What it Means to Build a "Home"

I don’t have a home anymore. I have places where my heart belongs, and people I love in those places.

Home. I’ve grown up my whole life hearing phrases like “Home is where the heart is,” and “Home is where your story begins.” Many people don’t know how this feels, or they live in the same house with their families but it is not Home. For me, “home” was always this beautiful, close concept of being absolutely together with the people you love in a place that’s comfortable and safe. I was lucky enough to know this reality.
My family moved into what I grew up calling “home” when I was five. I lived there until I moved to Chicago to go to college, and moved back there when I graduated. I moved out again when I got married, and moved back in after that marriage disintegrated. I moved out again last summer, when the overwhelming force of turning 30 wouldn’t stop beating against me and I felt compelled to prove I was a grown up and could “make it” on my own. My license still bears this address and every now and then, when I tell my daughter we’re going to visit grandma, I refer to it as home.
With all that being said, I must tell you something. I don’t have a home anymore.
I don’t mean to say that I am homeless. I am not, as Juniper so aptly words it, “houseless.” I live in a house with my JuneBug, two dear friends, and a refugee from Eritrea. We move around each other and make meals together and share a kitchen and a bathroom and we make it work. We have a backyard and air conditioning and couches and happiness. But it is not my home.
I can easily go to my mother’s house, where I grew up, and stay overnight comfortably. I can get up in the morning and move around the house effortlessly, fix the coffee, make the breakfast, put things where they belong. Generally I feel like I could still belong within those walls. But it is not my home.
I don’t have a home anymore. I have places where my heart belongs, and people I love in those places. When I think of the concrete word “home,” I don’t think of a specific place because there isn’t one. Home isn’t a place.
My mother is home, and the way she holds me when she hasn’t seen me in awhile is home. Snuggling with my daughter in bed in the morning is home. Watching a movie on the couch with my boyfriend, whiskey in hand and a smile on my face, is home. Catching chickens and waiting out the sunset over vast fields of farmland with my dad is home. Sitting on the porch swings at my grandmother’s house, listening to the sounds of the universe and the creak of wood paneling that has seen three generations grow up, is home.
I’m starting to believe that I will never have a “home” again. I might move somewhere else, or change my address, or settle in somewhere, but the abstract concept of home will continue vanishing. Home isn’t where the heart is, or where your story begins, or even where you feel most comfortable. Home is where the memories live. Home is where you can feel vulnerable and safe all at once. Home is being loved and wanted and deeply felt by another human being. You could live in a box and still feel like you’re “home.” So, I will let this word remain empty, and instead soak up moments that I will look back on sometime later in life, and, as if looking a great distance through a telescope, realize I was building “home” all along.
This article was originally published on Diary of a June Bug.

What Does Single Motherhood Mean for Kids?

Surprise! A growing body of research finds kids in single parent households aren’t sentenced to lives of poverty, crime, or addiction.

The most common message to parents of all family types is that divorce is horrible for children, and all social ills are rooted in the recent surge in single motherhood, most especially unwed mothers (eek! Unmarried women having sex and babies!). If you’re inclined to unconsciously buy into this thinking (and therefore hold yourself back unnecessarily), do not under any circumstances google “Ann Coulter + single mothers.” Also, remove from your mind President Reagan’s admonishment of the “welfare queen” (whom no one was ever able to find, and who in fact was a propaganda construct), or George W. Bush’s $1.5 billion failed Healthy Marriage Initiative, aimed at curbing all the supposed misfortune rooted in the upward trend of unmarried moms.

Instead, a growing body of research finds that children who grow up in single parent households are not sentenced to lives of poverty, crime, or addiction simply by way of their parents’ marital status. In fact, by many metrics, the majority of kids who grow up with single mothers fare just as well as their peers raised in traditional, nuclear, two-parent households. For example, in one study of 1,700 children by Cornell University researchers, found that single mothers’ education levels and abilities as parents had far more influence on their children’s academic abilities than their relationship statuses or even incomes – and this was true for all races.

In fact, lots of research comes to the same surprising conclusion: It matters little the family structure that a child grows up in, though it matters a lot the dynamics of that family. For example, children whose parents have a high-conflict marriage fare better after their parents break up, and the vast majority of children of divorce do just fine within a few years of the split. One nationally representative study of all kinds of family types found that it didn’t matter if the children were adopted or if the parents were married, single, or remarried. What does matter, found the study, published in the National Journal of Marriage and Family, was whether the home was ruled mostly by harmony or by acrimony, and whether the children experienced a warm, secure environment or a cold and neglectful one. Research also found that children raised by single mothers tended to have closer relationships with extended family like cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, and other adults in their lives. This, I will argue, is something most Americans could use more of.

In other words, family is indeed what you make it, and you can create that warm, secure, and loving home life that is the springboard for a healthy child, regardless of what your family looks like. Just as you have countless opportunities to build a career and earn, you also have the freedom to build a family that you are proud of, to raise wise, thoughtful, hardworking, loving, and kind children. You can and will build not only a home life in which you and your children thrive, but a larger web of loved ones and community members who rise up and support you – and whom you support in return.

That said, I won’t sugarcoat this: There is plenty of very legitimate research that finds that children raised by single mothers are more prone to not-great outcomes, including teen pregnancy, dropping out of school, and incarceration. However, studies also point out that correlation does not automatically equal causation. In the most stark contrasts between kids raised by single mothers and those raised in two-parent households, when controlled for poverty, maternal depression, and lack of support, outcomes are more or less the same.

