Don’t Cancel Father’s Day on Account of This Single Mom’s Son

In the days before Mother’s Day this year, many of our favorite parenting sites shared articles about a school in Canada who cancelled Mother’s and Father’s day, “In an effort to celebrate diversity, inclusivity and also nurture our students who are part of non-traditional families” (Albert McMahon Elementary School’s letter to parents). It seemed everyone had an opinion about this controversial decision, and many online commenters pitted non-traditional families against traditional mom and dad families.

Since I’m a single mother by choice, my son has no father, only an anonymous sperm donor, and I don’t think Hallmark has invented a card for that yet. Due to this, my son may someday be a little sad or jealous of his peers who have two parents, especially of his male counterparts with a dad in the picture. So you might think I’d be in favor of such a ban. You’d be wrong. It’s not that I want my child or any child to suffer or be sad, but eliminating, ignoring, or erasing differences is not celebrating diversity or inclusivity.

I absolutely want my child’s school to someday understand the struggle he may have surrounding Father’s Day, but I want them to do that by acknowledging and teaching about all types of families—because that’s what celebrating diversity looks like. Eliminating all mention of Father’s Day for all the kids with dads and saying it’s for the sake of my child will only serve to stigmatize him and other children from non-traditional families. This is as far from “nurturing” as it gets. To that I say, no thanks.

Instead schools need to know the families they work with and be in communication with them about such events. Ask parents in non-traditional families for suggestions of books teachers can read that include, explain, or celebrate differences. Provide alternative activities to the traditional card making, such as writing about what makes each child’s family unique or just writing a card to any special adult in their lives. And probably most importantly, schools should reach out to parents of children who may be struggling to see what resources the school and community can offer. Most districts have guidance counselors, psychologists, and/or mentor programs available. If a child is struggling with being from a non-traditional family, the last thing we should do is ignore all discussion of families, making him feel it’s not something he should be talking about, leaving him to suffer in silence.

Now, obviously there are extremes. After the initial letter to parents in that school in Canada came out and caused such an uproar, Mission Public School District Superintendent Angus Wilson added that a student suffered a “recent trauma,” and that was one of the reasons for cancelling traditional celebrations of Mother’s and Father’s Day. If a school decides to take a year off from mentioning or celebrating these holidays while a member of its community is dealing with some fresh tragedy, that’s completely understandable. Perhaps next time, though, they could be more open about their real and reasonable motivation (while still protecting the privacy of the family involved, of course), instead of trying to please people by throwing around catchphrases like “celebrating diversity,” when that’s not at all what was being done.

Similarly, as a teacher I understand that there often isn’t time to cover most states’ mandated curriculums, never mind to add separate lessons on every holiday, religion, family structure, etc. So if a school decides to focus entirely on academics and can’t or won’t incorporate lessons on diversity into their units, so be it, but call it what is: choosing content over character education.

Celebrating diversity means taking the time to acknowledge differences and then to show they are valued by highlighting what makes them special, not by ignoring they exist. And nurturing students of one family structure, race, or religion shouldn’t come at the expense of others. Let’s find the time and the means to educate and celebrate what makes us us.

And hey, if a few years down the road my little guy wants to make me, my dad, my brother or all three of us a card on Father’s Day, we’re not about to turn it down!

 

For anyone looking for good books about different types of families, this is my favorite so far. (And I’d love other recommendations!)

 

Photo credit: © Subbotina | Dreamstime.com

It’s the Little Things

In my previous post I shared that I haven’t found the single part of single parenting as trying as I (and others) might have expected. I was used to doing all the chores, paying all the bills, and asking for help when I hit upon something I couldn’t figure out myself. Okay, that part about asking for help was a lie, but I got much better about it during my pregnancy and the first few weeks after my c-section. The rest, though, was true. Most days I’m perfectly content washing all the bottles and dishes, so long as I also get the majority of the snuggles.

That doesn’t mean that it isn’t nice to have help, though. Some help—the trip to get medicine for the baby in the middle of a snow storm when you’re sick yourself type of help—is certainly nice. It’s amazing actually, and it’s also necessary at times. But what about the kind of help you’d never ask for, the unnecessary help, help with the things you can do yourself, but every now and then just want to pawn off on someone else?

