Every major holiday offers the opportunity to look back and see how far I’ve come over the past year. Facebook’s “on this day” feature makes this easy, and, finally, the memories I see pop up are ones of security, peace, and optimism, rather than the of turmoil, confusion, and heartbreak of previous years.
That is not to say that my parenting life currently is all roses. Previous Mother’s Days have shown disintegrations – broken relationships, broken spirits, uncertainty, and overwhelm – but this Mother’s Day trip down memory lane reveals that my hardest parental challenge to date took place this year.
I’m referring to my transition out of single motherhood.
At the time when it happened, I thought becoming a single mother would be the most difficult experience of my life. That transition brought with it an all-encompassing fear and heavy emotion on which I surfed for my daughter’s first two years of life. Survival mode is a powerful thing. It keeps you moving, but robs you of the ability to be present and savor certain parts of your parenting experiences. I was only a single mother for two-ish years, but in this case, that was my child’s entire life.
Parenting as a single parent was all I really ever knew. I was the breadwinner, the housekeeper, the caregiver, and everything else that encompasses parenting, both working and stay-at-home. People who know me know my story of carting my infant child to and from work every day for two-plus years, an experience which embedded autonomy and independence into my very DNA.
In a lot of ways, specifically those with regard to our safety and our future, becoming a single mother was largely about taking control. But transitioning out of single motherhood is about relinquishing it, and that feels infinitely harder.
I spent the first full year of my relationship with Jordan slowly acclimating Molly to him. Eventually, we decided to move in together, but still maintained strict boundaries around parenting. A while back, I explored this dynamic in a post called My Boyfriend Is Not A Babysitter. It was important to me that those lines did not become blurred, and that I continued to be Molly’s one and only parent in our home. The duty to provide for her, the responsibility of disciplining her, and the weight of nurturing her lay squarely on my shoulders, and mine alone.
Through the natural course of events, as our relationship has become more established, he has stepped into much more of a coparent role. This seems to have been a pretty natural transition for him and Molly, but very often it has been a difficult and frightening one for me.
The first time Jordan put Molly in time out, even though he had my full permission and support to do so, I went to the other room and cried. He was gentle with her, never raised his voice, and made sure to reconnect with her after her sentence was over, but still, allowing him to step into the role of disciplinarian was terrifying.
We’ve had many conversations about how Molly will be raised. Some things – like not spanking, for example – were decided long before Jordan came onto the scene, and the only choice for him was to agree to those terms or choose to not coparent. Other things, like hiring a babysitter or buying her new clothes have become joint efforts.
Jordan and Molly have a healthy, stable relationship. He is nurturing, strong, and loves that little girl with his whole heart. He prioritizes harmony with her father, and he always defers to me on big decisions and situations.
But despite these good things, after knowing for her entire life that I was the one who kept her safe, that I was the one who made decisions about her future, that I was the one raising her has made relinquishing any amount of control over her life excruciating.
I suspect this transition will go on for a while longer. I have hope that one day soon I will watch Jordan parent Molly on the same level as I always have without the twinge of fear or a need for control. In the meantime, we continue to talk about it, and he continues to offer me patience and grace.
Happy Mother’s Day, all.