Another factor in the outcome for kids: All children fare better when both parents are actively involved and co-parent amicably. Many studies found that poverty associated with single motherhood is the common thread in families that fare worse than two-parent households – not the solo parenting in and of itself. It’s not rocket science why. With just one income and no second parent to help with childcare, single parents have to work more to pay for the basics, and have higher child care costs and fewer dollars for music and sports lessons, SAT prep tests, healthy food, or real estate in safe neighborhoods. Plus, poverty, or any financial hardship, is tied to depression, anxiety, and generally being a stressed-out mom with less patience for her kids and more arguments with the adults in her life.

One of the most cited studies about single mothers is the harm caused to children by the instability of boyfriends moving in and out of their home and lives. Leading researcher on single mother families Sarah S. McLanahan, of Princeton University, found that children raised by single mothers (who tend to be younger and poorer than married moms) are more likely to struggle academically because these single moms have less stable relationships with their children’s fathers, and men overall, with new boyfriends and their children moving in and out of the family home.

This research is important, and I urge you to heed it. However, do not let it scare you into celibacy, or shame you into sneaking or lying about your romantic life, or keep you up late worrying that decisions that led to this point have sentenced your children to a crappy life. Far from it.

Instead, this research highlights a mother’s relationship instability, which is within your control. The research is not about financially independent, unmarried moms who date a bunch of people without committing to them. The risks associated with partner instability have little to do with men who do not live in your house, who are not automatically designated boyfriends, and do not move in with their children or spur other major life changes that come with serious, committed relationships. The risk of negative outcomes for your kids, we can assume, plummets if you have a healthy attitude about romance, and if you are financially stable enough that you’re not compulsively tempted to cohabit out of financial destitution rather than healthy commitment to a shared future with a person you love.

Excerpted from THE KICKASS SINGLE MOM by Emma Johnson with the permission of TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Copyright © 2017 by Emma Johnson.

Navigating the Tricky Waters of Kids and New Partners

Once you’re divorced with a child, that is a background fact for the rest of your life. Nothing will change it.

I was scheduling a business lunch when I saw it – a reminder I’d placed in my calendar 10 months ago. I hadn’t thought about her in a while.

I never write in capital letters, but there it was, all in caps. A note setting a reminder for me, in capitals, marking the first anniversary of our meeting. I didn’t know at the time that it would be reduced to a mere forgotten event, a part of my past, but that’s what had happened. My first post-divorce relationship of consequence, and like many such relationships, it had failed. In spectacular fashion.

That wasn’t really what I had in mind when things started up between us.

What would have been our one-year anniversary fell on Friday, October 13th. I guess if I’d looked ahead and noticed that, I may have had a better sense of what was coming.

It began with one of those meetings that felt like kismet. I had a buddy who worked in a men’s store that featured high-end watches and pens. His new boss was tall, polite, and lovely to behold. Her best friend was less tall, more my type, and taking photographs of an event I’d been invited to attend. I had my four-year-old daughter in my arms and the last thing on my mind that night was romance.

Of course, that’s always when those things happen.

We started to talk. She was not a photographer by trade but was helping out her best friend for just the one event. Conversation flowed naturally, and I could sense her innate intelligence. I introduced my daughter, who can be very shy, and that didn’t seem to put her off even though not everyone wants to date a single dad. So far, so good.

Three days later, we went out for the first time. It was a pleasant meeting that morphed into a five-hour conversation. Our dialogue wasn’t hard to keep up, just the opposite. That gave me a bit of hope. I left with her telephone number in my cell phone.

We met each other again for dinner and drinks in downtown St. Petersburg, taking a long walk afterwards. We stayed around the parking garage talking before we went our separate ways. After that, we spent a lot of time on the phone at night during the work week. All this was building up to something and, finally, it did.

I’d been so busy laying a foundation for a relationship, balancing it with my work and the rest of life being a single dad, that I hadn’t yet worked out the full implications of my new romance for my little daughter. Now, I had to pivot and think on the fly.

In one sense, nothing changes. You’re still you. You’re just you with a young child.

In another sense, this is the moment when the pas de trois begins. You, your significant other, and your child are together in an emotional ballet, striving for balance in a world of complexity. You’re not sure when your child should meet your new love interest for the first time. You’re not sure how that will go. Do the three of you stay over at her place? If so, when and under what circumstances? Will they like each other, or just tolerate each other, or neither? Will there be cooperation or competition? Will you be able to successfully triangulate any tense moments and convert them into domestic harmony?

Questions like these don’t normally come with easy, let alone definitive, answers. You feel your way through as you go along. Much depends on the personalities involved.

Culture can also play a role in today’s increasingly mixed society. I found myself eating Polish food, decorating a Christmas tree in the traditional red and white Polish colors, and otherwise pivoting towards a culture not my own as I performed my own parental and relationship balancing act. That I had a great-grandfather named Zubrzycki didn’t help. If anything, it probably raised expectations of a cultural fluency that I plainly did not possess. And there I was, in the middle.

Once you’re divorced with a child, that is a background fact for the rest of your life. Nothing will change it. Complexities may vary in their extent, but they’re always going to be there and will never go away. Your life is now officially complicated. By definition.

In this relationship, a pattern quickly emerged that was not of my making nor consistent with my intentions.

After an initial, apparently-positive acquaintance with my daughter, my girlfriend and I spent most of our time together without my daughter and very little time as a group of three. That didn’t strike me as much of a template for the future, even if I saw and recognized the value of our private time together. I couldn’t see why things evolved that way, and in the end I wasn’t able to fix it.

