My name’s Diane, and I’m a single parent

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I am a single parent. It’s funny how often that fact crops up early in conversations when I meet people. Perhaps it’s because I’m proud of my daughter, perhaps it’s a preemptive strike against the stigmas that still linger in the more conservative walks of society. Though single parent families are a strangely common and unremarkable concept, I still come across the odd menacing rumble of quiet disapproval; a glance, a tut, a carefully placed piece of humiliation. It’s rare, but it registers. One way or another, being a single parent seems to define me in a way that two parent families never need to explain themselves.

I had many fears when my daughter, Xairis, was born six years ago. I had the sort of childhood where I didn’t mix much with other kids. I never really played out, or went to parties, or babysat. I wasn’t unhappy… I never really stopped to consider that I ever needed anyone more than my brothers, sisters and cousins. Perhaps it was because of this lack of having been around children that, when I fell pregnant, I was overcome with a worrying sense that I was hugely unqualified.

Despite being 28 when Xairis was born, I was very much blazing the trail for parenthood in my social circle. None of my siblings had children, nor any of my close cousins. The only mother I really knew well enough to ask for advice - my own - had died a few years before.

After she died I had left the family nest of New England, and headed for the sunshine and warmth of Florida, to be with my partner - the man who became my daughter’s father. Pregnancy is tough enough, without also being in a new place, with no disposable income to talk of, surrounded by nobody I knew, and far away from the only people I did know.

But it’d be OK, I’d tell myself, because my partner has a child already and he’d know how to do things. Wouldn’t he! It turns out, he wouldn’t. It wasn't so much a question of interest as responsibility. He came from a home where mom took care of everything, allowing him to be the man of the house without having to carry the duties that come with that title. So it didn't really seem out of balance to him that it was the mother’s role to do all the heavy lifting. I guess in his mind, that's the way it was supposed to be.

In a way, I had been a single parent a long time before my little girl arrived. You expect your baby to utterly rely on you for their every need; not your partner. It had been good training for motherhood.

I was afraid I would make mistakes, but I was more afraid of not giving my little girl the right start; of hanging around in an environment where she might learn from the behaviours she was seeing. That’s why, when Xairis was about three, we left. Just the two of us, me and my new little girl, heading out in the big, big world. I didn’t know what I was doing. I made mistakes. Lots of them. I still do. But I’m learning how to be a better mom every day.

I do not get child support and I don’t have my family network close by. I don’t get any help from Xairis’ father - something I have chosen to accept. The relationship had taken its physical and mental toll on me. In the end I decided that the struggles of being alone would be financially and emotionally easier than the struggles of asking him to be reliable. So having a job is a financial necessity. But even if it wasn’t, I would still work. Knowing that you have to work hard to earn what you want is one of the best examples you can give a child

Xairis is now in school, which makes life a little easier. But I still pay for wrap around school care, as well as someone to look after her in the evenings I’m working. She enjoys reading, and loves learning; animals and dinosaurs are the flavor of the month at the moment. But recently she’s been having difficulty focusing in class, so I’ve also employed a private tutor to give her the the 1-2-1 attention she needs right now. Her teachers tell me that her hyperactivity requires some kind of extracurricular outlet, but I’ve long since run out of time and money.

I am blissfully aware that with someone good by my side, I might be less strapped for cash, have more time, provide more, be a better parent. That dinner, bath and stories wouldn’t need to get squeezed into the last drops of the day before one of us falls asleep. That I wouldn’t need to rush in the mornings, just so we can steal a few more minutes together by strolling to her daycare center. (We’ve been trying to get up even a little earlier, so we can do some yoga and meditation together - alas it’s turning out to be a class of one!)

But amongst the waves of guilt and frustration, I am optimistic, because I know she’s got education on her side. Unlike tens of millions of children around the world, she gets to go to school. She gets to be taught and to learn. To a degree, she’ll get to decide the way she wants her life to turn out. In the list of things I want for my daughter, an education comes way, way above a father.

I know that my daughter feels very loved, and knows I am doing my best. She embodies many of the things I still strive to be. She is resilient. She lets problems slide off her back. She entertains herself. She’s popular, but isn’t attached to any one person. She regularly goes without the things her friends expect to get - new toys, clothes, vacations, time with mom. But she’s rarely without a smile. One day, out of nowhere, she turned to me and said: “Mommy, dya know what? Before I was born, I asked for you to be my mom”. My heartbreaker and my everyday-maker.