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The Loneliness Paradox

One of the first pieces I wrote about was how hard parenting, specifically, single-parenting is for me. You can find it here: Harder Than I Thought. I’m grateful to have witnessed how much that piece resonated with others who read it. Yep. This raising up of human persons stuff is hard! There is one particularly vulnerable aspect of the challenge of being a single-parent that has been on my mind a lot lately. It’s the loneliness of it all. Before I had a specific plan about how I would become a mother, I knew that mothering was a definite part of my bigger life plan. Early on in my life I envisioned marriage and children. As the years passed and none of the Mr. Right Thens turned into Mr. Right, the idea of becoming a single parent became more and more of a likely path for me. There was a very awkward conversation about my dating life and lack of prospects with my then gynecologist right around the time I turned 35. I resisted single-parenting for a long time because, though I had no real clue, I knew it would not be easy. Innocently, my worries were all of the practical parts of how hard it would be to be a single-parent. Silly things like, who brings the baby in when I have a trunk of groceries? Do I bring her/him in and leave them while I ferry bags back and forth? What about when I have important obligations? How do you find a reliable sitter? But then about 8 years ago I saw something on one of my favorite (well before it jumped the shark) shows, Glee. In the story arc, the character Rachel’s birth mom, Shelby, played by the fabulous Idina Menzel, had reappeared and decided to adopt Puck’s little girl, Beth. So, there’s a scene with Rachel and Shelby in which the mom is reflecting on her experience as a single mom. In that scene she says something about how lonely being a single parent is, about how it’s actually not the tough times but the happy times that are the hardest. Of all the storylines and big moments on that show, I’m sure no one remembers that but me. That scene struck me deeply. It was the first time I ever even considered the emotional toll of single parenting. Shocking as that may seem, I just had never thought about it from that perspective. I think my confidence in my desire of being a parent had never given me a moment’s insecurity about the role. Yet, that scene gave me pause for sure. However, as with almost all parts of parenting, you don’t know the half of it all until you’re in it. Obviously, it didn’t change my decision to become a mother. There are many decisions in life I’ve chosen that I have enjoyed and benefited from but in all honestly, didn’t come from a deep sense of conviction that it was 100% what I wanted. Motherhood is a distinct exception for me. In all iterations of how I envisioned my life over the years, parenthood remained an immovable fixture in that picture. So, while my lack of a committed relationship dictated my circumstances a single parent, my choice to be a parent had always been set in stone as far as I was concerned.

So, I chose to be a single parent. Of course, I had a moment of anxiety and doubt when I was pregnant that I think most first time mothers have. The “holy crap! Am I REALLY GROWING A HUMAN BEING IN ME?!?! We’re stuck together forever! This is it!” moment. My best friend will tell you the story of my looking at her over dinner one evening when I was well and 6 whole months pregnant and saying, “I don’t think I can do this.” Her response was as common sensical and steady as I’ve always known her to be. She looked down at my belly for the briefest of a second and said, “Well, dawg, it’s too late for that. Finish eating.” (I love her.) Beyond that blip, my entire pregnancy I remained absolutely in love with being a mommy. Loved it! As sick as I was and as hard as it was to bring her into the world, there was no doubt or hesitation for me beyond that one moment. I live in a city with no blood family and do not co-parent with my daughter’s father. He is a known entity in her life, a fact I deeply treasure for her, but he doesn’t have any influence, input, or contribution to how I raise her. My closest blood family is a 4-hour drive away to the east or north on a good day. Certainly, I have been blessed to cultivate a beautiful, loving, supportive, and affirming village of chosen family here in Houston and virtually through several close friends. So, even though I’m an only child who’s never married, Asha has many TiTis, Uncles, and cousins. I tap into my village on a regular basis for comfort, affirmation, and guidance. But at the end of the day and every morning when we wake, it’s me and my girl. We’re a family of two — and there’s a 37 year age difference between us. While I am closer to her than probably anyone else in the world, the relationship is imbalanced. We’re not peers. Not even friends really. Yet, I spend 80–90% of my time with her and about 175% (Yes,this is a mathematical impossibility. Sit in my hyperbole for a minute, will ya?) of my time thinking about her.

The truth of the matter is that the loneliness of it all is the hardest part for me.

Single parenting is some weird paradox of hardly ever being alone but frequently feeling lonely.

While I think my personal circumstances exacerbate this experience for me, I get the sense that I’m not singular in this phenomenon as a single parent. Loneliness is always lurking. It’s in the big, loud moments and the little, quiet ones too. It’s the times when I am stressed because of work or some other life event and I desperately wish I could just tap out for a second because I KNOW I don’t have it in me to give her my best but no one else is there. Yet, it’s also the sweet moments of heart-wrenching adorableness that only I get to witness. Though those moments are no less real, I oftentimes wish there was someone else here to bask in the sheer beauty of the moment, to live in that joy with me as it’s happening. When my baby sings me a song she “just made up mommy!” and it is a super sweet love song with a decent melody and some rhyme structure (had to brag on my babe for a quick sec). When she tells me, with hands on hips, “It’s ok mommy. I’m confident. I’ve got this.” When she has her first school performance and I’m the only one from our village who’s there in the audience. I REALLY want someone who is as tied to and bonded with her as I am to be there to witness the purity of these moments. So, for me, these moments come with a constant ache of bittersweetness. Internally I wonder: Who’s going to help me remember all of this later? Who’s going to help me remember this x number of years down the line when I need affirmation that she really will be able to face down whatever new challenge she’s encountering because she’s defeated them all before? Yes, I use about every form of communication from text to Facebook to FaceTime to share and chronicle as many of these moments as I can but it’s not the same. It’s not the same in the way that a reenactment of any kind is not the same as the actual moment. It’s not the same in the way that a picture only captures the moment in stillness but not in its real vibrancy. And that all makes me incredibly lonely in those moments.

I have and never will regret my choice to become a single parent. She, in all of her complexity, is the single greatest joy of my life. Yet, I also realize the divine intelligence of why it takes two humans to make a baby. Parenting really isn’t meant to be done in isolation. There needs to be at least two people there to fully appreciate, embrace, experience, and contain the enormity of the experience of raising a child. I remain hopeful that I’ll have a partner at some point. Someone in our lives who will be there to share and witness those precious moments, who will tag in when I need to tag out, who will handle her with as much love and care as I give her, as she deserves, and as she needs. But for now, I live in the paradox.

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