In my next relationship, my daughter got on famously with the lovely woman I was dating. That relationship didn’t work out either, but she and I remain good friends and always will, I suspect. You can have an abundant respect for a person and not have the chemistry with one another that will carry you through time and challenges for years to come. That’s just how it is.

Between the two relationships, I ask myself why the daddy-daughter combination didn’t work in one instance and posed no obstacle in the other. I don’t really have an answer.

One thing I do know: the best relationship will surmount any challenge. Life is long and filled with them. Being a single parent isn’t something you have to be nervous about. It may even be an advantage, when viewed in a certain light. The relationship that was not going to work will self-destruct faster when you have a child of your own. The less-than-meaningful-or-ideal partnership will conclude much more quickly that the game is not worth the candle, so to speak. You’ll be furnished with a pretext to depart even if there isn’t a good reason ready to hand. That can be really good for you. You won’t waste time on a person who wasn’t going to be right for you anyway, and you’ll just find out sooner. That leaves you free to seek a better destiny with the right person. Then, maybe, with a bit of luck, your family can grow and even blossom again.

There’s another thing I learned that I will never forget. My daughter has incredible radar. It’s spot-on. She has a better sense of who is a good person than I do. Perhaps that’s a benefit of the young, uncomplicated mind. I don’t know for certain. But the next time I see that radar go up, I’ll take notice. Adults should learn from children, most of all their own.

What My Mother Taught Me About Owning My Issues

The moment we stop blaming co-workers, siblings, partners, and parents for baggage we’ve collected over the years, we put ourselves in the driver’s seat.

Dear Annabelle,

You were about four and we were giving thanks before dinner. When the adults finished, I asked if you would like to say a prayer. You got a proud grin on your face, sat up in your booster seat, and shouted at the top of your lungs, “Dear Lord Jesus, no more diapers!”

You’d finally graduated to your very first pair of big-girl panties. I’ll say that again with more emphasis: your very first pair of big-girl panties. One day in the future, you’ll read this and understand one thing very simply: this rite of passage is not just for toddlers.

My mother has a snarky reply anytime she hears her children complain about life. Whether we are complaining about work, a coworker, another sibling, or anything else, her response is always, “Well, get over it because I am not going to therapy with you. I don’t have time.”

She says this in jest because, of course, she would do anything for her children. However, she would rather we put on our big-people panties, own our issues, and enjoy life.

Here’s why: the moment we stop blaming co-workers, siblings, significant others, and, yes, our parents for the baggage we’ve collected over the years, we put ourselves in the driver’s seat. Until then, we are passengers, or worse, backseat drivers riding in a car driven by someone else. For control freaks like my mom and all four of her children, we know there’s nothing worse.

When my father died suddenly, my mother was 43 years old. She had four kids ages 12 to 20 that she had to put through college. A stay-at-home mom for 24 years, she had nothing to put on a resume that would put hers at the top of the stack.

By the time this tragedy hit her, she’d already had gone through multiple pairs of big-girl panties. She had tough times and would put on a new pair with each of them, but when the love of her life died, this required titanium-made super-Spanx panties, reminiscent of a chastity belt and not available at retail.

So she put on her toughest pair, started a business at her kitchen table, and worked 14 hour days to ensure that when we were grieving the loss of our dad, our lives would not be disrupted with a financial loss as well. I believe she put her grief on the back burner so we could heal.

Over the years, my mom and my sister built a thriving business together. Their willingness to put on their big-girl panties and do what it takes despite the obstacles is nothing short of amazing. I saw my mom wearing a T-shirt a few years ago that really describes her warrior spirit. It read: “Stop Bitching. Start a Revolution.”

Did she make mistakes with us? Absolutely. All parents do. We make mistakes because we don’t know that they’re mistakes until we look in the rear-view mirror with that 20/20 vision that retrospect gives us.

I know that my mom harbors guilt about some of the things she did and said as a parent because I harbor the same guilt with Annabelle. We’re all a little dysfunctional and we each have our issues, but those issues are ours to own and ours alone.

My mother did the best she could with what she had at the time. I had awesome parents. At some point, it just becomes embarrassing to harbor resentment from the past. If you have ever heard a 50-year-old man blame his mother for the path his life took because she didn’t make him stay on the basketball team, then you know how unattractive it is.

If I asked my mom to go to therapy with me, she would go. Of course, she would go. I would have the opportunity to tell her about the Drill Sargent that has taken permanent residence inside my head. I could tell her about my OCD, my ADHD, and my inability to think before I speak. I could go on and on about mistakes she and my dad made that are as old and irrelevant as the chain letter. We both might agree that it was time well spent.

Here’s the thing: those aren’t my mother’s issues, they are mine. Frankly, if we’re going to spend time together, I would rather put on a fresh pair of big-girl panties and meet her for happy hour.

Annabelle, I am going to make mistakes. I am going to do things and say things that I will regret. If being a perfect parent was an option, I would choose it every time, but it doesn’t exist in the world. Perfect parents didn’t walk this earth in my parents’ lifetimes, my lifetime, and I’ll bet the farm that they won’t in yours either.

Yes, Annabelle, I will go to therapy with you, but I will strive to raise a determined, responsible, ninja warrior who knows who she is, owns her issues, and who would rather go shopping.

My Mom's Generation Doesn't Have to Understand My Divorce

After my divorce, I’ve overheard a 100 times: “What is wrong with your generation? In my day, we just coped.”

