I’m new to this. I can’t quite find the words when talking with a stranger about my baby boy, and hearing them assume that I have a husband or boyfriend helping raise him. I instantly go stiff faced, nodding my head at whatever else the nice grandma-looking lady is saying. Meanwhile? I’m holding my breath trying to avoid a straight up panic attack.
Should I let her assumption hang in the air like a dark cloud as I answer with a terribly uncomfortable silence? Coupled with a slanted sort of grimace that mimics my twisted stomach muscles. I inwardly groan my discomfort, swiftly end the conversation, and march straight for the wine section (this kind of thing almost always happens in the grocery store).
Or, should I make things easy on her and weave an intricate web of lies about me, my baby boy, and this “husband” she’s created for me? “Oh, yes!” I could claim, “He most certainly dotes on our son too!” then beat a hasty retreat: “Oh, I’d better go grab up those garbanzo beans that husband of mine loves so much!!” I slink away with a sad pit in my gut, brooding for the next twenty minutes about how uncomfortable that conversation was.
Of course, I could also parry with the truth: “Oh, it’s just the two of us.” Flash a winning, I’m-so-happy-without-a-husband-and-oh-so-proud-to-be-an-independent-lady-why-aren’t-you sort of smile. Or I could go for the Mona Lisa mysterious lady smile that says I have many wondrous secrets, behold! I shall not share the deets with you grandma-stranger-lady.
Now, why do I feel this trepidation?
I know I’m not the only one, but many single parents still feel the social stigma connected to raising children out of wedlock. While it may seem terribly old-fashioned in the 21st century, it is still true that a woman with children who is not married can be regarded with a certain pity, and by some even with a measure of censure. As a result, those of us who tend to be more private can feel intensely exposed during these kinds of everyday interactions. The very personal details of our lives are suddenly on display, and whether we’d like to share our stories or not there is the expectation that we will.
It’s entirely possible that we are going about our response all wrong. Myself included.
Isn’t there something great about what we’re doing, after all? The bright side of single parenthood? Complete and total Freedom. Even if you have an ex-whatever you share your children with, when they are with you your word is Law. You decide where they can go, what they can do, who they can hang out with, et cetera. This is a deep and crucial responsibility, but at the same time it is an amazing gift. You are the master of that child’s universe, able to lead them to the many victories that will shape who they are and whom they will become.
Can anyone say President of the United States? There are brave single women who have raised their children to be the intelligent, giving, responsible, and driven individuals that our whole nation has benefitted from. The most recent and obvious example of this is our current POTUS himself, Barack Obama. Arguably, his mother was the truest of patriots, bravely daring to raise him on her own and instill the values that would lay the path for his success.
I realize that it’s that I’m embarrassed to meet a stranger who wants to know how my husband is, when I don’t have a husband, but not because I feel ashamed to be my son’s only parent. Rather, I loathe the very fact that I HAVE to explain. And I don’t like dealing with the looks on some people’s faces. That moment of awkward silence when they realize what I’ve said, and respond with something along the lines of, “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that” or “Oh, that’s too bad.”
I chose this life. I’m proud to be the one who gets to bask in the light of my son’s smiles every day. To witness him learn something new, after watching his little face go stern with intense and close concentration, like how to put a puzzle piece in the right groove. Or, open a door for the first time (okay, that one with an inward groan as I also realize I’m about to buy a lot of baby-proofing paraphernalia…sigh).
In other words, being a single parent ROCKS! Yes, it takes monumental courage to face the responsibilities on your own, and it can be hard as hell. Yet, we get the freedom to direct the course of our children’s lives unhindered by a need for consensus. Moreover, all of our hard work is paid back a millionfold, because we are literally The One.
Every year in July we celebrate the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave. We solo parents are children of that credo. Let freedom ring!
Happy Independence Day!