My parents moved closer when I made my decision to become a single mom. In fact, they now live a half mile up the street from me—most of the year. Like a lot of women, I relied heavily on them for the necessary help new moms, single or not, need those first few weeks and months. But even after that I took advantage of their eagerness to spend time with my guy so I could not only run errands solo or complete a project around the house (like showering), but also so I could occasionally get a pedicure with a friend or attend book club without the baby in tow.

I appreciated their help tremendously, and I knew I’d miss it when they returned to being snowbirds in sunny Florida. I even worried about whether I could really handle things without help, both the necessary and the nice, literally just around the corner. Both little man and I getting the flu a week after they left was definitely my first real test, but we survived with help from friends and family members and just by doing our best. Once we were both healthy, our days fell into a routine, and I discovered the things that needed to get done got done just fine.

Over February break I was lucky enough to travel with little man to visit my parents in Florida. I expected it to be fun—experiencing so many firsts with my son would be amazing (it was!). But I also knew relaxing vacations of baking in the sun and staying up to read until 2am (by choice) were likely over for a couple decades. I was okay with that (and my dermatologist was thrilled). Instead of loading my kindle and packing my aloe, I packed baby sunscreen and bubbles.

I wasn’t in the sunshine state 24 hours, though, when I realized I was more relaxed, and it wasn’t just the weather and lack of work. It was the little things. While my parents spoiled little man, I luxuriated in a long, hot shower (and even shaved my legs!) and didn’t worry about whether the baby would wake up or if he was safe while he played unsupervised as I tried to speed soap the necessary places. And after meals I didn’t have to make the decision between putting away food and doing the dishes or spending a few last minutes playing with him before bed. With three of us, there were plenty of volunteers to play, and enough of us left to make quick work of the cleaning. We even tag-teamed sleeping so that my mom and I got some after bedtime shopping in, and I got an hour of nap time tanning one day.

Except maybe the mother-daughter shopping spree (we had expiring coupons!), none of these little luxuries lasted long, but they still felt rejuvenating. It reminded me once again how fantastically supportive my parents are, but it also reminded me that treating myself to a little nice, but not necessary help, time, or support every now and then is good for the soul. And a happy momma = a happy home!

 

The Hardest Part of Being a Single Mom

When I first reached out to friends and family to tell them of my decision to become a single mother by choice, I expected people to tell me it would be hard, harder than I could imagine, maybe too hard to really want to do it on my own. And while I was lucky to receive tremendous support of my decision, a few friends and family members were honest enough to tell me this, not to scare me off, but to make sure I knew what I was getting into.

I appreciated the honesty, but I knew what I was getting into. (Go ahead, you can laugh at me now.)

I’d heard the stories of rough labors, seen my friends and family members’ struggles with nursing, tried to offer help and comfort when exhaustion, or illness, or the newest tough stage of development had worn them thin. I knew it was different standing on the outside, but I also felt their experiences had to have taught me something. Knowing there would be tough days, expecting them, had to be better than going into this single motherhood thing blind, right?

I won’t lie; I worried about those days before I got pregnant. I worried about them more once I was expecting and there was no turning back. I had moments of panic when I thought to myself, ‘What have I done?’ But then I’d feel a flutter or a kick, or hear the sweet sound of my baby’s heartbeat on a monitor, and I would remind myself there would be amazing moments, too. I reminded myself I wasn’t the first single parent. I had spoken with single moms I knew and others I met through my journey, and they all said the same thing: it’s worth it. And I felt that in my heart. I was meant to do this; that had to count for something. So I took a few deep breaths and went back to happily (and naively) waddling through my nine months.

When little man finally arrived on the scene, I realized…I had had no idea what I was getting into.

I didn’t know how hard it was to hear your baby cry and not know how to help. I didn’t know I could be so tired it hurt. I didn’t know how scared I could feel hearing doctors say something wasn’t quite right. I didn’t know how impossible it would be some days to juggle work and home.

Basically, I never loved someone so much that I wanted the world for him and would do anything, give anything to assure his safety and happiness. I had never been a mother.

There have been days in the last ten months that have been hard, harder than I imagined even after seeing others’ struggles, hard enough to bring me to tears. But I honestly don’t think those days would have been easier if I had a partner. I wouldn’t have worried less, slept sounder, or likely received any more support than I’ve gotten from my amazing network of family and friends. And I wouldn’t give them up for the world, because those hard moments make the amazing ones all that much more special.