This is the first in an embarrassingly long time that I have felt compelled to write. Although it is an opinion piece that would only be “felt heard” by my generation, this conversation is with my mother’s generation.
I am 40. I have two small kids and I am divorced. It was my decision to leave the marriage. Yes, I knew who he was when we got married. No, I didn’t think he would change. What I didn’t know was just how radically I would change.
How could I not? How do you become a mother and stay the same human being? You don’t. And your husband stays the man you married. I don’t see fault on either side here. Why didn’t anyone tell us this shit? We were given a ton of advice on giving natural birth and breastfeeding until the child was eating solids but some of us couldn’t or didn’t want to be those moms. God forbid you should need the help of a night nurse. Unintentionally, our mother’s advice made us feel judged and somehow less than.
I’ve overheard this a 100 times: “What is wrong with your generation? In my day, we just coped.”
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We’re also told how we are a “disposable generation.” You tell us that in your day you didn’t just throw things away because they were broken. You fixed them. That’s not how I see it. I see how my generation grew up in homes where their parents lived “scrappily ever after.” How mom and dad slept in different beds, barely spoke at dinner tables, never forgave one another for past transgressions. Marriages were carried out as though they were death sentences.
Were women were too afraid to leave? I don’t blame anyone for not leaving. Divorce is the most terrifying experience. If you think divorce is the easier option, you have clearly never been divorced. So, when I hear remarks like “you should stay together for the kids,” it makes me seethe.
I speak only for myself here, but I have spoken with enough other women to know that my sentiments are not mine alone. So let me tell you a bit about my generation. We believe in changing careers – studying and receiving post-graduate degrees in English and then become pilates instructors. We change our minds. We’re organic. We accept that life is about change and instead of fearing it, we embrace it. We don’t believe that just because you made your bed you need to lie in it. We buy new linen and make another bed.
No, I don’t believe the grass is greener on the other side. I don’t think there is a perfect man out there. I believe in integrity and loyalty. I love people and relationships that are raw and real. I believe in roots and feel gratitude for my Jewish heritage. I also believe in wings. And in my truth.
My children are my priority. Their happiness and their needs supersede my own. Every single day. So when a woman from my generation makes a decision to leave a “safe marriage,” it is made with thinking, reconsidering, revising, overthinking, crying, praying, and seeking advice – and most of this is done with the children in mind. After marriage counseling, the first advice I sought was from a child psychologist. Because they are my priority.
I am repeating myself because I believe we are seen as selfish. We are not. We are also not stupid. I knew full well the financial implications of running two homes, but, because my generation is financially independent, I was confident in taking the calculated risk. Not because I believe marriage is disposable, but rather because my soul doesn’t have a price.
I didn’t want my children to grow up in a loveless home, where their mother had zero respect for their father. I was the worst version of myself in that marriage. I’m not blaming him at all. Within that relationship, my light couldn’t shine. What kind of role model would I be if I stayed? What would I be teaching my little boy and my little girl? I left the marriage because I felt unloved and invisible. And we were only 10 years into the relationship. I was taking my mother’s advice on how to be married: just one day at a time.
Then the axis of my world tilted.
When my cousin and I were 37 she dropped dead. In the garden. On a Thursday. Heavily pregnant. Again, I changed. How could I possibly be the person I was before that Thursday?
I stopped taking my mother’s advice on how to be married. After Thursday, I realized that I wasn’t living my life. I was coping. Getting through it. And it was no longer good enough. I wanted more. I wanted to feel loved and seen. I didn’t feel this was asking too much. My husband just wasn’t capable. Maybe I didn’t bring out his best either.
I don’t know how I had the courage to leave, with a 17-month-old and a three-year-old, but I did. Yes, it would, on many levels, have been easier to stay, but none of those levels meant anything to me anymore, because Thursday.
I married him with my head, not my heart. I married him with a check list – developed by your generation, not mine. The thing that wasn’t on the list but definitely should have been: Were we best friends? No. We were never friends. We didn’t have enough in common to be friends. Now that we’re divorced, it’s easy to be civil because there’s no hatred. Because you have to have love to have hate.
All divorces are different. The upside of divorcing someone completely emotionally unavailable is that there is very little drama. Obviously we sometimes disagree about things and there are the odd “fuck you” texts, but as a whole, we co-parent really well. For years, all the teachers that have taught both our kids have said they are so well-adjusted you would never know they’re from a broken home.
A term from another generation. Their home isn’t broken. They just have two homes. It’s different. Anyone who has grown up with parents who bicker and argue and openly despise one another can tell you – that’s a broken home.
What is seen as the kids being shunted from one home to the next isn’t a true reflection of the reality. My kids flow seamlessly between their two homes. This has made them flexible, adaptable human beings who aren’t afraid of change. They know the routine and if there are changes to it, it’s discussed with them. Sometimes a PT uniform or a dudu blankie is forgotten at the other house and it gets dropped off. Big fucking deal.
My kids see their dad every day because he takes them to school. This was put in place because that child psychologist told me they need to see him often. Easy. I don’t talk to my kids about what a pathetic dipshit I think their dad is. I’m not an idiot. They adore him – why would I hurt them like that? And he affords me the same respect.
The parenting plan is organic. The kids’ needs change and we evolve with them. For the sake of what is best for them. If they’re hurt or sick, obviously they want their mom, and their dad respects that. We both just want what’s best for them. No, my kids aren’t from a broken home. They’re from two very caring, very considered homes.
I have no idea what I’ll tell my kids about marriage. Do I think it’s a good idea? Right now I don’t believe in it. Obviously. I’m scarred and that’s normal. Will they be damaged by my decision? I don’t know. Do I lie in bed for many, many hours thinking about it? Yes.
I believe you don’t get to live life without getting damaged. Life is a mad ride: Sometimes it hurts and sometimes you laugh so much your stomach and face hurt. Can we protect our children from any of it? No. Can we stop Thursdays from happening? No.
I just want you guys to know that we’re doing our best. Just like you did. And you know what – you fucked us up too. Staying in unhappy marriages for the sake of your kids, taking dummies away too soon, not letting us sleep in your beds. Whatever advice you were listening to at the time, you were making the best decisions you could because you loved us.
So, from the bottom of my heart, back off. Stop judging and comparing us to you. We’re not you. Not better. Not worse. I’m pretty sure I’m nowhere near done making mistakes because I’m not done living my life. Sit back and enjoy the show. It’s going to be amazing, I promise.

