I’ve written a little bit about the fact my ex and I have been really getting along over the past half-year — being flexible with schedules, going for family dinners at restaurants with the kids and even chit-chatting about family or the news. This is invaluable for so many reasons: It’s wonderful the kids can see their parents acting kindly and supportive of each other (and not yelling at one another in the lobby of their apartment building while the cool jewelry-designer mom I want to be friends with scoots by. True story.), and it makes my life so, so much easier to not spend negative energy fighting with my kids’ dad.
The other ginormous benefit is that I have actual support. Case in point: Both last week and this week I face an unusually busy work schedule involving evening and very-early morning events. That my ex takes the kids off-schedule overnight is huge: I don’t have to worry about coordinating or paying a babysitter, and I know they are in safe hands at Daddy’s house. When I can, I return the favor.
I admit that it has been a process. There have been times over the past five years of being in a divorced family that I really could have used that kind of help — but did not ask him for it. Part of it was that early on, he was simply not reliable, for reasons that are not his fault and I wrote a bit about here. Also, I could be spiteful. The message was: “I’m not going to ask you for help because I can’t count on you.” I was angry.
The other reason was pride. I get something out of being able to say — to others, or even myself — I’m a single mom and I DO IT ALL.
You likely do that, too, and I don’t blame you. For one, we live in a culture that celebrates suffering. This is America! We are pioneers and boot-strappers and life is hard and we we suffer through! I’ll never forget watching Oprah years ago and she said, to uproarious applause (because she is a genius connector who knows her audience): “Being a single parent is the hardest job in the world. I can’t imagine.” The message the world tells us is: You have it so tough. You suffer. And I admire you so much for it.
The other reason you and hold on to the notion I do it all is because a whole lot of days I feel like I do it all! I’m making the money and the lunches and the dentist appointments and the swim lesson booking. It’s a lot. It’s fucking hard a lot of days.
But I don’t really do it alone. Especially not now that my ex is a bigger part of the picture. I raise these kids with him. I do it with the help of aunts and uncles and grandparents who, even though they may not be involved logistically, love my kids. That is a lot. Also, there are many, invaluable teachers and drum instructors and T-ball coaches. There are neighbors who remark about ohmygodlookhowbigtheyare! and crossing guards who feign interest in missing teeth and friends who knew the kids since they were babies and the kids know to listen when — even though I’m standing right there — that they need to listen when the friend yells at them because their mom is just so tired she can’t deal.
You and I also play the I’m a single mom and I do it all card because I’m protecting my tender heart, and you are, too. Because you can’t get to this point and not been horrifically disappointment by others. Abandoned. He was supposed to be there. Every day. We were supposed to be a couple, and have these babies together and he was going to make most of the money and I would deal with the house stuff and we were not going to be like both our parents and get divorced. We were going to be better.
But that didn’t happen. He left. And I had to do a whole lot of it alone, for a long time. Just like you. Just like so, so, so many single moms.
So if I embrace help if I fully recognize all the people I rely on and depend on and who are so important, even if it is just because they love my kids, well then I have to recognize how vulnerable I’ve made myself. Vulnerable to being let down. Again. Because that, THAT, that was the hardest part of all.
But I do. I did. And I want you to, too. Accept help. Embrace that help. you need it. You cannot do this alone! You cannot raise children by yourself — nor should you. Nor should any of us celebrate such staunch independence.
There is support there. In your neighbors and friends. Maybe in your ex.
But you have to let go. Let go of anger. And pride. And phony ideas about what is good in us. Suffering is not good. Strength in numbers, found in being vulnerable — that is what is strong.
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Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.