“You can talk about backups and community and all of that is very important, essential,” said Jane, a former neighbor of mine who has thought a lot about choosing single motherhood. “But in the end, what it comes down to is you. Are you strong enough to be IT for a child or children? Are you willing to sacrifice a large part of who you were, pre-kids, to meet their needs? If worse comes to worse, can you sit alone in a waiting room while your child is in emergency surgery? Because if you choose to be a single parent, that’s the reality,” she said somberly.
The women I interviewed for “Choice moms,” (the feature story that begins on page 1) asked themselves those questions and answered them in the affirmative before they became mothers. So did the single moms I know.
They are not superwomen. They yell at their kids like the rest of us. They have bad days. They are occasionally inconsistent. They are imperfect. But they are heroes just the same-strong, determined, generous women. Many of them downplay the huge job they signed on for and how well they do it.
“Sometimes I put Sarah and Ben in front of the TV alone while I take some time for myself,” confessed Diane, a mom I know. “I know it’s not right but sometimes I am at the end of my rope.”
“I wonder if I’m being selfish by not adopting a sibling for Zoe,” said Karen. “She is lonely sometimes and would love to have a sister or brother. I don’t have the energy for another child. I know I am depriving Zoe and I feel guilty about that.”
Guilt. It must be something in the water because every mother I know, single or partnered, feels guilty about something to do with their children. But guilt among single moms seems especially acute, maybe because of the messages society sends that one-parent families aren’t good enough.
Angela feels guilty because she can’t provide the expensive vacations, ski lessons, and lavish birthday parties that many of her three sons’ friends enjoy. She thinks that with two incomes, she would be able to manage more extras.
On the other hand Colleen, who has it easier economically, worries about money too. “I am not with them as much as I’d like because I work long hours,” she said. “That’s why we have help around the house, too. And I send them to a private school because the schools where we live are awful. I worry with so much privilege, my kids are out of touch with the way most people live.”
Lou feels guilty because she sometimes has a hard time listening to her daughters’ long ramblings and tunes out. And then there is Pilar, who wonders if it is just plain wrong to be a single mother by choice.
“When Isabel and José ask why they don’t have a dad, I feel just awful,” Pilar said. “I had a great relationship with my dad and I hate that my children don’t have that too. I even considered trying to find someone to marry but I don’t have time to date!”
Jane, whom I mentioned earlier, had some wise words for Pilar and the other women. “I thought that having children alone would be just too difficult and Mr. Right never came along so I am 60 and childless. I see single women with kids and wish I’d taken a chance on myself and I’d have the happiness I see in their faces. Maybe I sold myself short. It’s important to look at the worst-case scenarios, but you have to balance them with the best-case scenarios too. I think it comes down to asking if you want this enough to make it work. I think … maybe I could have. I probably could have.”
“I’ve never met a mom who chose to parent alone and regretted it,” Karen said. “Oh, sure, there are times when you wonder what the hell you got yourself into! But that’s such a small part. It’s 95 percent love and joy. It stretches you in ways you never dreamed and you develop strengths you wouldn’t have otherwise. I’m a much better, more interesting person as a mother. And I’m good at it, at least according to the only one whose opinion matters-Zoe.”