Before my daughter was born I knew that I would be raising her as a single mother. I spent months mentally preparing myself. The thought of childbirth made me nervous, but I felt no fear at the thought of being a 21-year-old single mom.
Despite what some of my loved ones may think, this resolve of mine didn’t come from strength. It came from necessity. Even before the first time I held her in my arms my daughter had a hold on my heart. I just knew, with a certainty I had never felt before and can’t really explain, that I could face any obstacle to keep her safe, healthy and surrounded by love. Because I had to, there were no other options in my mind.
It helped that being alone is something I’ve always been good at.
For the first year of Skye’s life we lived in a one-bedroom apartment, never sleeping more than three feet away from each other. Every night I’d silently sneak into bed and listen to the rhythmic sounds of her breathing as I fell asleep. Once she was old enough to pull herself up, the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes each day was her beautiful smiling face peeking out at me.
Her dad has always played a very active role in her life, yet he didn’t take her for an overnight stay until she was almost two.
He wasn’t there for the night feedings, or the first ear infection, or the first nightmares. I was alone for many sleepless nights spent pacing up and down wearing tread marks into that little bedroom’s shag carpet, singing lullabies to coax her back into dreamland.
I was alone, but I liked it. I felt no need to seek a romantic relationship because I was already involved with the most fulfilling love of my life.
The first two years that my daughter and I lived alone together I learned the lengths, and limits, of my capabilities as a mother. I am capable of sitting alone in the other room and letting my newborn self-soothe, even though inside I was dying a little bit with each of her unanswered wails. I can clean up my baby who is covered literally from bottom to top with feces, while she scream in terror of the showerhead. I am capable of holding my toddler down to trim her itty-bitty fingernails while she flails, kicks, and screams in horror.
It was just the two of us, together most of the day every day.
She and I were inseparable, and as her sassy stubborn attitude became more pronounced her status as my mini-me went from being about our appearance to our personalities as well.
Despite my enjoyment for solitude, I started dating someone when Skye was just over a year old. Things began slowly at first, and then started to accelerate. When he asked us to move in, I went back and forth on the idea. In the end, the closet romantic in me wanted to believe that this was it, that he was the one.
As it turns out, my inner cupid should have practiced more caution. What started as a misunderstanding turned into the argument that would never end, and an eventual loss of trust for one another. After living together just over a year, we ended things this fall and he moved out.
Parenting alone is different this time, lonelier somehow. Maybe because now I know what it’s like to have someone there; something to compare to being just me.
Skye and I sleep in separate bedrooms now, on opposite ends of the house. Her dad moved to Denver a year ago, so she spends two out of every six weeks with him. Since my relationship ended during those two weeks I am, for the first time in my life, living completely in solitude. I’ve never experienced before just how stifling silence can sometimes be.
Now that I live alone again, I’ve started going into Skye’s room at night and listening to her sleepy breathing. It helps remind me of that time before, when I wasn’t scared to be alone and never questioned my readiness or capabilities. A time when I didn’t know what it was like to depend on another person to help with parenting my child.
It’s the little things I notice most. The things that seemed slightly inconsequential at the time, yet I realize now made caring for a spirited toddler so much easier.
The ten extra minutes I could have on mornings I woke up late while he was getting her up, dressed and ready to leave. (A job that frequently resulted in them fighting and his feelings getting hurt because, as much as she loved him, nobody but mom was going to get a warm reception first thing in the morning.) Or the days when I woke up really late and he was able to drop her off at daycare for me, once again giving me ten precious extra minutes to get to class on time.
Then there was that authoritative male voice being present to back me up, especially when I was losing an argument with my tiny tyrant.
As incredible and selfless as all those helpful things were, I started to realize something toward the end of what became an unhappy and unhealthy relationship. I was staying in it because I was scared that I didn’t have it in me to be a single mom anymore, to do all of those things alone.
Then I realized how idiotic that line of thinking is.
I’ve already been a single mom, at a much younger age to a much younger child, and did just fine. More than fine. As long as I have that little girl by my side there’s nothing we can’t do. She is the motivation for me to find my strength to go it alone.
Someday I do want her to know that I was scared to be a single mother at times; but I also want her to understand that I was brave enough to face that fear because of the strength being her mom gives me.
I hope my daughter learns from me the same lesson I learned from my own mother and her example in single parenting – that she is strong enough to do anything alone. Including being a mom.