Usually, when people ask ‘how are you?’, the answer comes pretty naturally – ‘oh I’m fine, thanks, how are you?’. Because whether you’re happy, sad, tired, hungry, worried or stressed, ‘fine’ implies that you’re coping. You might be vaguely homicidal, but you’re handling it. And usually, when I say I’m fine, it’s because I am. But sometimes, when I hear ‘how are you?’, my mind goes blank because sometimes, I am not fine.
I would like to preface the rest of this with three points:
1. I do my very best not to complain about single motherhood (to most people anyway. Some probably wish I’d shut the fuck up). I try not to mention that I am tired all the time. That I cannot pee in peace, or finish a meal without interruption, that there are tantrums in my household almost daily. And not always from the two year old. I try not to mention the times that I have been told no one will date a single mother, and the times that, against my better judgement, I have believed that (my better judgement is pretty solid though, and always comes raging back soon enough to remind me that I don’t actually give a fuck – even if it is true). I try not to mention how lonely and isolated I sometimes feel. I try not to mention the desperate, all-encompassing, constant anxiety I feel about raising a daughter in this world. By myself. And I try really hard not to mention that sometimes, I feel like I am doing a shitty job.
2. I know that I am lucky. I know that some people would kill to have children, and for whatever reason, it hasn’t happened for them. I know that I am lucky my daughter is here, and that she is healthy. I am lucky that we have a place to live, food to eat, people who love us, and time to spend together. I know it could be worse. I know I don’t have a monopoly on the parenthood struggle, but that perspective is not always easy to keep.
3. I love my child. With everything that I have, and everything that I am. I love her so much that the thought of not being able to keep her safe and protected forever makes me feel physically sick.
All that being said, I don’t know many single mothers. I know even fewer who have small children. And I know even fewer than that (if any) who don’t ever have the respite of another parent taking their child for a week, or a weekend, or even a day. So I don’t know who to say this stuff to. That is not to say my child and I don’t have time apart, we do. I go to work, and she is not there. Sometimes I will have a night out, or a weekend away, and she is not there. But even when she is not there, I feel the weight of responsibility – is she behaving? Will she sleep OK? Is she actually just a nuisance? – I feel this deeply and acutely, no matter where I am, no matter who I’m with (or who she’s with, for that matter), and no matter how many vodka sodas I’ve had. I am it for my daughter. And sometimes that is too fucking much.
People say to me, quite often, that they don’t know how I do it. The short answer is ‘because I have to’. The longer, more complicated answer is ‘I don’t know either. Because sometimes, I don’t think I am doing it. I feel like I am failing. Failing myself as a woman, and failing my daughter as a mother. Sometimes I wonder how I will make it through the day without imploding with unexpressed anxiety, self-doubt, rage and fear. Sometimes I feel like a fraud because, like I mentioned above, what do I really have to be down about?’. I know people mean well, and I wholeheartedly appreciate the sentiment, but sometimes I really don’t know how I do it either.
Sometimes though, I am surprised by some external reminder of how it is only inside my head that I feel these things; that maybe, despite feeling exhausted and overlooked and useless and anxious, that is not what comes through. A friend whose opinion I respect a lot told me recently that he likes the way I’m raising my kid. That I’m killing it (the raising part, not the actual child). Being a parent isn’t often about external validation, but sometimes it is nice to hear. And sometimes, when it might feel like you’re drowning under the weight of it all, it’s a very welcome lifeline.
Anyway. Enough about me. How are you?