Single parenthood is very difficult. I grew up with a single mom, and I am one now myself. The challenges are myriad and sometimes seemingly insurmountable. They are also almost entirely what you hear about, when you hear about single parents.
There are joys to single parenthood, though, too; joys that are unknowable to parents in more nuclear-family-type structures. Sometimes these joys get lost in the hardship; all the more reason, I think, to bring attention to them.
I write this from my personal experience and perspective — that of a cis-woman who was a single parent from day 1 — or rather, from week –40.
Knowing you’re going to be a single parent from the get-go is, I think, sort of a side perk within single parenthood: In this situation, the state of your entire future is not resting solely on the variability of your partnership with your co-parent. As much as you can, you know what you’re in for from the beginning. No expectations lost, no custody battles, no awkward visitations. Just you, your child, and any help you might scrounge up in family and friends.
As a result of my experience, many of these perks are written with the birthing parent in mind.
But I imagine all single parents — regardless of gender, anatomy, or when they became a single parent — will be able to relate to much of this.
I imagine many coupled parents will be able to relate to some, as well.
1.) You get to name your child whatever you want.
No arguing about competing family legacies (except among your own, maybe); no power battles about patriarchy/matriarchy. You may have relatives vying to be named after, but ultimately, the decision is yours — the canvas is yours. Be as creative or as boring as you wish. Use the middle name to appease a meddling relative and name your child in your image.
If you are a woman, an added bonus is that they get your last name, too.
2.) No fighting about discipline, gender-appropriate clothing, schools, food, “screen time,” etc.
This is a huge category and a huge benefit to being a single parent. Like the decision of the name, you can have meddlers in your life — and believe me, you will — but you probably have no real obligation to adhere to their advice. It’s good to hear them — for you and for them, to get more perspective and to respect theirs — but, ultimately, you get to do what’s best for you and your child.
Notice I said, “you and your child.” Parenting is not a selfless act and is even less so — paradoxically — as a single parent. Because the burden of parenting will be that much more, I believe single parents need to take care of themselves that much more (whenever possible).
Whether it’s getting a babysitter so you can get out once in a while — or not being able to afford a babysitter because you are able to work less and can therefore be home relaxing more — or if it’s one of those weeks where every night is pizza night… we all have our coping mechanisms.
3.) You get to opt out of the working-mom/stay-at-home-mom debate.
You get to opt out of the socio-political debate, and you get to opt out of the economic dilemma of whether or not you can afford to work. Chances are, you simply have to work. No alternatives, no options — you have to make working work. Even if that means spending hours at the welfare office and fighting with them biannually to keep your childcare assistance, because the cost of full-time childcare is roughly equivalent to the cost of a two-bedroom apartment, which you also cannot afford. And it probably will.
4.) You get to have a rich fantasy life.
You get to think about all the cool things you would do in your spare time if you had any. You get to join online dating sites and look at all the people you won’t have time for. You may even get to have a flirtationship with real, live people, that lead absolutely nowhere, but oh boy do they fuel the fire of your fantasy life!
When you’re a single parent, actual dating pales in comparison to fantasy. In real-life, single-parent dating, there is an inherent lack of spontaneity that simply obliterates romance. Babysitters, schedules, fatigue; you smell a little like pee; you only have an hour; where will you have sex; will your child wake up; should they meet your child (not if they wake up, I don’t mean) or act as your escape route… I don’t know about you, but by the time the logistics are sorted, I’m totally turned off.
I realize there are single parents who date — maybe even most of them — but I honestly don’t see how they manage. I don’t know what’s more insurmountable: the obnoxious logistics or the sheer amount of time involved. I suppose it’s really a matter of priorities. If you have a quiet libido like me, there are just so many other things to do that are easier to accomplish, more entertaining and/or fulfilling, and produce subjectively better results.
5.) You can live in a vacuum if you want to.
You may feel like it’s just you and your kid against the world sometimes. (And it may well be.) You can choose to embrace that.
I go back and forth between trying to foster community — that proverbial village — and holing myself and my son off in our own little world when I become disheartened at other people’s lack of response to my community-fostering attempts and my own anti-social tendencies. I see that this points to how discordant we’ve all become with human nature and how nice it would be to return to some pre-industrial-civilization social-structure ideal in the form of a tribe, or an extended chosen family, or a socialist collective, or whatever words people need to simply exist intentionally as humans — as humans did for millennia, as humans evolved to live. But really, how unlikely is that in this cold, cold capitalist world, and even if it were to happen, what a constant uphill battle it would be, to counter society and our own ingrained enculturation.
6.) You get to make a mini-me.
When your child has only you to emulate and mimic, from the beginning, there will never be any doubt whose child they are.
Sometimes when I look at my son, it is so much like a mirror that I get a little freaked out. Yes, he looks like me, but he also kind of acts like me — facial expressions, verbal expressions…
When you are a single parent, naming them whatever you want is just the beginning. You get to mold them and form them into the people you want them to be. Yes yes yes, of course there will be external forces — other people, their own nature, culture (which also exists in you)… Of course, even if you don’t try, you’re still going to be their primary, individual, human influence, with all your hang-ups and wonderful qualities, subconscious and conscious parenting choices and demonstrations and living examples…
It’s like a Venn diagram: You and the outside world… you are the outside world… the outside world is in you… and everything in between.
Again — you don’t have to do it consciously — but you will do it anyway — so why not have some fun with it! Me, I love to teach my son philosophical concepts and to share my love for big words and creative sentence structure (I swoon when he uses words like “entrance” and asks things like, “Why are we headed towards there?”). He has his own engineering mind that I will never understand, so really I’m just trying to balance him out.
A friend of mine, a parent of two, said that he didn’t like most people very much, so he decided to have kids as a way to make people he wanted to be around.
When you’re a single parent, your bond with your child can be like no other. Forces have thrust you tightly together, and that can be very difficult. But you can also have fun with it. It’s like a Make Your Own Best Friend kit: You can import your insight and wisdom on them as they grow, and, of course, they will never stop surprising you with theirs.