Robin Silbergleid has never regretted her decision to have two children on her own, but after a decade of solo parenting, realizes the value of having another adult around.
When I decided, at 28, to become a single mother by choice, I wasn’t worried about what other people would think or whether or not my children would be put at a disadvantage.
It’s not that I didn’t think about those things and ran headlong into a thoughtless decision. It’s that I didn’t really care much about the former and I did enough reading about child psychology, family structure, and single mothers to know that the real issue is, unfortunately, economic hardship and the stress of divorcing parents (neither of which is generally the case when it comes to single mothers by choice), not being raised by only one parent.
I thought about how I’d answer the “daddy question” when it came up. (And when it did, when my then 3-year-old told her caregivers about her “pretend” Daddy who lived in our basement when he dropped in for transatlantic visits—the rest of his time was, apparently, spent in Africa, where, of course, the Man with the Yellow Hat had once picked up Curious George—I wasn’t particularly surprised, much less disturbed.)
When my daughter did fantasize about having a daddy, it was of the dream variety who was constantly present and played with her in the yard whenever she wished. It was not the more realistic version that, if I’d actually married, she would have undoubtedly had, someone who worked 40+ hours per week outside the home.
But, almost 10 years into being a single parent, now with an almost 2-year-old added into the mix, I have moments—with increasing frequency—I think it would be nice to have someone else around. Understand, that is not regret; when I say I am a single mother by choice, I actually mean it.
Unlike many SMCs who come to single motherhood because of the proverbial ticking of their biological clocks, I chose to become a single mother in my 20s. I chose to become a single mother despite multiple fertility issues and multiple pregnancy losses. I chose to become a single mother every time I drove to the clinic, every time I injected myself with hormones and anticoagulants, approximately five year’s worth between them. My life is full with these two in it, precisely in the ways I’d hoped.
But those moments like last night, when the baby’s crib broke exactly as I was changing his sheet to put him in bed, and I found myself barking orders at the big kid to watch her brother, to hold this piece, and where the hell is that allen wrench…it would have been good to have another adult around. Not necessarily a romantic partner, but someone larger and more mechanically inclined than a five-foot-tall woman, no less a child. What I need, not just metaphorically, is another pair of hands.
In myriad ways, our culture is so predicated on a two-parent (and, yes, heteronormative) division of labor that it’s those small mundane disruptions I find incredibly challenging. Not really parenting per se, although these blips undoubtedly affect the way I parent and the particular stresses that I am under.
Item: When my daughter wants to take a gymnastics class that goes until 8:30 at night, my answer is a predicable “no.” She has a baby brother who needs to be in bed and, well, paying a babysitter to stay with him or pick her up more than doubles the cost of the already expensive class (why any 9-year-old should be in a gymnastics class that runs up against bedtime is another issue entirely).
Item: Our front yard went an entire season only being mowed once, because mowing a lawn with an infant strapped to your chest isn’t exactly the safest practice.
Item: I have only taught one graduate class in my department because the expectation has been that these sorts of things should be scheduled at night and, beyond the cost of additional childcare, I would rather my children not go an entire day—literally—without seeing a parent.
Those are the sorts of things I could not have anticipated all those years ago when I sat down in front of the skeptical fertility specialist and said, yes, I want to do this now, and yes I really do understand it will be difficult. Partnered parents undoubtedly face similar challenges from time to time, but generally speaking, there’s a safety net in place.
So, I cobble together other arrangements, the clichéd village that people talk about. The morning after the crib broke, my daughter’s friend’s father came over, and within five minutes we had the last side popped on. Or, I call a friend when I have a sick kid to see if she can cover my class or watch the sick one. But those are stop-gap measures that I am both incredibly grateful to have as back-up and also incredibly reluctant to rely on. My friends (many of whom are themselves single mothers) have their own challenging lives; they don’t need my stresses on top.
What I say here now is undoubtedly colored by 22 months of sleep deprivation (yes, even sleep training goes better when there is another parent, a non-lactating parent, involved), but I am exhausted from doing it all. It’s not the parenting that’s so hard to do solo, it’s all the stuff that surrounds it, the homeownership, the grocery shopping, the needing to work to make money to pay for the gymnastics and the hypoallergenic formula and whatever else they need.
For the past few days I’ve been spinning a fantasy. If I had all the money I could imagine, I would have someone to do our laundry and mow the lawn and make all the phone calls that go along with owning a home, to take care of the leak in the basement and the bats in the walls. I would have a live-in childcare provider, so I never had to worry about a kid getting sick from—and then not being able to return to—daycare, and if I really couldn’t sleep I could let someone else take care of my son in the night. I would write. I would enjoy my children. I would take them to the park at 6:30 pm without thinking about how the dishes would get done.
Don’t get me wrong: I recognize how lucky—indeed, how privileged—I am to have two healthy children, a house in a good neighborhood, caring friends and family, enough money for extras like gymnastics and not just the bare necessities of food and clothing. I would not have chosen to become a single mother if I could not have supported my family, financially, practically, and emotionally.
Ten years in, I firmly believe that kids don’t need two parents, much less two parents of different genders, to thrive. But am loath to admit, I’m becoming more and more aware that households run more smoothly with more than one adult.
Robin Silbergleid is the author of the chapbook Pas de Deux: Prose and Other Poems (Basilisk Press 2006); her memoir about becoming a single mother by choice, Texas Girl, is forthcoming from Demeter Press. She lives in East Lansing, Michigan, where she writes, teaches, and raises her two children.