Single-Moms-By-Choice Are Doing A Fine Job, Thankyouverymuch

New info indicates it’s more likely negative influence on development depends more on kid/parent relationships than growing up without a father.

Families come in all shapes and sizes. Households with children being raised by single moms is on the rise. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2016 more than 80 percent of about 12 million single parent families were led by single mothers. Today one in four children under the age of 18 are being raised without a father. Many of these single mother households are not by choice, and almost half live below the poverty line.
But there is also a piece of the single-mother picture that comes from a fairly new social trend. Experts are seeing an increase in women choosing to have a baby on their own without a partner. As of 2012, single women made up 2.3 percent of those undergoing in-vitro fertilization treatment to get pregnant. That number does not count the women getting artificially inseminated using a less invasive process called Intrauterine insemination (IUI) or those who are adopting children.
Many of these women just have not yet found the right romantic partner, but recognize that their biological clocks are ticking. As women age, the quantity and quality of their eggs start to decline, reducing their chance of getting pregnant. Women are most fertile in their 20s, followed by the early 30s. After 35, fertility drops noticeably each year, so by the time they reach 40, they will have less than a 10 percent chance of a successful pregnancy with their own eggs. Some women have taken action by freezing their own eggs when they were younger, and then going through the process to get pregnant in their 40s once they realize they have not found Mr. Right.
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With so many more options available for women, experts have begun to analyze how different households potentially impact the children. For a long time, studies showed that children suffered if they were not raised with a father at home. However, that information did not consider a conflict in the home, such as a difficult divorce or a father who abandoned his family. New information seems to indicate that it is now more likely that any negative influence on development depends more on the relationship between children and their parents than the fact that they grow up without a father.  
Also, there is a huge difference between women who choose to raise a baby on their own and women who are forced into an unfortunate, challenging situation. When a single-parent home is not planned, the stress of the situation can negatively impact a child’s behavior. This is mostly because it is hard for the mother to handle the financial burden, additional responsibilities, and emotional strain of taking care of the children by herself.
A recent study written by Mathilde Brewaeys of the Centre of Expertise on Gender Dysphoria of the VU University Medical Centre, Amsterdam, which was presented at the study at the 33rd Annual Meeting of European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) in Geneva, explains that children in single-mother-by-choice families do just as well as those in traditional two-parent families with a mother and a father.
The study compared 69 single-mothers-by-choice and 59 mothers from heterosexual two-parent families with a child between the ages of 18 months and six years. Parent-child relationships, mothers’ social support network, and children’s well-being were compared between family types using multiple surveys. The majority of the women in the study admitted that they would have preferred to have a child with a partner, but chose to do it alone due to stress regarding fertility. According to the study, “most of the women were financially stable, had received a higher education, and had meaningful partner relationships in the past”.
The analysis made the following key conclusions:

  • There were no significant differences in emotional involvement or parental stress between family types.

  • Single-mothers-by-choice showed significantly higher scores on the social support they received, but also on wanting more social support.

  • There were no significant differences in the children’s internal and external problem behavior (well-being) between both family types.

The fact that single mothers who chose that path formed a strong social support network makes a huge difference in the children’s lives. One could go so far as to say that it may be more important for children’s growth and emotional health to have positive relationships with adults – whether they are aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, neighbors, teachers, babysitters, or coaches – than it is to live in a strained household with two parents or a struggling single mom.
Study author Mathilde Brewaey recommends that women who are contemplating having a child on their own should spend time building a strong social network for the support they will need. This seems to be a good recommendation for all parents. The phrase “it takes a village” is certainly true, and we should all ask for help and support when we need it, for both our and our children’s sake.

Steeling Myself Against the Moments of Misery: A Divorce Story

Is this not what I wanted? Or it is what I wanted, but I’m just confused because this weak moment I’m having in the here-and-now is just so damn hard.

All of my feelings are numb as I sit alone in my two bedroom loft apartment. Numb from the shock and from the feeling I might collapse of heartache while wrapping my two boys’ Christmas presents by myself for the first time ever. No one will be there to pass me the tape, nobody to bitch about how much money I’ve spent, and nobody to sit there and be with me in that memory.

I’m sitting in the closet in my loft bedroom. The loft bedroom is mine because my seven-year-old sleeps in the master bedroom and his three-year-old brother is in the second bedroom so that we can all have our own rooms. After moving from their Dad’s ranch style house, I wanted them to feel as much familiarity as possible. Even if it’s just space instead of tangible things like their Mommy and Daddy playing with them every night, having nerf gun wars and making them laugh when they’re crying over the absurd things kids get dramatic over. His is the house they’ve called home for so long, the house that I once called home but always knew would never be permanently home for me. That was the house I left and that led me to sitting on my closet floor drinking so that I felt the liquor on my lips instead of the tears that were dripping from my eyes.

