I'm a single mom—well, sort of.
I'm a sort of single mom. It's complicated. I'm not really sure what to refer to myself as.
Getting divorced does that to you. It takes everything you know to be true—all of the million tiny decisions you've made to build a life and an identity—and it smashes them to bits. Seemingly trivial things like living room throw pillows and patterned dish towels aren't just the background noise of your daily minutiae anymore. Instead, they've become stakes in your personal battlefield; marked his or hers, they are either packed up or left behind.
I never thought I'd be getting divorced. It certainly wasn't the life I envisioned for myself when building my family. As I planned our wedding, bought and decorated our first home, and gave birth to our child, my identity became inextricably linked with these milestones.
Everything from the pattern of our wedding china to the curtains in my daughter's nursery felt like a reflection of our family and myself as a wife and mother.
Sure, there were times, particularly in those hazy postpartum days, that I struggled with my evolving sense of self. I was exhausted and managing new hormones, but I was a mother and no lack of sleep could change how amazing that felt. I wore my motherhood like a badge of honor.
It never occurred to me that it could all change.
When my marriage reached its tipping point, I knew that there would be difficult days ahead. As my ex-husband and I disentangled ourselves from one another legally and emotionally, I began the painfully complicated process of picking up the pieces of my shattered identity. I was no longer a wife. Even worse, I was an ex-wife. I was the satirical equivalent of the the Wicked Witch of the West.
With my decision to divorce, I lost a husband, several mutual friends and an extended family that I cherished.
I took on the stigma of being divorced at 30, with all the salacious gossip and rumors that accompanied it. I steeled myself for the storm and rode every wave that hit me with as much grace and courage as I could muster.
However, what I hadn't prepared for was the effect it had on my identity as a mother. It has been a transition that rocked me to the core. I poured over articles on how to tell your toddler about divorce and the best joint custody plans for 2 year olds. I ordered co-parenting books off Amazon and dutifully read “Alex Has Two Houses" to my sweet girl every night those first few months. I attended parenting classes and counseling sessions. It was all I could do to minimize the effect my decisions would have on her outlook.
Lucky for all of us, our daughter is young enough that she'll likely never remember a time when she didn't have two homes. Her “normal" will always be a continuous rotation of Mommy Days and Daddy Days, where she gleefully shares her time with both of us.
And therein lies the toughest part of all. My ex-husband and I share equal custody of her. I've gone from being a full-time, 24/7 mother to...?
I hesitate to say I'm a single mom, because technically, I'm not. My child's father is very much in the picture. He's an active and contributing factor in her life. But then I pause again. He's not an active part of my day-to-day life with her. When it's Mommy Day, it's all-Mommy-all-the-timeall-Mommy-all-the-time. There is no one there to tap me out on an especially difficult toddler day so I can hide in the bathroom and cry. And conversely, there's no teammate to high-five in celebration after she nails a new milestone.
It's a strange thing when you realize that although you've created a life with someone, you're no longer going to experience it together. Over the past year, I've continuously questioned what this new method of motherhood means to me.
Some days, I'm absolutely crushing it. Dinner's on the table, laundry is done and there's still time to throw an impromptu tea party in our pajamas. Other times, it's more of a marathon and I'm hitting the wall. I feel weak, wracked with guilt over the life I'm providing for my daughter. There's never enough time in the day and I can either finish my work, do chores around the house, or give my daughter the quality time she needs in those few precious hours between day care and bedtime... but I can't possibly do all three.
It is there, in trying to strike a balance, that I feel the most alone.
In those moments, I am faced with a choice. There is an internal identity crisis that happens in the blink of an eye, where I must choose what kind of mother I want to be. Every time, the answer is the same: I want to be the best one I can in that moment.
It's about being kind to myself and practicing patience. No parent—married or divorced—has it figured out all the time. My daughter feels loved and has acclimated to her new normal with the inspiring resilience only children exhibit.
That is what matters to me.
So am I a single mom?
Maybe. Maybe not. Guess it depends who you ask. I do know without a doubt that I am my daughter's mom.
I am an army of one with the determination of a thousand.
I will love and work and play with every ounce of myself, because that's what she deserves and that is who I want to be for her. It's taken me a while to get here but lately when I look in the mirror, I no longer see a woman standing alone.
Instead, I just see myself and I like what I see.