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Startling True Confessions of a Single Mother

These are all things I probably wouldn't share with you in casual conversation, because to say these things would be to complain, and everyone knows the first rule for single mothers is No Whining!

© 1998, by Jay Ann Cox

I'm tired.

I like adult company.

I like eating an entire meal, uninterrupted, with a fork that does not have a Mickey Mouse gripper on the end.

I like candlelight, romantic strolls in the moonlight, and movies out.

I like delicate lace "dry clean only" blouses.

I like cleaning house, and having it stay that way for more than 30 minutes.

I like running errands without having to sidetrack to the park or McDonald's to manage a toddler meltdown.

I like showing up on time to events and meetings, without any loving little handprints on my shoulder or skirt hem.

And I like taking a long bath, trimming my nails, eyeing myself in the mirror, and falling into bed -- without stepping on any Legos or finding any leftover burritos, all dried and crumbly under my pillow.

These are all things I probably wouldn't share with you in casual conversation, because to say these things would to complain, and everyone knows the first rule for single mothers is No Whining. But I know you're wondering.

Yes, I'll admit, it is a wee bit harder knowing that you are the only person solely responsible for the children. Though there might be another "non-" or "joint-custodial" parent in the picture, it's still just mom and the kids when it's time to lock the doors and settle in for the night.

Finally, yes, I confess that it is indeed difficult to go for days with your nose to the grindstone. Especially if you work in a home office, because you can just look up and out the door to see the mountain of laundry that serves as a crash pad for paratroopers, or the trail of shoes, socks and diapers that lead to the bathtub, still filled with the toys from last night's super marathon splash fest.

OK, I'll also concede that there must be some instinct cross-wired in me, because I always manage to schedule a big meeting and a couple of hours of premium babysitting just when my son is coming down with a fever and upset stomach. That spells NURSE-A-THON. To leave this pale child with the dark circles under his eyes in order to attend a meeting that can be rescheduled is a crime punishable by guilt, a longer recovery time, and the $10/hr for a sick child caregiver. Much more likely, if I don't reschedule, I will catch whatever it is and lose two more days to illness.

Critics who hold to a more "liberated" view of parenting -- many of my friends, family and any stranger who decides to share -- react with disbelief and mild scorn: "why not get a good preschool or a full time sitter like everyone else, and go to work!" Ah, the penance one always hears for such confessions.

But you see, I do work. I work all the time. I work 24x7 as a mother, and I must also earn the money to make this family tick. I choose to do all that at home and through part-time teaching. Rather than shelling out hard-earned money to caregivers and schools, I try to spend every possible waking and sleeping moment with my child, available and nurturing. Because of this, I choose social activities that include my child. Why? Simple, because I want to be there. I don't want to miss any possible moment when my son will need me and only me. I want to see it, to see his eyes, to be the one to spread the big news that my son can say, "1-2-3-4-5," rather than hear it from the caregiver. I have made the choice to be there, and it's not without consequences.

While it appears that I'm complaining, I'm really not. I do get tired, I miss those silly latenight gabfests over a cup of coffee with my single childless friends, and I shower quickly, or patiently remove all the toys before filling the tub with hot soapy water, never before midnight. But I've had a lifetime of jobs, (rotten and wonderful) long baths, gallons of coffee, and I'm delighted to be making paper hats and wiping a runny nose instead because this is my life now.

In truth, I'm really not complaining. What would be the point? To focus on how tired I am (did I mention I'm tired?) or how I used to get my whole house clean in 2 hours, denies the miraculous and transformative energy that has come into my life. I'm no longer alone, I'm part of a family. In fact, the term "single mother" is oxymoronic, because I have a twin, a sidekick, a confidante. Single, alone, unattended, I most assuredly am not.

As a family, we have made some "radical" choices: my almost 3 yr old son is still nursing, we sleep in the same bed, the 3 days a week of child care is very close to the maximum for us. Despite the prevailing "wisdom" that doing the above will create a spoiled and selfish person, I don't want it any other way; first, because of my instincts that my way would be beneficial for both of us, and now because I can already see the results of such practices. He's secure, attached, and completely free to be himself. Plus he's darn good company. I wouldn't send my son back to customer service and say, "I'm sorry, I've changed my mind," any more than I would banish him in his own bedroom. If he falls asleep by 9 or 10, I usually join him (because I'm tired, remember?). Or I'll tuck him in and spend my solitary hour or two reading, writing, watching TV -- nothing terribly glamourous or "adult." When I had a boyfriend -- a rare and wonderful man who enjoyed meeting for lunch, watching videos, ordering restaurant meals in, sharing a football game day with us -- we managed to have adult time without having to reshape my family structure and beliefs.

All of my confessions are true, and I grudgingly admit to them. But none of them are reason enough to change or ask my son to tolerate needless separations. And more importantly, those facts alone create a false picture of our family. The upside is that I love my son, I cherish his babyhood and welcome his burgeoning childhood.

That's why there's no complaining. I can always shop by myself or get a massage in those couple of hours I squeeze out each month. I can schedule lunch dates with friends and suitors for days when he is doing lunch with the preschool set. As for café society, I bought an espresso machine because most cafés are rotten places for a 2 year old, and lattes are darned expensive. So, anyone who wants a terrific latte, with cinnamon and frothy milk, can come over for a latenight gabfest anytime (call first, I'm probably dozing on the couch). I usually have very very nice biscotti too. In fact, there probably will be one under my pillow tonight, when I lie down next to my sprawling and blissfully sleeping son.

Jay Ann Cox is an EP Coach and our Single Parenting Expert. You can reach her via e-mail, [email protected] or her web site,

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