So is being a single mother hard? Hell, yes! Because being a mother is hard. The single part isn’t too tricky. (I could give you pointers, but that’s another post.) I’ve been single all of my adult life. That’s about the only thing that didn’t change when I had a baby.

That’s not to say that being single won’t pose additional challenges as I parent in the future, but each type of family structure comes with its own challenges—and its own perks. For instance, I’d certainly love to have someone else to do bedtime or wash bottles occasionally, but, on the plus side, I’ll never feel resentful or argue with myself for leaving dishes in the sink or laundry on the floor. And luckily, I’ve got at least a couple years before I’ll be arguing with little man about those things!

 

Photo credit: Christine Passler

Twisting the Tale

An alternative to the old (and outdated) ‘Once upon a time…’

I never had much interest in princesses, preferring jeans and sneakers to ball gowns and glass slippers even as a young girl. But that’s not to say that I didn’t grow up thinking someday I’d experience my own fairytale romance. When I reached 35 and was still single, though, I started to think that fantasy would never morph into my reality.

In the two years since, my ‘Once upon a time’ has taken some drastic turns. Tired of waiting for my prince to arrive and fed up with unsuccessfully scouring the suburban realms for him, I decided to skip the being-swept-off-my-feet stage, at least for now. Instead I chose to jump right to the chapter of the story entitled Motherhood. As any writer does, I made a few edits and a few errors. And life threw in some plot twists of its own to spice things up. The result, after a couple months of researching, half a year of fertility treatments, and a wonderful (but at times trying) pregnancy, is a beautiful baby boy.

I know I’m just beginning my adventures in motherhood, but I can’t help look in my son’s face every morning and feel like I’ve been given my happily ever after—minus Prince Charming.

While I don’t miss my prince (you can’t miss what you never had), it’s not always easy being a single mom by choice. Yes, I’m queen of my own castle, ruler of my own kingdom, and my own knight in shining armor all in one. But I’m also responsible for paying all the bills, changing all the diapers, and assuring my own little prince grows up to be the kind of man who both holds the door and appreciates a princess who can hold her own.

But hey, no one ever said happily ever after wasn’t a lot of work. It is worth it, though. So worth it.

The Best and Worst Things About Being Pregnant and Single

Originally posted January 10, 2016 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

When I embarked on my journey to single motherhood, I knew there would be some serious downfalls to doing this alone, but I also knew, like with being single, that it might have some perks. More than halfway through my pregnancy I’ve certainly had this confirmed. Here’s what I’ve discovered so far about the perks and pitfalls of being single and pregnant.

On the Downside:

There’s no one to share the bed with.

In the past week or two I’ve begun to feel my little man moving inside me with more regularity. Often he’s most active just as I’m lying down to sleep or as I wake up in the morning. This feeling is so new to me, and so amazing, it’s only natural to want to share it. And while I have a terrific group of close family and friends to talk to, I can only imagine based on how awesome it is for me alone, that this must be a special experience for a couple to share together. Telling the cat doesn’t feel the same.

Also, after one of those lovely, vivid pregnancy dreams, it’d be great to have someone nearby to wake up who could assure me that there aren’t really snakes in the bed. Seriously, if I wrote horror novels, this pregnancy would be making me a best-selling author for sure.

No one’s around to help me laugh at the strange parts of pregnancy.

Pregnancy makes you strange. Or in my case, stranger. Between hormones, exhaustion, and the odd little alien growing inside me, I now do things that the best comedy writers only wish they had thought up. From strange food combinations and the after effects on my digestive system, to the crazy dreams that wake me in a cold sweat, to forgetting to put up the garage door before backing out, sometimes I need a little help to remember that in hindsight these are not big deals—actually, they make for a good laugh. Luckily, my family, friends, and coworkers have done a great job helping me to see the sunny side of pregnancy.

I have to make all the big decisions—alone.

The baby isn’t even born and I’m responsible for some pretty major choices. When it comes down to it, I am it. The bottom line. The big kahuna. I’m responsible for every major pre-birth decision from what to name the baby, to whether to circumcise him, to what insurance he’ll need, to what car seat to buy him. Some decisions have been easy, requiring little time or research to decide on. Others have kept me up at night reading reviews, Pinterest articles, and medical jargon until my eyeballs bled. If it hadn’t hit me before now, I’ve finally realized I’m in for some serious adult-ing in the upcoming months and years.

