10/13/2005

song du jour: Victim of Love, The Eagles

mood: wishing for a little quiet

Single Handed Parenting


V: "Hi, I need to borrow your husband."

a friend: "Ok, try his cell phone. He'll be glad to work out a time."

V: "What's his current favorite beer? I hate for him not to feel appreciated."

the friend: "Something German"

[V calls said friend's husband's cell phone]

V: "Hey, I need you."

the friend's husband: "Sure, how about before work on Thursday?"

V: "That would be great! It won't take long. I'm having a yard sale on Saturday."

the friend's husband: "Oh, so it's time to pull down some of the stuff we put up there put in the attic last spring?"

V: "Yeah."

the friend's husband: "No problem. See you Thursday."

Ok, so there aren't many friends a single woman can call 2 or 3 times a year to request the services of their husbands without anyone even vaguely imagining a seen from The Big Chill. My ceilings are so high, I can't possibly pull down my attic steps, or I'm too short and lack the upper body strength to navigate them if I stand on a ladder. Depends on one's perspective.

Before I was loopy enough to get married, I had only the responsibilities that come with being in school and living in a 1 bedroom apartment. If I couldn't handle something, I could bat my eye lashes at the maintenance guy (actually, it was more like let him mess with my acetylene torch), and I had neighbors, who were happy to look out for each other. Most significantly, there was just me to take care of. Now, in addition to the awesome job of providing for another person, being responsible for his well being, education, and challenging needs, I have to maintain a space large enough to accommodate everything. That's why I'm coining a new phrase: single handed parenting. It's so much better than "single parent," which always implies (in my case erroneously) it's a situation in desperation of a plural.

My friend on who's boat the top photo was taken is a single handed sailor. That's the term for someone who sails a vessel large enough to live in comfortably completely on his own and by choice. It's NOT easy. If I had to manage a 47' boat with all that rigging, I'd be declared lost at sea in about 2 hours. When another friend was giving me a hard time about being arm candy to some dude in the Caribbean, and I told him said dude sailed solo, his expression changed dramatically. "That's different!" he replied quite seriously. He explained that single handed sailors are a class of individuals unto themselves with no 2 alike. "A group of individuals, each such an individualist they are indefinable, tough, resourceful, and able to handle just about anything, although no 2 will handle anything the same way" was how he put it. I'm stealing the definition too.

I think the most difficult thing about being a single handed parent is that people - friends, strangers, everybody - assume my life is just like theirs. It is anything but. Aside from the difficulties of not having the same mate around on a regular basis for such needs as a woman has like getting into the attic, raking 7 trees worth of leaves on a 3/4 acre chunk of land, the endless task of getting the leaves out of the gutters and off the roof, someone to crawl in that icky crawlspace, etc. (you thought I was referring to something else, didn't you? ;-) ), there is the big stuff like being the sole caregiver and the sole provider for a child.

All but one of my friends with children are married. They call up exasperated from time to time, indignantly droning on about how their husbands are out of town for 2 days, and they have to deal with their 2 kids all by themselves. "I have to fix dinner, AND help them with their homework, AND bathe them, AND get them into bed by myself, AND get some work done, AND I've got to clean the house." "And?" I think. "So?" Oh, yeah, cry on my shoulder. I wouldn't mind so much. I understand how hard it is (even with 2 parents!), but there is a profound lack of acknowledgment that they are describing my life at all times. -Granted I just have the one child, but everyone agrees he's like 2 or 3 at a time. ;-) - I NEVER invalidate that they are having a rough time. I just wish they might also take a moment and imagine my perspective, some vague clue that their relative is not everyone's universal.

So if bitching to my married with kids friends goes completely unheard and invalidated, bitching to my single with no kids friends often results in my feeling bad I mentioned anything. I have one friend, who will just get wide eyed and say, "Sheesh, all I've got is a boyfriend, who won't act the way I want him to. Your life is 10 times harder. I'm going to shut up all complaining." - Call me happily cynical, but if 2 girlfriends cease complaining, what is there left to talk about over margaritas?!? - Actually, the your-life-is-harder card is almost as bad as the -your-life-is-just-like-mine card. It's leaves me feeling alone in the world, and that's back to the original problem. I don't assume everyone has it easier than me. I'm not that arrogant.

museum docent: "There's a kids area where he can play while you wait in line to enter the museum."

