Three ways being a single mother made me a badass and a pain in the ass all at the same time

Being a single mom has made me kind of a badass, as it has done for almost every single mother I’ve ever met. But in a lot of ways, being a single parent messes with your mind and causes you to be more than a little bit of a pain to the next person who steps into partnership with you. Here are three ways I’m learning that my badassery is also kind of a thorn in the side of the people I love.

1. If I’m not running myself into the ground I feel like a failure

To be fair, this little bit of my neuroses started decades before I had my child, but being a single mother certainly didn’t improve upon the situation. 

Single moms intimately understand the reality of being overworked, overbooked, and overwrought 99% of the time. We are the breadwinners and the homemakers. The stay at home parent and the working parent. The disciplinarian and the friend. The good cop and the bad cop. 

So on the occasions when I find rest and margin in my life, it’s pretty easy for me to feel like I’m dropping the ball. Remember when finals week ended and school went on break and for the next 48 hours you had random panic moments wondering what you were supposed to be doing? That’s my life every time I get a chance to take a breath.

This is not always a bad thing. My stamina is pretty high. I’m pretty productive most of the time. But at least three or four times a week my boyfriend asks me to turn off my phone, close my planner, and just relax with him, and shutting it all down for an hour feels like an impossibility. I’ll get there.

2. I have zero patience for people who can’t get the job done

“Failure is not an option” never feels so real as when you become a single parent. There are a number of plates that have to keep spinning, no matter what. Your kid has to eat, has to make it to doctors appointments, has to wear clothes that (mostly) fit. There are a handful of things that can be put on the back burner, but not many. Single moms know how to get shit done, because we don’t have any other option.

So when I encounter someone who thinks that working part time is a lot, or who complains about how exhausted they are as a mom, despite having free grandma daycare on a regular basis, my hackles automatically go up. 

That’s not cool. It’s not fair to other parents for me to judge them based on my own standards of productivity. It’s not fair for me to compare my life to someone else’s, because I truly don’t know what their life looks like from the inside. It sucks, and it’s something I’m working on killing in myself.

3. Transitioning out of being a single mother sometimes feels horrible

I was a single parent of my daughter for the first two years of her life. Even long after I started seriously dating my boyfriend, it took a while for me to make the transition from dating-single-mother to being someone’s partner again. Nowadays, I don’t identify as a single mother anymore, because I know my boyfriend is here to stay, and he does a great job of coparenting my daughter with me.

Our home dynamic has changed with the addition of my boyfriend. He is truly an equal partner with me in our home. He plays with Molly, keeps the house, cooks, does the grocery runs, and makes sure Molly is well socialized. All of this “should” make me feel really good and happy. But it doesn’t always.

When we bought a new car seat, he made the case that it should go in his car, because with me in school and working two jobs, she was more likely to be driven around in his car than in mine. The realization stopped me in my tracks. Relinquishing tight control of my daughter (and my status as her only full-time parent) was a much harder transition then I expected. 

I had built my identity so much on being independent and single that stepping back into a partnership almost felt wrong. Hilariously, I started to feel like less of a person for no longer being a single parent. 

There are a lot of things about my stint as a single parent that I am grateful for. It forced me to grow in areas like asking for help, speaking truthfully, and prioritizing my health. But it also instilled some not-so-great tendencies in me that I will continue to work through as my life evolves. It’s all a process. 

So here’s to patient partners and understanding children who put up with the badass pains-in-the-ass that are formerly single mothers. Cheers.


Our white children need pictures of black leaders on their walls

My entire life I have seen black and brown leaders celebrated for their accomplishments. I don’t recall a time where whatever racism I may have seen as a child was so overt that people of color were condemned or judged for reaching for the stars. The feedback from my family and my culture was generally positive when someone whose skin was different from my own did something remarkable.

But what I didn’t realize until I had a daughter was that even in celebration and recognition of the importance of representation, there was still a distinct sense that those heroes and heroines were somehow not valuable to me, or worth looking up to myself.

As a white woman, I have plenty of white heroes and heroines to look up to. I don’t need more inspiration. I don’t need more representation. But amazing people like Barack Obama, Mae Jamison, Martin Luther King Jr, Maya Angelou, and many others were introduced to me as representatives “for other people.”

It was as though they somehow maintained the “second rate citizen” status that antiracism sought to abolish, just by being “for the others.”

As though, being white, I didn’t need them. I shouldn’t bother. They were second-tier heroes for second-tier people.

“It’s so great for them to experience Barack Obama as president.”

“It’s so great for them to see Oprah Winfrey as successful as she is.”