I need to ask for help.

By the time most single women decide to take on the challenge of having a child on their own, they’ve most likely been single for awhile. I’d lived alone for over a decade before I got pregnant. I’d learned to take care of pretty much everything on my own (with the exception of a few jobs I never liked, such as getting an oil change or taking my car through the carwash, which somehow freaks me out). I’m not sure if I became proud and independent because of living alone or if perhaps I always had those qualities in me, but I can tell you, breaking the mold isn’t easy. When it was only my back I was risking, I had no problem finding creative means of dragging heavy items up and down stairs. Now that there’s a baby involved, I’ve realized I need to ask for help, even if it means I do feel a little weaker and more dependent.

On the other hand, being single and pregnant has some perks:

I don’t have to share the bed with anyone.

There’s no one to crawl over during the multiple midnight potty trips, no one to wake me from an already fragile sleep with his own snoring, and no one to protest to the pregnancy pillow that now takes up half my queen size bed and still doesn’t keep me from rolling on my back. And those nightmares and strange dreams? Well, there are quite a few I wouldn’t want explain to anyone anyways.

No one’s around to notice the strange parts of pregnancy.

If I decide that extra spicy dill pickles with a cheese stick and orange juice constitutes dinner some night, who’s going to complain? If I choose not to tell anyone I forgot to put the cap on the milk and then shook it all over the kitchen the next morning, who will know? If I decide yoga pants and leopard print slippers are absolutely fine to go to dinner at my parents’ house, who’s to contradict me and suggest I change? While pregnancy has made me weird(er), sometimes, for my own sanity, I just need to go with it. Some days, having to face another person’s questioning looks would likely push me, with my already swinging moods, right over the edge. Best I’m left to my own hormone-induced devices.

I get to make all the big decisions—alone.

I learned a lesson after reaching out for help on names—only to find that no one in my inner circle could agree on anything except that for various reasons they all hated at least one name I liked—sometimes it’s best just to make your own decisions. Most people, especially those who’ll love me and the baby no matter what, can live with just about anything I decide. And if I make a blunder on my own, those same people will be there to help me fix it. But asking everyone I know and reading every article ever written on these major decisions sometimes leaves me more confused. From now on, I will ask a few, read a little, then trust my gut.

I learned to ask for help.

The limitations of pregnancy and my own knowledge have forced me to ask for help from all sorts of people, some I always knew I could turn to, and others I might not have thought of asking before. But learning to ask for help has only been part of the benefit of being single and pregnant. The other, bigger, positive I’ve taken away is learning that most people want to help, not judge. I know longer need to worry about being a burden or looking weak. No parent can raise a child on his or her own, so nearly every one of them has received help themselves along the way, and they are more than happy to pay it forward. The only thing I’m admitting by reaching out for help and advice is that I want to be the best mom possible. And no one can or will fault me for that.

I’m looking forward to the joys and challenges of the second half of this pregnancy and all they will teach me about myself, life, and the tremendous support system around me!

 

 

Photo credit: Creatista

Honesty Over Ease: Why I Won’t Avoid the Daddy Question

Originally posted December 13, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

As a single mother by choice I expected the “Who’s the daddy?” question to come up. I’ve actually been surprised at the restraint people have shown when I’ve told them I’m expecting while not wearing a ring and still going by Miss. Sure, in some ways it’s none of people’s business, but as someone who is at times overly inquisitive herself, I understand it’s also natural to wonder.

Since I’ve been so open throughout my journey to single motherhood, I didn’t mind the not-so-subtle fishing of some acquaintances. (Saying, “Oh, you and your husband must be so happy!” or “Are you Miss or Mrs.?” when these topics have never previously come up, is not exactly subtle, but I appreciate the attempt at politeness.) And while some single mothers by choice are sensitive to it, I’d never be upset or angry with a stranger for assuming there’s a daddy in the picture. My getting pregnant did require some male assistance, after all.

That said, if someone brings up the topic, I’m not comfortable pretending there is a dad.