V: "Great! Where is it."

museum docent:"In that room down the hall over there." Is there another parent with you, who can keep your place in line?"

V; "No"

museum docent:"Oh, well, there's usually another parent. Hmm, that will be hard then."

V: "Yes, I know. That's the story of my life"

the mom in line in front of me: "I'll hold your place in line if you want to take your son over there."

V: "THANK YOU!!!"

If there is to be any awareness from peers, it is usually in the form of a stranger, a married or partnered parent, who sees 5 minutes of what I go through - the precocious child others without training would label as ADD, the endless ridiculous assumptions and lack of awareness of a society with a 50% divorce rate that there are always 2 parents present - that causes a knee jerk though genuine sense of compassion. They look at Skyler and me, and they get a flash, a panic almost, of what their lives would be like in my situation. It's a kind of cross cultural understanding, followed by a simple act of kindness that often means the world to me.

I'm not bitter about being a single mom. Angry that it was the best choice in an intolerable situation, yes, but I take responsibility for the choice, as I did for bringing Skyler into the world. After I got divorced, I lost most all of my friends in the neighborhood parent network. The rejection at a time when I could have used more support was painful. Sometimes it still is, but what I find most infuriating are the assumptions and derogatory comments of a world oriented toward 2 parent families. They aren't unlike the kind of racist comments one Caucasian will make to another about someone who is not (sometimes these comments are made from someone of one race to someone of another about an individual or group of yet another race, which I find even more ludicrous). That, wink wink, nudge nudge, you understand because you're like me; we're on the same side: against them, them being a term for anyone who is deemed not like "us."

When someone makes that kind of comment to me, I just stare at them, intently and intimidatingly, with no expression whatsoever that what they have said has registered. The proper response from another narrow minded person is usually an "oh, yeah," or an "uh-HUH!" or at the very least an eye rolling with an "mmm-hmm" to show understanding and allegiance. I've found that an I'm-not-going-there-with-you complete blank with a warning stare is the most icy and effective statement I can make on the fly, and the person who made the comment will never under any circumstances make another racist comment in my presence ever again. (I've watched them look panicked and stumble over themselves to sound enlightened when they remember I'm present. They begin to think twice.) It's a single person momentary mental sit in, a tiny tiny baby step for genuine human compassion, a sesame sized seed of awareness planted. I could rant and rave, or give them a lecture, but that usually doesn't change anyone's behavior like slight intimidation can, and often I am dealing with people I know well or even love, and with whom my intent is not to attack them the way they are attacking others.

Perhaps I need to adopt the same procedure for people who assume I only face the same daily challenges they do. Perhaps if, when they go on about a 48 hour stint of solo parenting children without special needs, I should just stare. On the phone I could just go stubbornly silent. I get accused of being an intimidating person while, ironically, I spend more of my energy bending over backwards to help people feel included and valued. Might as well start living up to my reputation, I suppose...Particularly when peoples' prejudices are against me. Pain is pain. Suffering is suffering. It shouldn't be compared to gain points or more sympathy. When we do so, we focus only on ourselves and bypass the opportunity to embrace awareness and show compassion.

3 comments:

ebuddha said...

Hmm - well, from your writing, I definitely get a sense of your pain, not that I would go as far as to say "I feel it", because obviously I don't.

The following is most likely too biographically revealing than I usually feel comfortable with, but you are being honest, and I have a perhaps useful perspective.

I was raised in the same situation, but in Skyler's position. For myself, me and my brother were raised by a single mom - one of the early statistical cases about the rise of single parent homes.

It was definitely difficult. Our biological father completely disappeared after my brother was born, and only my mom, raised two boys.

And my mom truly couldn't handle it very well. As well as the fact we were both very energetic, my mom was overwhelmed most of the time, she could simply about collapse, since she tended towards poor health. (We were very poor as well, of course - that goes without saying. But my mom is also very intelligent and artistic, and was more than a bit of hippie. For my own background, I like to say I was raised poor white geeky New Age Texas trash. That pretty much includes all my early influences).