It is undoubtedly a beautiful and powerful thing for children with dark skin to see people who look like them doing incredible things. It’s necessary, and it’s part of what will move our country out of a insidious antiquated age of racism and segregation.

But if our white children grow up believing that those darker skinned heroes are only valuable to darker skinned children, that “other” mentality will linger.

My white daughter needs pictures of black heroes on her walls if she is to grow up understanding that we celebrate differences in race and culture, in appearance, and that those differences have no bearing on a person’s worth.

My white daughter needs to learn about these powerful icons in her history who overcame obstacles she personally will never need to face by virtue of her fair skin.

Brown and black heroes in our past do not belong in a category labeled “for the others.” Their struggles and obstacles related to their race should be taught clearly and unapologetically. But our white children need to know that, even though these heroes faced racism and discrimination in a way white people don’t, they are not “other.”

Our white children need to be taught that black leaders are not second-rate, a consolation prize for the minority. That the black leaders, thinkers, heroes, movers, and changers in this world brought brilliance, inspiration, innovation, eloquence, and courage to the table that we should all strive to emulate.

My daughter needs to learn to look up to inspirational black people.

How I can be pro-choice and still love my daughter

“How can you be pro-choice if you are a mother?” 

I understand the emotion behind this question. I have heard women ask this question with tears in their eyes, in the middle of infertility struggles, or recovering from miscarriages. I have heard this question asked with anger in their voices they try and wrap their heads around the fact that I love my child and would fight for the rights of other women to, from their perspective, abort their own. There is a lot of pain in this question. And a lot of confusion.

But there is an answer too.

Most of the people who ask this question belong to the Christian community in which I live and relate. They believe that life begins when a heart starts to beat, or even earlier, at the point of conception. The problem I have with this theory is that it reduces my daughter to her heartbeat. But my daughter’s personhood is not contingent on her biological systems. 

Her personhood is in her humor, her tenacity, her ability to learn and grow and interact with the world around her. Her personhood is defined and demonstrated by her ability to feel pain and experience beauty, her brain’s ability to create and recall memories. Those are the things that make her my Molly. And these are all things, science tells us, that her tiny brain was not capable of until close to 25 weeks into gestation.

So before that 25-week-mark, I believe – based on my layman’s understanding of the scientific research I have been able to read – my daughter was not a person.

This is the point that causes so much pain and confusion. This is the point that invokes the tears. And if I end my narrative there, it leaves out what is possibly the most important aspect of my beliefs regarding personhood.

Namely, that long before my daughter was a person, I was her mother.

Long before her little synapsis began to fire, creating humanity inside a grouping of fetal cells, I loved her. I gave her a name. I made a place for her in my heart, and in my future, and in my home. I bought her a bed, clothing, food. I built for her a family, designating those around me as “grandma” grandpa”, “aunt” and “uncle.” I wrapped her in a blanket of tertiary personhood, woven of my love for her, until she was able to develop her own.

Mothers are the true creators in this world, not just because our biology allows us to create more autonomous biology, but because our hearts have the capability to bestow personhood on someone who does not yet exist. 

Ask my friend who adopted from overseas, and she will tell you that she loved her son with all her heart long before she knew that he was hers. Ask another who endured the horrors of a miscarriage very early in her pregnancy, and she will tell you that she still feels love for the child that never developed far enough to attain independent personhood. That child is still hers. That child is still real. That child is still deeply loved.

A mother’s love is a powerful force that transcends time and biology. It moves across oceans and creates life and personhood long before our biological systems do. My daughter’s heart beat did not give her life and humanity. I did.

I loved my Molly when she was an unfertilized egg resting deep inside my reproductive system. I loved her long before she implanted in my uterine wall, long before my hormones began to signal that my body was developing a fetus, long before I could watch that development happen on an ultrasound. She was a person to me, and I was her mother, long before her heart began to beat.

But not every woman who houses a fertilized egg is that fetus’ mother.

Just as women across the world use birth control to prevent natural processes in their bodies from initiating pregnancy, similarly, some women choose to abort the process of pregnancy before the developing fetus achieves its own personhood – before that tiny brain ever lights up at all.

They could bestow personhood on that fetus, but they choose not to do so. This is their right. The creator has the right to choose not to create.

I do love my daughter with every fiber of my being. I have loved her since long before she existed. I chose to create her as a person long before her physical form developed, long before her brain begin to function, long before she gained her own personhood. 

And I stand for the rights of women who choose, for their own personal, important, often private reasons, not to create. I can stand for these women, not despite my status as a mother, but because of it.

Because my daughter is so much more than her heartbeat.