I am sitting in the closet holding my knees to my chest that feels like it might burst with a feeling I can’t quite grasp. Is it regret? Is it sadness, agony, despair, or sorrow? Do I miss being a family? Is this not what I wanted? Or it is what I wanted, but I’m just confused because this weak moment I’m having in the here-and-now is just so damn hard. So damn hard.

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I am sitting here hugging my knees, tipsy. Now I’m starting to feel pretty buzzed, and then drunk out of my mind. I’m thinking what the hell have I done? I am surrounded by snowman and Santa Claus wrapping paper, the paper I got to pick out on my own just like I wanted. I’m surrounded by scissors and tape that I’ll use as much of as I damn well please, just like I wanted. I have gifts around me I’ve been hiding from them, gifts that my own mom has bought several of because she knows I can’t afford them this first year on my own and she wants my boys to have a good Christmas. I suddenly think she has sat in this same place when she left my dad.

Alone. Deserted. And scared to death. Yet fearless, confident, and brave all at the same time. I think how marvelously complex human emotion can be, and if there was ever a time for it to show its face it’s in a time like this, right now. I’m sitting here thinking that the thing I have feared and pretended would never happen to me – the breaking up of my family – has happened and I have no defense but to feel the blow to my gut that is the failure I’ve become as a mother.

For months, I’ve been drinking more than I normally do, but it stills my skeptical thoughts that I’m not strong enough to do this and relieves the madness that comes with single motherhood. So I take another sip. I want to be me again and this is helping me forget so that I can remember being myself. I don’t want to remember watching my kids leave for their dad’s for a long weekend knowing they’ll be packing right back up to come back to me. It pains me to know that when they switch houses they have to remember to bring their kindles and their favorite toys, and remember the rules that are here and the rules that are there. The look on my seven-year-old’s face when I bark at him to quit forgetting his homework kills me. It kills something inside of me as a parent, but I still do it. No matter how many time I beat myself up over those parenting moments, they still happen. I forgive myself over and over again, but I often wonder, does he? Does my son forgive the looks of annoyance I cast when I have to pick up his backpack he left at his dad’s again?

Yet single motherhood is something I chose. My kids did not make this decision, I did, and I have to live with it. In this moment, wrapping their Christmas presents alone for the first time, I start to wonder if I’ve made the right choice. I know deep down I did, that this is what is best, and in this moment, here alone on my closet floor wrapping gifts their dad and I should have picked out together, I realize that it’s not only my kids waking up to just me when they want to wake up to the both of us on Christmas morning that breaks my heart. It’s not only me thinking about them and their feelings and what they have to deal with that is making me bleed with the grief that comes with divorce.

As I bring the beer to my lips to take the last sip, I realize this is about me too. I’m finally letting myself feel it, the heartbreak, the loneliness I thought I was too strong to feel, the incompleteness. It doesn’t matter how much I know it wouldn’t work between their dad and me, or how much he knows it wouldn’t work, it’s that sense of completeness that is absent without him wrapping those presents that takes a hold of me, knocks me sideways, and leaves me staggering, not from the beer but from the emotion of it.

What I can take away from this is that this was our first year separated. It was a long hard year with many firsts. I am confident next year will be a little better and the next year a little better after that. I am confident that this is the worst Christmas I will ever have to endure, and even if I have another one just like it next year, I will keep the same smile I will have for them on Christmas morning when they wake up. I will smile again because I conquered something I was never good at: misery. I did it for them and will continue to do so for the rest of their lives because they are, and will be, my everything, no matter what the circumstances.

I Didn't Stay for the Kids and We're All Better For It

We decided we could love our kids better, love ourselves better, and be better parents apart than we could together. And I know we made the right decision.

