I was a single parent for 10 years before I met my husband. I had plenty of time to settle into life without a partner and my daughter was quite content as an only child at the receiving end of all my attention. Despite her contentment, however, finding a husband was my goal from her first year of life when I found myself single and raising an infant on my own.
I thought I needed a husband. I thought my daughter needed to be brought up in a two-parent household to be a happy kid who would one day become a well-adjusted adult. As she grew older, I felt horrible when kids her age talked about their dads; when we read bedtime stories I even skipped the parts where they talked about the character’s dad or changed him to an uncle or granddad. I couldn’t wait for the day I would get married and she would have the instant family I felt she should have. As a single, working mum, I assumed that there was no way I could be giving her enough.
I dreamed of having an extra adult in the house, too. I vividly remember the day I cried when I realised I needed to take out the rubbish because I just didn’t want to be responsible for one more thing in my house that day. Another adult meant adult conversation and someone else to share my pile of responsibilities with.
But then I got married and I had more children. My daughter went from being an only child to the oldest with a step-dad and half-siblings. There were parts of her life that changed for the better but overall I realised that her days of having “just” a mum weren’t so bad. See, I spent years worrying that I wasn’t enough for my daughter, and here’s the thing: I was selling myself short. I worked hard to be the mum she needed and her uncles and granddad were great male role models. She wasn’t lacking anything during her life with a single parent. In fact, there were some advantages to being a single parent, including these:
1. Every day was full of guaranteed one-on-one time. She never once had to vie for my attention on a long car ride or at the dinner table. We had plenty of years of togetherness and she wasn’t interrupting adult conversation when she had a two-hour-long story that just had to be told.
2. There was no negotiating parenting styles. Who knew parenting with a partner involved so much compromise? Whatever I decided was best was what I did. From bedtime to mealtime I called all the shots and she couldn’t head to the other parent for an answer she liked better when she didn’t love what I had to say. I had a big learning curve when it came to parenting my younger kids with another adult’s opinions to consider!
3. She and I were a team. Without another adult in the house, it was a given that we worked together to keep the household running. We cooked together, we cleaned together (sort of), and we had evening adventures to the supermarket because that was the only way I could get food shopping done. Some of the things I thought were a burden for her actually ended up being her favourite memories.
4. I learned that I could do anything. Starting parenthood without a partner gave me an empowering feeling that has stayed with me through my marriage. As a single parent I didn’t rely on a man for anything. Once I actually had a husband, not taking out the rubbish every week or cutting the grass felt like such a bonus! Doing everything myself for so many years made me an independent woman who didn’t need help but appreciated it when it was offered.
My daughter is 21 now. When we talk about the days of just the two of us she doesn’t remember missing out on a thing. She laughs over the time we got the Christmas tree stuck in the doorway and the day I climbed through the window because I locked us out. She remembers fondly how I fell asleep before she did every New Year’s Eve.
As parents, married or single, we’re always worried about whether we’re doing this parenting thing right. I wish I had known then that I was enough, that she didn’t need two parents, three siblings, and a dog to have a happy life. She was happy and healthy and fed and bathed and loved enough by one parent to never realise her mum thought she needed two.