I won’t smile and nod and let people think their assumption that all families include a mom and a dad is correct, because it’s not, and people need to be exposed to all kinds of families in order to understand and accept them.

Yes, it would be easier not to explain that I’ve chosen to become a single mother to complete strangers at the doctors’ office or the maternity store, and it might be more comfortable for them, too. But then I wouldn’t be comfortable. I’m not ashamed of the way I’m starting my family and not speaking up would feel like I had something to hide.

More important than my feelings though, are those of my son. There will be a day when a stranger says in front of him, “Oh, he must look like his daddy.” Again, it might be easier for me just to agree. After all, my son may look like his donor, and to a stranger what’s the difference? Nothing. But to my son, there will be a difference. I want him to know that while he doesn’t have a dad, his family structure is just as legitimate, and special, and loving as any other. If he thinks I’m not comfortable talking about it, how can he ever be comfortable with it?

I also want others to understand that while they mean no harm in their assumptions, times have changed, and the language we use to talk about families needs to change with it. According to some statistics, ‘non-traditional’ families now outnumber ‘traditional’ families. That doesn’t mean we need to stop talking about families with moms and dads, but it does mean we need to start talking more about other kinds of families. And that starts with those of us willing to be forthright gently reminding those who ask, hint, or assume that we exist and are not ashamed or uncomfortable with whatever make-up our families consists of.

So, no, I won’t lie or even smile and nod to make others feel more comfortable. Because while they may be mere acquaintances or even complete strangers to whom the truth means little, my child needs me to tell the truth, not only to him, but to the world. Because the truth will help shape the world he grows up in—and I want that world to be educated and accepting of all the types of families that exist. Ours included.

Photo credit:  enterlinedesign

The Changes Pregnancy Brings

Originally posted November 8, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

A year has passed, and I’m still sitting at the kitchen table, working on the computer, with only the cat keeping me company. My heart is still trilling with excitement, my stomach still churning with anxiety. At first glance it might seem nothing has changed.

But, really, everything has changed.

A year ago I made the decision to start this journey toward single motherhood. I spent countless hours researching fertility centers, reading blogs of other single mothers, finding books on raising children conceived with donor sperm. My excitement stemmed from knowing I was making a decision that would forever change my life. My anxiety stemmed from fears of finances, worries of whether my closest family and friends would be supportive of such a decision, and, yeah, the realization that I was making a decision that would forever change my life.

While part of me thought things would move much faster than they did, the other part of me couldn’t fathom that I’d be sitting, as I am now, at this same table, just a year later, entering my second trimester of pregnancy. But here I am.

Already I’m amazed at how much I’ve changed, how pregnancy has altered my fears, aspirations, and emotions.

Most days now, my whole tiny universe is focused on the little boy growing inside me—his safety, health, and happiness. (Yes, I learned last week that it’s a boy!) He is the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thought I have before falling asleep.

The abstract anxieties I felt before conceiving, such as how to explain to him or others about his donor or how to give him the best life without a second parent, are now very real, yet in some ways they seem less complicated than before. I’ll be honest, and I’ll love him in the best ways I know how—just as I’m doing already. And if I ever worried about whether that would be enough, it was because I didn’t know, couldn’t know, just how strong that love will be. Already it takes my breath away to hear his heartbeat or to think about holding him in my arms, and I’m still months away from first feeling his tiny hand clasp my finger.

Pregnancy has also changed my prospective of what’s important. I still have dreams of my own, but now they’re a bit more balanced. I don’t feel like a failure because I’ve gone a couple weeks, okay months, without starting my next novel. My writing is still important to me, but I know those naps of the first trimester were more important. And the papers that need grading will get done. Or maybe some won’t. Either way, it will be fine. Maybe it’s nature’s way of assuring our babies get what they need, or maybe I never really needed to wash the hardwood floors weekly to begin with, but it seems like growing this baby inside me has reminded me of what’s really important on the outside. Spotless floors do not even make the list anymore.

Perhaps the pregnancy hormones are starting to ramp up, or perhaps knowing the gender and making it out of the first trimester with a healthy baby has finally allowed me to take this all in at once, but already I’m in awe of this process. I’m amazed at the new depths my joy and, yes, my worry have reached in just a few short months. And I can’t wait to see the changes the next year will bring!

Photo credit: Viktor Hanacek