In October of 1903, the women of London decided that they had had enough. Emmaline Pankhurst and her colleagues began a campaign of loud, aggressive, and often violent protests over the silencing of their voices and the inequality that they faced.

These women were told by their new prime minister that they needed to be “patient” and “civil” in their petitions, but patience, civility, and submissiveness had never gotten them the respect they demanded.

Five years later, Miss Nell and Olivia Smith chained themselves to the railing outside of Downing Street, as their fellow suffragettes, fighting under the banner of “Deeds, Not Words” committed acts of vandalism that were sure to get them arrested. They refused to bail themselves out of jail, and went on hunger strikes to prove the seriousness of their campaign.

In November of this year, a man who has been openly misogynistic, who has legitimized objectification of and violence against women was elected to be the leader of America. 10 days after that election, I asked my boyfriend to help me affix steel chains to my wrists. 

Each “bracelet” took about five minutes to put on, requiring two strong hands and two sets of pliers. These chains have no clasp. They do not slip over my hands. They will stay with me, day and night, through every shower, and every workout, and every class, and every work shift, until we no longer have a misogynist, admitted abuser, and a beacon for violent sexism in our oval office.

The fight for women’s equality has never been a pretty one, and the women responsible for the fact that I have the right to cast my vote – the right to own land, the right to choose whatever career I would like to pursue – were loud. They were aggressive. They were unapologetic. They were dramatic. They made grand gestures, and put themselves in the spotlight where they could not be ignored. They fought tooth and nail in the public arena so that I could have what I have today.

My daughter will be six years old when the president elect’s first term ends. She will be six years old before the first possibility that I could remove these. She will be six years old and never have a memory of me without them. My daughter will know, as will anyone who sees me and asks about my chains, that I will fight for her every single day until atrocities like the results this election cannot be duplicated. 

My boyfriend looked me in the eye, as he reached for the pliers to seal these chains around my arms, and asked, with all seriousness, “are you sure you want to do this?”

I’ve never been so sure.

We have four years. Four years to choose a leader worthy of our nation. Four years to take a stand, the way those early women did, and say “we will not be ignored.” Four years to force our country to take us seriously when we say that if you degrade us, if you act violently toward us, if you discriminate against us based on our gender, we will chew you up and spit you out.

We will not diminish the memory of our feminist foremothers. We will not fail to make them proud. 

It’s time to take up their chains.

Post-Evangelical Feminists: you are not crazy.

You’re going to feel crazy. 

If you haven’t experienced already, you will. When your friends and family, who you have revered perhaps your entire life as being wise, right, and accountable for your souls, tell you that modern feminism is greedy, you will feel like a crazy person. When your fathers, who have always been the final arbiter of spirituality and morality in your homes tell you that modern feminists are immoral hypocrites, you will wonder if it’s true. 

When your sisters tell you “We don’t need feminism anymore because we can already vote,” you will wonder if you are overreacting. When the men and women who have been your spiritual leaders tell you that your beliefs stem from a hatred of men, you wonder if they’re right. You wonder if you are delusional. You will wonder if you have gone off the deep end.

You haven’t. You aren’t. Stand strong.

And remember, when the doubts start coming your way, how the religion in which you were raised didn’t see themselves as woman haters, despite the fact that their holy book taught that women should be quiet in religious gatherings, that women should not have authority over men in any fashion, that women are to be meek and submissive. 

Remember that they did not see their beliefs as misogyny when they taught you to revere and follow a text that allows for the stoning to death of rape victims who cannot prove that they resisted. 

Remember that they did not see the patriarchy in their actions when they forced underage girls to stand up in front of their congregations and apologize for the sins of grown men commuted against them.

We are not the crazy ones.

Remember how you were when you were in the thick of it. Remember how isolated you were, growing up in that culture. Think back to how few friends you had who looked different from you, who believe differently than you did. Remember what a tiny fraction of humanity you actually experience in that bubble within a bubble.

And think of how far you’ve come. Think of the friends you have met since leaving that culture. Think of the transgender people, the marginalized people of color, the bullied and threatened gay and lesbian coworkers you have found, and the things that you have experienced as a woman once you took the step outside of that tiny circle and into the real world.

Think of the long, rich history of our country and our world, built and pioneered and developed and defended by women, who were then thrust into the dark, dusty back room of our history books. Women whose names you never heard in that culture, and probably never would have.

Think of those things, and next time that Stockholm Syndrome-like fear rises in your chest, taunting you with the idea that maybe you have gone crazy, cling tight to the reality of how big your world is now.

