Now that I am Broken
I never intended to be a single mother.
I never intended to have a child outside the picture-perfect conservative version of the nuclear family. But I married a man who turned out to be, in plain old fashioned language: mean.
Neighbors, friends and agencies told me it was time to go. And, instead of letting myself or my infant get hurt, I did go.
In the odd and unexpected labyrinth that became single motherhood, I found more crooked signs than Alice in Wonderland.
Even therapists seemed to smile like Cheshire cats.
In this journey, I found that those who understand single motherhood implicitly are sometimes terrifyingly broken people, like the young blanket-hopping concert fairy who was on an ill-fated Prince Charming Shall Save Me fantasy number 3.
Or the single mother who had given up on life outside of motherhood and seemed to want to morph into an angry troll.
Being launched into Single Motherhood sometimes felt like having been kidnapped by the circus.
Most of the time, 2-parent families simply stopped including me. It was as if there were rows and rows of Reserved Accomodations for 2-parent Families Only everywhere, and then there was seating for Single Parents, Others, Odds, Ends and Pieces.
Cars have two seats in the front. Hotel beds are always doubles.
Without the pillar, post, and head of a family known as The Man, I was somehow seen as (and treated as) less than bona-fide. How did I become less than bona-fide just when I became capable of doing everything myself?
Although I knew I had become stronger, more patient, more capable and more kind than I ever was as a married woman…strangely, I was looked askance upon…as if the unasked question was always: “What did you do to mess up your life?”
In fact, I had mended my life and family by leaving a marriage. Glad you asked.
And in the thinner-than-air support that society – and yes, even family – gave me reluctantly in this “broken” state, I realized I often had to call on superhuman strength to keep my life and family together. A life lived on adrenaline, I learned to constantly quilt together pieces of possibilities.
In spite of the greater strength, compassion and patience that I developed as a single mother, I was treated within the structure of this society as a lesser person. I waited longer for tables at restaurants. I heard about parties after they had happened. Married women watched me too carefully when I spoke to their husbands. The world began to show its ugly underbelly to me.
So many of my single mother friends wanted out of this odd half-life (with double work and double stress and overall less) that they hooked up with the first grifter who looked their way.
Not me. I wanted to know what this thing was like, and why single mothers are treated differently, subtly excluded and so often mistrusted.
I went from thinking of myself as “lower on the food chain” in the dating world to realizing that there was indeed a cadre of men who preferred to meet single mothers. Many were the children of single mothers themselves.
Some had issues deep as the Nile. Others…
The other archetype of man interested in the Single Mother, I found, was The Hero. The Hero is just narcissistic enough to seek out damsels in distress. And it is true: repairing one’s own roof while watching one’s own child is indeed a recipe for distress.
And, of course, there are single fathers. The divorced ones are deeply grateful that you never refer to them as “bastards” while eating salad. After a few salads, you have to tell them that they need not thank you for that any more. When you realize that you’d like to have a conversation that does not woefully include the word, “bastard,” you move on.
A shockingly large number of men interested in single mothers are unhappily married men. To an unhappily married man, a woman who had the courage to leave an unhappy marriage looks like Nike, the Greek Goddess of strength, speed and victory.
As flattering as that distortion might be, the unhappily married man rarely realizes how unflattering the entire situation of his attentions are, nor how irresponsible envy makes a man look, well, ugly.
Early on in my single motherhood adventure, I went on a “Celebrating the Family” retreat. One evening’s healing ceremony included choosing a walking stick to represent one’s family for a walk down to the lake. Slow, and late to the pile of sticks, I was left with a short stick, with three prongs of branches at the end.
One branch was already half ripped off, leaving a sharp edge.
With the concentration of a trapped bear gnawing at her foot, I tore off the loose third branch to remove the sharpest , most ragged part of the stick.
Holding the pitiful short stick with two sideways prongs of branches, and carrying my infant child, I wept all the way to the lake, feeling more broken than I ever could have imagined.
I cried for my own broken family. I felt it was my fault. I wondered if we would make it, just the two of us.
But you know what? I left that feeling at that lake.
I’m hardly broken. I am a complete family of two whole people. And I would not trade that for any fantasy of how my world is or was supposed to be.
So if you happen to see Snidely Whiplash, Dudley DooRight, or Dr. Cheshire, you can tell them that we are doing all right.
Laura Hartmark is a writer and is glad you took the time to read this blog.