There are certain phrases you should never say to a single mother.

If you ask where her husband is, and she says, “I don’t have a husband,” don’t say “I’m sorry.” Definitely stay away from “Wow, that must be really hard.” And don’t assume she wants to be set up with “that single dad you know” who also has kids and would totally want to multiply his stress by dating another single parent with kids.

Parenting is hard, with or without a partner. You may not always have the choice when it comes to finding yourself suddenly single parenting, but you do have a choice in how you approach your new life.

I’ve come across my fair share of man-bashing-oh-it’s-so-hard single mom blog posts. I even blew a copy editing opportunity with a major publisher because the editing test they gave me was a whiny post of “tips” for single moms to cope with parenting. I replaced “mom” with “parent” and deleted all the male-bashing and pity-party comments. That was a big mistake in the mommy blogging world.

The truth is, it’s not all bad.

You call the shots in your home. There’s no other adult to disagree or negotiate with you. There’s nobody to judge you or for you to resent when your partner isn’t pulling his or her weight.

You want to sit on the couch and binge-watch six hours of bad TV while eating a pint of ice cream on the couch? You got it. Too tired to do the dishes that night? Let them fester in the sink until the morning. The recycling that’s piled up is your own damn fault. Take it out.

I never set out to be a single parent.

I had the dream wedding with the ballerina dress, flowers, candles, and best party of my life. The girl who grew up with a single mom met the boy who grew up with the single dad. We righted our wrongs.

We traded in our ranch-style California home for a farmhouse on ten-acres at the end of a dirt road in rural Vermont. If ever there was a couple ready to have kids, it was us.

Except we couldn’t. And we didn’t.

Five years of surgeries and fertility treatments will do a number on your marriage, but for me it was worth it. The best moment of my life was the day my daughter was born.

It was also the day I realized that for my husband, the reality of being a father was not as appealing as the dream of being a father.

When my daughter was 18-months-old, he moved back across the country. The split literally happened overnight, leaving me without time to prepare for my new life as a single parent.

This is when it was hard. This is when I made a choice.

I could get on a plane with my kid and abandon all of my responsibilities, or I could do right by my daughter and create some semblance of stability and familiarity in the midst of instability.

I chose the latter.

To be honest, the beginning was profoundly hard. It was a blur of daily panic attacks and crying in the shower at night after my daughter was asleep.

Our first winter alone was the toughest.

One night the snow was packed so high around our home, our two dogs kept leaping over the fence. I had to shovel around the perimeter, so they wouldn’t run into the woods.

I shoveled outside for hours while my daughter slept in her crib. Every few feet I stopped to move the baby monitor to the next fence post. Then I tucked the baby monitor into the cup holder of our pickup truck, as I plowed up and down our long driveway.

Post snow removal, I transitioned to my next job grading papers. Waking up late with my face stuck to Romeo and Juliet essays, I knew I had to suck it up and ask for help.

Always stubborn and independent, I didn’t want to be pitied or judged. I wanted to do it on my own.

But my life changed when I accepted my new role as a single parent. It was okay to lose my home and old life. It was okay to ask for help.

I hired a babysitter to come to my home for the first time. She watched my daughter on the weekends, while I sold furniture, chainsaws, appliances, and packed the house up. I learned to share resources where I didn’t have money. My neighbor could use my plow and gas to clear his driveway in turn for plowing ours.

We moved to the city and downsized to a condo. Life got easier and at some point, life was better than it had ever been.

We became a complete family, her and me.

I had more love in my life alone with my daughter than I’d ever had. She was always happy when I dropped her off at daycare or school and always happy when I picked her up. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

This was our life for four fun-filled years. I grew to love my autonomy as a parent and deepen my understanding of what family means.

Then three years ago we met someone. He didn’t feel sorry for us. He didn’t try to save us. He didn’t even want to have kids.

But he fell in love with us. He chose us. He chose to be a father to my kid. He’s shown us what it means to be a good father and partner and earned the right to be a part of our little family.

I recently read a post about single parenting called “For a Single Mother, an Alternate Reality” by Rosie Leonetti. It was the first time I read a post about single parenting I could identify with completely. Leonetti honors the guilt and mourning for a life lost, but recognizes and celebrates a new life gained.

Single parenting is an alternate reality.

It’s not always the path you set out for yourself, but once there it’s your path to navigate as you choose. Nobody need say, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” There’s no need to set you up or bring more kids into your life. You can have a complete life on your own, a rich one filled with daily joy and love.

If I had to go back in time, I wouldn’t do anything different. Single parenting made me a stronger, better mother. It made me choose a better partner. It made my life more complete.