I recall her needing me doing things for her a lot. I remember in 3rd or 4th grade, getting up, getting my brother up, getting my mom up, all to get ready for work and school.

Both my brother and myself eventually evolved into latchkey kids (lived on tv dinners, came and went at will, stayed out very late) and had to deal with the psychological effects of that, well into our 20's.

(On the other hand, Mom was also a lot of fun, and was easy to talk to, and the house was always open for friends who came on by)

Of course, this wasn't helped by the fact that my mom was also desperate for relationship, and so would hook up with various shallow and narcissistic boomers generation types...

If I would offer any advice (not that I can really), from my perspective, it would be around you relating to men. It's quite the delicate dance to keep your child the number one priority, when flush with a new romance, but at the same time not let "little Caesar" - i.e. your kid, which at least 7 out of 10 male kids become a Caesar when faced with a guy who only is interested in the mom - dictate the terms of your new relationship.

For myself, for whatever reason, I've ended up in room mate situations (totally platonic) with other single moms, and their kids. I've actually enjoyed this, and found hanging out and spending time with the kids very rewarding, personally. Perhaps healing my own lacks - who can say?

Still, it's a difficult situation, all round.

Best regards

victoria said...

Thanks, ebuddha, for being the first in depth commentor on my new and improved blog!

Your words really do help. It gives great peace of mind to know that sons, who grow up in single mom homes, grow up to be highly intelligent and aware adults. I really appreciate your candor and self revealing honesty.

Yes, the 'Little Caesar" thing (fab term, btw) is challenging to say the least. I've blown it a couple of times, becoming involved with 2 different guys, who were around a lot and really bonded with Skyler before blowing him off when we ended the relationships.

I've done most of my dating when he was with my mom, but I wonder if that other extreme is any better, if never seeing me involved with another adult isn't as stupid as never letting him see me angry or grieving. Kids do not follow instructions so much as they mirror, and if he never sees his mother romantically-emotionally intimate with anyone else, how will he learn that's healthy? Still, that whole issue of letting them bond to someone, who isn't going to be around only brings up the rejection kids already feel from the non-custodial or never around parent.

Back when I was taking salsa classes, I was always surprised that he didn't freak out watching me dance with men, but then, like a non-jealous mate at a party, he knew I was going home with him at the end of the night. ;-) As if I needed any more challenge in this area, now I'm hardly ever in a situation where I'm likely to meet men I'd want to date. (Salsa class certainly wasn't ever one!) The 2 things I've learned are to discuss my feelings honestly with Skyler (although communicating in a way appropriate for a little kid) and to make certain he knows which one of us is the mom and which one is the kid. Also tough. He was born with an unprecedented sense of egalitarianism or "whatever is good for the goose..."

With the hindsight and perspective you have now, but the memory of how you felt as kid, what do you think the ideal (or at least most positive possible) dating situation would have been for your mom when you were a child?

Thanks,
V

ebuddha said...

Hi there,

We've since emailed to each other, but to answer your question here, I would first say, with leaving Tyler with Mom, that's a great plan for straight dating. Once things become more serious, and it looks like there is commitment, or a good possibility of, bring him around as one of your "friends" - like with your girlfriend's husband coming over, and start with that introduction. (Yes, it isn't completely revealing, so it may be wrong, what do I know - but still, there's a difference between lying and revealing too much before it's appropriate. Some things remain personal always.)

Then I would say the man becomes more of an "interested friend" in Tyler. I have at least a few kids who I am friends with, almost like a big brother. Then slowly expand on that, until there is more trust, cooperation, and engagement.

I smile when you say the "unprecedented sense of egalitarianism" - I remember this well. Especially in a dyad, or for a single parent, there is a lot more equal relating, it can't be helped. At the same time, it IS unequal, and what is good for you the parent is completely different from what is good for Tyler. So it isn't SUPPOSED to be equal!!

And then most importantly, be with a great guy! That and some common sense will go pretty far!