I am sitting on my bed with my hands tucked safely under my thighs, listening to my parents spit words at each other they can’t take back. When they do this I sometimes scream, too, or cry, or both. The only time they’re not fighting is when they aren’t in one another’s presence.
I like it better this way, when they aren’t around each other, when I don’t have to tip toe or wonder what’s going to come next.
When I get older I swear to myself I’m never going to be with anybody I don’t want to be with just because I have kids. I swear to my mom I won’t stay as long as she did and I ask her often why she did. She always said I could never understand why until I had my own kids.
She was right.
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My relationship started out rocky with an accidental pregnancy at 20, one of us with a hot temper, the other with ever-changing moods, and both of us with the kind of stubbornness that doesn’t listen to reason.
It may sound typical – temper and mood swings – but I assure you it wasn’t. The temper involved saying things to the extreme with no memory of even saying afterwards. The mood swings involved never knowing which version you would get but always hoping for the best version because when it was good it was bearable and when it was bad it was chilling.
Most people at our young age wouldn’t have made it past this part, past the first few years where we were figuring out our new identities as parents, trying to keep the peace, trying to be a couple when only one of us wanted to be a couple and the other was unwilling to try.
Most people would not be willing to allow themselves to be treated the way we treated each other, but we thought we had no option but to stay together for the kid. When we fought I was cold and he was mean. It didn’t matter. We stayed together for the kid.
My husband’s parents married young and in love and still were. My parents were hateful and divorced when I was six. I think we were both fighting to beat that inevitable failure that wasn’t really a failure at all. It would take a long time for us to understand that.
We had succumbed to the idea that we had to make it work, and as the frequency of the tempers got better and the moods less extreme and the coldness less cold, we decided to have another baby.
Was it to give our son a sibling, or was it to have something to take up all of our focus now that our oldest was getting older, so that we wouldn’t have to focus on each other? Or was it because we thought it would fix something? I can’t really tell you the reason but I can tell you that I don’t regret it for a minute – not only because I obviously love both my kids but because if we hadn’t had the second I don’t know that we would have had the courage to face the terrifying truth that this wasn’t going to work, to face the reality of the decision that had to be made, or to face each other.
Having a second child put an even bigger strain on our relationship and we waited, and waited, and waited some more for it to pass. We rarely talked when the kids were in bed. We never touched, never did anything together, never had sex, didn’t say I love you, and there was no warmness and no love.
There was friendship and an understanding that we both were willing to live this way for our kids. There was still the same crazy sense of humor we shared that would peek through the sadness after a couple of drinks, and we had the same political views, the same religious views, and similar goals and dreams. But it wasn’t enough. Even though both of our fundamental flaws showed their ugly heads less and less, when they did come out they came out like a ball of fire that couldn’t be put out.
I remember the moment I realized if I stayed any longer I’d stay forever and I’d forever lose myself and forever be an unhappy mom and he’d be an unhappy dad. It was the summer before my oldest was going to enter Kindergarten and nearing the age I had been when my parents got divorced. I have memories, but not as many as my older sisters have. There are things they remember that they won’t tell me and I knew when my oldest son hit five or six there was no going back. It was a now-or-never kind of thing because if I didn’t go now I would stay until they were 18 or moved out. So I had to decide.
We read relationship books, we talked, we screamed, we cried, we gave each other the silent treatment, and lastly, we tried counseling. After a few sessions and listening to us, she looked at us and said, “You guys are one of the most mature couples I have ever had in my chair and I think you are making the right decision. You have the maturity to co-parent.” I was relieved to have someone else validate what I felt in my heart and scared shitless at the same time because this was real.
Decisions had to be made, and we finally were ready to make them after seven years of pretending everything would somehow just go away.
We still spent months debating over what to do, and at a certain point we just gave in, gave up, and decided we wanted to be happy for our kids even if it meant being apart.
We decided we could love them better, love ourselves better, and be better parents apart than we could together. We decided we wanted them to see a healthy relationship filled with love and affection instead of tension and strain.
We decided even though we would miss them terribly when they weren’t with us, the time spent with them would be of more quality.
We decided we would live five minutes from each other so our oldest didn’t have to make any other major changes, and we wrote out a script and practiced what we would say when we broke the news to him.
We went through the house and decided who would keep what, all while having the same emotionless face and tone we kept our entire relationship.
When I was alone behind closed doors or in my car to work I cried. I cried for what I had tried to do and couldn’t, I cried because no matter how happy we were apart, and how happy we would be one day with someone new, nobody would ever share the love we shared for our two boys together. Nobody could love them like we could. And the day I went to sign my lease for my new apartment, I almost didn’t sign it. My hand was shaky when I grabbed the pen but once I put it to paper my decision was sturdy and determined.
The first day I got the keys and walked into my empty apartment alone, I sat on the floor but I didn’t cry. I smiled, took a deep breath, and took a picture of my new key in my hand. (A picture which would never be posted on Facebook for fear of hurting his feelings. I knew we did the right thing but back then I am not sure he was so sure of that.)
I didn’t stay for the kids, because staying for them wouldn’t have been best for them. My husband and I were both mature enough to handle the shock and confusion of the separation, the curious questions coming from our son’s innocent big blue eyes, and balance it takes to co-parent in the healthiest way possible.
When conflict came – and oh believe me it did – we lost our cool at times but never in front of them, and we still said hello at drop off on Sundays, never slamming a door even when we wanted to.
There are times when I feel like the luckiest woman alive to have this man as my children’s father and there are also times when I wonder how I stayed that long. I know there are times he wonders how he lived with someone like me. But that shit doesn’t matter anymore because now our relationship is important for different reasons. It’s important for them.
I admit, the consequence of keeping a close co-parenting relationship is the danger of blurred lines, getting too friendly again, wondering if we could maybe – just maybe – try again and do it right this time. We have entertained that idea and figured out that it was not a road we wanted to go down. We remembered why we made the choices that we did.
I still get pissed and he still acts irrational sometimes but we also have accomplished something most separated parents can’t even begin to scrape the surface of: an alliance. A union with a harmony that made not staying together for the kids the best choice for us. And our kids are happier for it.

How to Tell Your Kids You’re Dating Someone New

Telling your kids you’ve begun a relationship with someone new is tricky- particularly if it’s the first time since separating from your family partner.

It was supposed to be their dad. You were supposed to stay with him forever – but that went south. That was bad enough, now they have to deal with the fact that there’s another man in your life? How’s this gonna go down?
Telling your kids you’ve begun a romantic relationship with someone new is tricky. It’s an uncomfortable conversation to have – particularly if it’s the first time you’re having it since separating from your family partner. There are ways, however, to soften the blow — to make them feel more at ease with a situation that they didn’t want or ask for.

1 | Don’t do it right away

Wait until the relationship is well established and on solid ground before introducing this big change into your children’s lives.

2 | If appropriate, tell their father (or mother) first — and tell them you did so

When the children first learn you are in a new relationship, their first thought will likely be of their other parent; they’ll worry s/he is in some way being betrayed. If you can assure them that their other parent is already aware of this news, the guilt and burden they may feel will be lifted.
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3 | Tell them one-on-one

When you do decide the time is right, pull each child aside individually to deliver this news. A close, intimate conversation between just the two of you will afford him or her a greater sense of safety and more freedom to react in a genuine, uninhibited way.

