Saturday, August 6, 2016

What Being a Single Working Mom Can Look Like

Everything anyone ever wants to know about my life right now is in this picture.   For me, this shot is all at once beautiful, sad, encouraging and frustrating.  It speaks to my daily struggle but also to the ultimate beauty, thrill and hope that each day brings.

I became a single mom not by choice almost 2 years ago when my daughter was newborn and my son was nine.  After a 13 year marriage, the devastation and heartbreak was like none I'd ever felt.  As I look back, I crawled my way out by seeing each roadblock as a challenge I needed to overcome.  As I saw each challenge completed, I felt lifted up by my success and encouraged to continue.  The challenges don't stop and there are days when the heartbreak of a marriage lost is still palpable.  Some days, I give in to the sadness and frustration.  I call it the rabbit hole.  It's filled with self doubt, loathing and fear.  Some days, getting out is easier than others.

At first glance, this picture is pretty funny: a woman breastfeeding while trying to blow dry her hair.  Anyone who breastfeeds beyond infancy has a moment like this.  They walk and talk and know what they want when they want it.  

In this moment, I was attempting to do what I need to do every day to maintain my humanity, femininity and self worth.  Walking out the door, showered, well-dressed and with a manicured appearance helps to encourage me that I have a life beyond being a slave to my children's needs.  Growing up with parents from Europe, my mother never walked out looking like a slob and I refuse to give in to being lazy in any part of my life.  

So here I am, taking the time to make sure my hair is clean and done.  No ponytail chic on this day.  But Baby Girl wanted my attention.  Some days she is appeased by an episode of Peppa Pig but this day she wanted to keep me close.  Nursing a demanding toddler can be exhausting and draining but I know all too well that these days are numbered.  Soon we will wean and I will long for this time with her.  With her sweet, soft skin on mine, her arms clutching me tightly and her breathing slowly steadying as she suckles softly.  She is appeased and happy.  

In this moment, I'm her everything.  I can give her the best of me.  Parenthood is marked by the most intense love any of us will ever feel along with the fear we are failing at every turn.  We fear the judgement of others, the inevitable wrath of our grown children and we measure our success by our childrens' own achievements.

All of this is magnified as a single parent.  There is no one to talk things over with, no parental strategy, no one to keep you in check or bounce things off of.  There is only what's left for many:  a deep love for your children, a determination to get things done and hopefully a fearlessness that helps in the decision making process.

There's a final aspect of this photo that is barely seen but to me is the last piece of my heart's puzzle.  My 11 year old son is taking this picture.  If you squint, you can see him in the mirror.  In our daily lives, he is like he is in this picture, watching me and supporting me.  

Unlike Baby Girl, he grew up with 2 parents.  He feels the loss like I do.  The stronger I became, the more confident he was that we would be okay.  He still watches me for changes in mood and responds accordingly.  Sometimes, he is there, like in this picture, helpless to assist in his sister's needs and in others he is a God send, loving her as much as I do.  I asked him to take this picture because I wanted to remember and I wanted him to see.

One day I will look back at these days that seemed so challenging but produced such love and beauty, hoping that the knowledge of one accomplishment will give me and my children the courage to face another with the hope that they will know that they can rise up too.