Disclaimer: This piece is based solely on my own personal experience of being a single mom holding down a full-time employment while raising three daughters, one of whom is a child with special needs.
I don’t know exactly when my marriage started to crumble but I knew it was crumbling. I felt it cracking under my feet even as early as after the birth of my second daughter. In our 18 years of marriage, we went our own way twice, once for more than 2 years.
Each time, I initiated the reconciliation in the hope that we will work things out. And in the first few months, it does seemed to be working. We were more understanding, more tolerable of each other’s faults. But eventually it crumbles again.
People say it takes leaving a marital home or finalizing a divorce that one becomes a single parent. So I guess I am a single parent on the basis that I left the marital home.
Once I left, and saw the situation that I was in from ‘outside’, it was clear to me that I was doing nearly all the parenting the whole time I had a husband, and that I made the right decision to leave an empty, unhappy marriage.
It also changed how I saw mothering. Single mothering to be exact. It has not been easy. Or simple. It probably never will. But I love the family and the home I am creating with my three daughters.
Most of all, I am glad I am becoming the mother I had always wanted to be. To make it through each day, I have learned, re-learned and run with some advises thrown at me, since I chose the path of single-motherhood.
Below are the ones I have made my mantra.
Don’t be sorry. Be grateful.
I didn’t wish for separation neither did I plan on having to explain why Mommy and Daddy are not together anymore. When I stood in front of that alter many years ago, I never thought I will be taking this path. Undoubtedly it has not been simple, swift nor was it without tears. Yet, I am happier and have a bigger life than I could ever dreamed of those early years of marriage. Although taking that path of single motherhood made my daughters part of the statistics in marital breakdown, I am thankful for having the courage to move from a hard place to a much better place. It is a realization that it is a blessing, even though we don’t always remember that we have it all along.
Stop with the family stereotype
I take great pains in ensuring that my daughters are exposed to the many different sides of what a family looks like. Families with two moms, transracial children, single parents. These families are showing my girls that a dad, a mom and two siblings don’t necessarily make up a family. And more importantly, it hardly means happy-ever-after. And they are also learning that our family photo – mom and three beautiful daughters, may change. Their dad’s too. And that thought has helped us embrace the evolution that could come our way.
I am constantly preparing myself to find the right answer to those hard questions of life
My daughters are ‘old enough’ to know what’s going on. But they are still too young to fully understand why adults do what they do. So I continuously prepare myself for when those hard questions about life comes. I have read, asked and prayed. And I know the right responses would come if I let them. I am sure the questions and my answers would change with the time, so I trust the love, understanding and compassion from my daughters will guide the sentiment.
Goodbyes will be happier from now on
I told their father my decision in the morning. By afternoon, I was out of the house I have called home the last eight years with the most basic of necessities. Between that morning to the moment I stepped out for the final time, there were tears, shouting, accusations, even threats. From then on, I told myself the next time my daughters say goodbye, it will be tinge with the feelings of happy “see you later”.
The cure for almost anything is to laugh. Really loudly
Once, watching the Korean variety show Running Man, I laughed so hard I had tummy-ache and tears running down my cheeks. It was also the time when my eldest, laughing along with me, said, “Mom, I have not seen you laugh so hard for such a long time.” Hearing her say this made my decision all worth it.
I left a marriage that was not only emotionally empty, but was in financial ruin. I knew hubby was in debt but he had always left out the details from me. Whenever I asked, I am made to feel that it was because of me – wedding costs, my wedding gown etc, that put him there. This constant emotional-guilt was what made me stay that long. While his earnings goes to paying off his debts, I was the one who sees to the day-to-day financial needs of the family.
Until one day I asked myself; for how long do I have to live like this? I know I am not without guilt in this aspect. But I also deserve to be in the know – how much needs to be paid, how much longer will the payment go on etc. I was getting none of it. I was on a boat ride without knowing when we will get off. I was kept in the dark. So I decided to withdraw my support. I left.
Now, as a single parent, I am acutely aware of how much I have, how much I can spend, how much I can save. I know where my money go, where it won’t go. Now I am in a boat ride with a clear destination in sight. I know how much ‘fuel’ I have and how far it will take me in my journey before the next re-fueling.
Here is my story. I wrote it. On my own
In 2015, we took a family photo. Me, my daughters, their dad. Those were ‘happy’ moments. In 2016, we took another family photo. This time it was just me and my daughters. I was still living in the marital home then. But it seemed that an argument a week earlier was made as a weapon by hubby to use against me. In retaliation for that argument, he refused to attend our annual family photo shoot. As much as he upset me and the girls – it was all pre-planned months before, the four of us girls went ahead and have our ‘family’ photo taken.
Seeing that picture now, I am reminded of the many moments when I had to go it alone. In that picture we looked fine; a family of four. Anyone who don’t know us would think of it as a normal family photo. That picture serves as a reminder to myself that I can do it alone. And it will, for many years to come.
How I choose to explain the choice I made to my daughters or even to those who feel it is their right to know, is where the beauty of single motherhood lies. Of course there have been tears, and even arguments. And it is not always laugh-till-I-cry moments either.
What I have learned instead, is that I can frame that family photo as beautifully as I can, using what comes in the moment. Whether we are going to laugh out loud at the silliest things, whether the tough questions on life will get the right responses, whether we will be heard, loved and embraced, will all be up to me.
Right now, what matters is the feeling of being blessed for the funny, amazing moments we encounter each day. The opportunity to re-write the definition of family as we build ours. The opportunity to build another when one crumbles.
Isn’t that life’s best lesson?