Maybe your friends and family are not hateful people. Maybe they dearly love you. If so, offer them compassion. Offer them kindness. Remember that you were once like them, and like them, you could not see outside of yourself.

Offer them gentle love, but demand respect.

And if you start to give into the fear, message me. Because we are always stronger together.

An Open Letter To My Family Who Supported Trump


Last night, just after my Google alert notified me that the new President-Elect had been chosen, I snuck into my daughter’s room. We recently transitioned her to a “big girl” bed – a twin mattress, upon which her two-year-old fame usually looks hilariously small.

But last night the sight wasn’t hilarious.

I stretched out on the covers next to her, and watched her tiny face as she slept, her little legs tucked under her body, her little arms crossed, just as she had been in the womb. I listened to her breathe as she dozed, perfectly peaceful and blissfully unaware of the shift we are all about to experience. And in my mind, as I studied her, I apologized. I apologized for our country. For the millions who cast a ballot for the man who will lead us in January. And I apologized for you.

You’ve given me your explanations, in your way. You’ve communicated your fears about a Clinton presidency. You’ve expressed your views of Trump’s powerful presence and no-nonsense opinions. Mom, you praised the way he could “say whatever he wanted” without repercussions, citing that trait as an admirable one. I don’t think it’s occurred to you that maybe he was “allowed” to voice such blatant violence because millions of Americans still have a deep-seated prejudice against people different from themselves. Maybe you didn’t see what I did: that he was “allowed” to continue in his loud hate because half of our country heard, in his voice, their own internal prejudices. Because he wore expensive suits, and had a supermodel wife, and stood in front of microphones, and said things the ordinary among them were not allowed to say.

Except now they can.

Dad, you expressed horror at his cavalier admittance of sexual assault, but said that Clinton had “enabled” her husband by supporting him before she discovered his guilt, which made her “no better” than Trump. You said that they are “at best equally disgusting and I would argue that she is worse than he is.” A little piece of our relationship died that day. As a woman who left an abusive marriage, I was heartbroken to learn that you would not only hold Clinton accountable for the sins of her partner, but consider her equal to an admitted abuser for standing by him.

But while you tried to argue that your vote for Trump wasn’t support of him, your decision, as it has historically done, came down to money. “She will sell us all down the river for another dollar,” you said, “wipe her mouth, and tell us to eat cake.” You claimed she was power-hungry, as though it as a claim that couldn’t be applied bilaterally in this election.

And all of this, you argued, was reason enough to overlook Trump’s faults, and cast your lot in with him. You summed up your position neatly with a cartoon, shared to your Facebook page, of Washington Post reporters straining at a molehill labeled “Trump,” while Hillary’s scandals loomed as large as mountains behind them.

As I held my sleeping baby girl, I thought about that molehill, which, in your opinion, was small enough that your conscience allowed you to cast a vote for that man.

I thought about the fear he fed dumping gallons of fuel on a fire that should never have been lit. I thought about my Muslim friends who, despite their deep religious convictions, are abandoning their hijabs out of fear for their lives. I thought about the lies he told, over and over and over, like a child who doesn’t have any understanding of modern technology or its fact-checking capabilities. I thought of the fact that your granddaughter’s healthcare is based on the good graces of the Affordable Care Act, which your candidate has pledged to repeal. I thought about the women who tried to step forward about abuse they had suffered at his hands, and who have been bullied into silence.

I thought about how economists who know what they are actually talking about have projected horrifying outcomes, should his policies play out. I thought about women across this country who may face death in a country without reproductive choice. I thought about my dear gay and lesbian friends who celebrated their marriages this year, only to have those unions thrown into uncertainty if Trump appoints the Supreme Court justice he wants. I thought about my Latinx friends who are terrified of losing their parents and grandparents to deportation.

And Trump. I thought about him. His venom toward an entire religion. His prejudice against entire races. His objectification of and violence toward women. His running mate, who thinks it’s okay to electrocute young queer people until they are “straight.” His supporters, the KKK and white supremacists, who looked at his policies and perspectives and adopted him as their champion.

I tried to imagine explaining to my tiny daughter, your granddaughter, how her grandparents, aunts, and uncles all voted to take away her health care, take away her right to choose, and take away her safety, should she discover one day that she likes girls rather than boys.

Should I tell her you were worried about your money? That keeping your tax dollars in your pocket (which won’t happen under Trump anyway) is more important that taking a stand against blatant misogyny? Should I tell her that you decided bragging about sexual assault and standing by an unfaithful partner were “equally disgusting?” Should I tell her that you allowed hate-fueled rhetoric to make you afraid of anyone different from you, so you agreed that it was safest to just deny America to those people?

