world to defeat me and I handled that shit. I was not always good at it. In fact, I was not nearly the parent that I dreamed of being and that hurt most of all. Because I felt like a failure much of the time. But I didn't walk away from my responsibilities. I found a way to handle it. I found a way to survive depression. I found a way to survive shame. I found a way to leave people I loved that hurt me. I found a way to survive abandonment. I found a way to survive self loathing and anxiety. People would say "I don't know how you do it." Like it was something you have a choice in. You just get up every day and you do it. You don't know what it is like to have someone else carry the car seat, go to the grocery store for you. Get up in the night. It gets done because it must get done. Because you have to. In the end, I found joy but it took a long time. And I even found a way to a healthy relationship and co-parenting. And when it happened, I knew how to appreciate it. And some people have it way worse, yes, of course they do. But I cannot write about their experiences, only my own. And please do not presume that I am not infinitely grateful to my mother for taking me back, taking me in and supporting me when I might well have starved. She saved my ass more than I ever deserved and she helped me more than I can ever re-pay and there is no end to my gratitude for what she did for me. I always knew I was tough but no one else did for a long time. I wish many things were different but we cannot change our past. In the end, I am grateful, even for the abuse. It made me the strong survivor I am and it gave me the depth of my stories. I am somehow uncomfortable with the identifier "Mrs." even after ten years, I still want to correct people. I still feel like a woman in a partnership I chose without the ownership. Deep in there my strongest identifier is the single woman, the single mother, the independent girl. Deep in my past is the determination to not be owned by any man. I like that every generation lifts the shame a little more. But I wish for those single girls the partnership that is supposed to come with parenting. I wish them love and help and strength. It is the hardest thing to go through by yourself. But I wear my survival with honor. And without the shame they want to heap on me. Screw your shame, you can have it back. I have no use for it.

3 comments:

BowlingTrophyWife said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BowlingTrophyWife said...

A wise person told me long ago that most often, those who must shame others are those most protective of their own egos, their own appearances and most in need of perhaps deflection from any perceived transgressions. My brother, to his dying day, will carry the shame of causing the accident that nearly killed me at age two and for which I spent two years at Duke University Hospital. Where was the shame towards our mother - the parent who left a toddler to wander the yard alone, with a ten year old who took his eyes off me for less than five minutes? We both grew up with toxic levels of shame - me, always, blaming myself for having been stupid to pick up a bottle in the garage and drink the contents, and he for having run up to his treehouse to check on something while I wandered away. The real tragedy was in our mother's willingness to allow us to claim that burden and carry it - he for nearly seventy years and me for nearly sixty. Of course, it would not be the first or only shame added to the Laocoon embrace of every mistake I - or we - have ever made and some of them have been 'doozies'. Why, where this need comes from when others take up the shame stick and wave it at us ten, twenty, thirty, fifty years down the line? To what purpose? To what effect? My God - I think of your story and the myriad friends, acquaintances and loved ones I've known over the years whose similar stories ended in tragedies - drug abuse, suicide, imprisonment - and worse. Is there no joy whatsoever in the realization that you not only weathered the careless decisions of a child - yes a child, even though we know it all in that invincible vacuum of reason from fifteen to twenty - who was acting out for love and acceptance? Guilt - I have to give a rueful giggle at the Catholic church comment- my brother is a retired US Navy Commander - a Roman Catholic Chaplain, ordained at twenty eight. A recovering (for over thirty years) cocaine addict and alcoholic who turned his life utterly around, ministering to people the world over, comforting and supporting countless numbers, usually at the very worst 'dark night of the soul' moments, saved lives (literally) and who tirelessly still gives his life every single day to the care of the people ministers to. What sort of person would ever look at this great, good man, point a finger and bring up the mistakes of those decades so long past? Which brings me to your 'now' and where you find yourself. I read your story and am flabbergasted, thinking of my own weak, cowardly nature and I shudder to think of how I would have survived; not only survived but raised healthy, happy children, then gone on to finish school and begin to develop the talents you had to submerge for so long in the honest and noble cause of caring for your family. Could there be a jealousy? Perhaps your finding - or rather - being able to finally give voice to your bliss at this time in your life - is causing others to look back over the years, considering about their own lives with a bit of bitter nostalgia? Being unable to criticize the events of the present, they look back at the past? While we share many acquaintances, I don't truly know you or your family and guess I'm guilty of hubris in making comment at all - but still - the subject of guilt and shame is certainly within my area of expertise as well. Shake that dust from your feet and move on. Timshel

VanessaMRR said...

I had the audacity to not accept the shame people want to heap on me. Much to their chagrin. I am shameless in the way I flout the unnecessary shame.