4 | Assure them they’re still #1, no matter what

Their first reaction will be, “What about me?” Even if they don’t express that concern out loud, tell them that this in no way affects the relationship you have with them. Just because another person is in the picture doesn’t mean there’s less room in your life for your children.

5 | Encourage them to ask questions

Any and all questions are fair game. They’ve just been dealt some heavy news – allow them to ask whatever question(s) will help them to better process the information they’ve received. You can use digression in how you answer the questions — but allow them to ask, nonetheless.

6 | Ask them questions

They may clam up; they may say nothing at all. That’s when you step in and ask them probing questions (gently) in attempt to identify how they’re feeling about it. If they don’t answer, don’t push. Revisit it at a later date.

7 | Give them space to process the news

When you’re done with the initial conversation, encourage them to take some time to themselves to sit with their emotions, but also assure them you’re available when and if they want to talk about it further.

8 | Ask your partner to give you space

Just as your kids need space to deal with their feelings on the matter, so might you. Delivering news such as this to your children can take a significant emotional toll on you as well.

9 | Give your children a say in when and how they meet your new partner

Maybe your new partner is someone they already know or maybe it’s someone new. In either case, giving your children some control over when they begin spending time with this person will make them feel more like stakeholders.

10 | Hug them. Kiss them. Tell them you love them – often

Though they may not show it, their insecurities may be skyrocketing during this time. Nurture their fragile egos with loving words of affirmation.  
There is nothing easy when it comes to navigating divorce — particularly when children are involved. It’s a slippery slope — a series of decision that can have a ripple effect in the lives of those around you. Whether children like it or not, dating after divorce is a fact of life for many. We can’t expect to stay single forever in order to protect their feelings. What we can do, however, is help to ease the transition for them.

The Upsides of Having a Partner Who Travels for Work

It’s not always easy but there are benefits.

My husband has been traveling a lot for work over the past two years. And it’s interesting, especially when you have a kid. It would be interesting if we didn’t have a kid, but of course in that case, I wouldn’t be nearly so homebound. (It’s also a real reminder to all of us who usually have a co-parent how hard single parents work EVERY DAMN DAY.)
So, yeah, I’m psyched for my partner and the helpful opportunities his work travel brings and the intellectually stimulating times he gets to have in other cities around the country and the uninterrupted nights of sleep in hotel rooms and the uninterrupted meals with other writers and the long quiet plane flights during which he can read an entire New Yorker or just watch “Moana” (again) on the free TV.
On the other hand, see everything in the previous sentence. He was gone last summer for five weeks and I know it wasn’t easy for him – the job he was doing was tough and he missed us – but it definitely felt less easy for the person back at home, (me!) But work puts food on the table and travel is often inevitable, so, in that spirit, I give you some of the upsides, if, like me, you need a little help spinning it:

You can watch whatever TV you want at night.

After the requisite 75 minute toddler bedtime routine/relay-for-one, involving demands for water, admonishments about how there will be no more water, an explanation of why sleep is necessary, ten additional hugs, a long silence during which sleep seems imminent, followed immediately by the declaration that someone has been cutting up a storybook and just wants to let you know, then it’s time to PARTY ALONE IN YOUR SILENT APARTMENT.
You can watch whatever you want, if you still have the fortitude and interest in staying awake. I sometimes make it through half of the Season 2 Pie episode of the Great British Baking Show before collapsing on top of a heap of unfolded laundry. It’s really liberating.

Dinner is a snap.

So is breakfast and lunch, if your partner happens to travel on weekends and you’ve got no babysitter or childcare provider to help with a meal or two. Instead of trying to provide a big wholesome meal for two adults and however many children, you can simply eat the remains of your children’s noodles with butter and peas and feel superb about your carbon footprint.
Who hasn’t let ease beat nutrition for 24 hours or 48 or however many hours one’s blood sugar stays stable enough to make decisions for? Who doesn’t love to eat all of the olives and spinach and broccoli off someone’s slice of pizza because they otherwise will not consume it? Who doesn’t love making a breakfast smoothie out of frozen strawberries, a lot of ice, and a little ice cream because someone forgot to go to the grocery store in advance?

You get to showcase your super-parent skills during meltdowns.

No matter how many family members, friends, and neighbors offer and provide help during your partner’s trips away, a meltdown can often only be handled by the parent who has not left town: you. This serves as a fun opportunity to show yourself and the whole world and the whole block or the whole coffee shop or the whole YMCA how great you are at being patient but firm in times of minor crisis.
Perhaps he’ll beg desperately for a cookie immediately after he’s eaten a chocolate croissant. Perhaps, when you refuse to give him quarters for those toy machines outside the bodega, he will fall to the pavement and then call out to a stranger on the street, “Can you help me?” Perhaps, if you’re especially lucky, your kid will go totally limp and scream for the parent who isn’t there. No matter what fun he has in store, you will handle it because you have to because, as you know, no one else can do it for you.

You and your kid might actually have a good time together.

If your partner travels enough, this will happen for sure. Cool things will happen, like your kid will devour half of your spinach omelet without asking you to remove the spinach and it will endear you so much, you’ll forget how hungry you were. You will get stuck in a thunderstorm together and your kid will grab onto your soaked legs and look up at you with so much hope and desperation, you will think, yes, I can protect you from absolutely anything and I will.
Maybe in the middle of the night, your kid will climb into your bed and, uncharacteristically, sleep until after 8, and when he wakes up, his first words will be, “Mommy, I saw a bird,” because there is a bird right outside your window. The world will feel quiet and fine, and, for a moment, simple – and yours and his for the enjoying.