Maybe you just didn’t see what he is. Maybe you were too steeped in your privileged race, your privileged sexuality, and your privileged religion, too isolated from anyone different from you, to hear all the marginalized voices screaming in fear to please don’t do this.

Or maybe you did see. Maybe you saw his racism, his xenophobia, his misogyny, his elitism, and his brutish, bullying ways, and you decided he was the lesser of two evils.

If that’s the case, then you have to understand that in good conscience, keeping you far, far away from my baby girl has to be the lesser of two evils for me.

Because no amount of fear is justification for racism in my home. No amount of suspicion is enough to vilify an entire religion in this family. No amount of tax money saved is worth repealing a woman’s rights to her own body, or a human’s right to healthcare. And any man who is able to brag about assaulting women, make lecherous and creepy comments about his own daughter, and face multiple accusations of violent rape is fit to be my cab driver, let alone my president. For the rest of my life, when you try to insist that you “don’t support” this man, who is the walking embodiment of everything I hope to protect my child from, we’ll both know it’s bullshit, because you saw what he was, and you handed him the keys to the kingdom anyway.

You failed your granddaughter and niece this week. You dramatically changed the country in which she will be raised, and not for the better. And I’ll be damned if you are ever allowed to influence her further.

The Line Between Writing About Me and Writing About You


“I was sorry that particular essay hurt my mother’s feelings, but I knew that it was a strong, honest piece. I also knew that as a writer, if I started to censor myself for expressions that might upset someone, I could not write. My life, and all that has touched it, is the raw material in my work. It is the soil and the seed for my produce. With words, I only add water and keep it in a sunny spot until fruition. So my intent in writing is not offense, it is growth. That’s my best apology.”

-“Raw Material” by Valerie Shultz featured in A Cup of Comfort for Writers

I’m writing a lot these days. A LOT. It’s an important part of the healing process for me (and frankly, cheaper than a therapist.) I believe in the power of the written word. Writing gives me the ability to not only express myself, but to be understood. I can rewrite a post half a dozen times, use a thesaurus, consult a friend, and proofread the final draft for a week before unleashing my thoughts on the world. These are things realtime conversations don’t allow.

When I write, I can’t be interrupted (unless, I suppose, you just close the window?) I can’t be talked over. And my readers know exactly what I said. No reframing my sentences. No mishearing. No gas lighting later.

But all the time and effort I put into my writing means I have an elevated level of responsibility for my words. It’s easy enough to say “I didn’t mean that. It was said in the heat of the moment.” When I write, that excuse isn’t open to me. I have to own what I say.

And that’s why telling my story is so, so hard. Because my story, unlike my thoughts, involves other people. People who may read this. People who might be friends, family, and loved ones. People who can see and be seen on my Facebook page.

I try hard not to name names when I talk about people who have hurt me, but some things are too obvious to hide. It’s not a leap to assume that when I talk about “the culture in which I was raised” my parents might factor into that culture. When I talk about my ex-husband, some of you have a name and a face to go along with the tale. Some parts of my story are impossible to address without dragging others into the spotlight a little.

I try hard to be respectful. Truly, I do. I try to give people their due, being clear to absolve blame where appropriate, and speaking about the good in my relationships as well as the bad. But the line between talking about me and talking about you is blurry.

The fact is that I can’t properly tell my story without all the characters. I didn’t get where I am today all on my own. I didn’t wake up one day with my thoughts and opinions having mysteriously blossomed in my brain. I – like everyone – am shaped by my relationships, past and present. That means in my story, you’re a character too.

My hope is that if you see yourself in the subtext of my story, you’ll understand that my perspectives are just that – my perspectives. I was told often in my childhood (hi Dad!) that “it’s not what you say – it’s what they hear.” People with loving, well-meaning, loyal, kind intentions can still impact you negatively. This doesn’t make them bad people. People who think they are being clear in their communication can still have their words misunderstood. I learned a lot of lessons no one ever meant to teach me, but their intentions didn’t prevent those lessons from taking root in my heart and shaping who I am.

So I ask that if you do read (and truly, you never have to), please read with a forgiving mind. Please read knowing that the nameless person I describe as having hurt me may have loved me with every fiber of their being, but that hurt still matters. It’s still who I am, and it’s still going to be a part of my story.

At the end of the day, I don’t believe that hiding your story and pretending hurts didn’t happen is healthy. I don’t believe that painting over the bad parts of life makes things okay. But I do believe that words can heal, and I’m clearing out my brain the only way I know how.

I love you all. Here’s to truth in love.