Shame and the Single Mother

I'm a single parent and I'm not ashamed. I ended a relationship of 10 years. I didn't want to "work on it", "choose to love" or whatever other cliché people are trotting out this week and I feel great about it.
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I'm a single parent and I'm not ashamed.

I ended a relationship of 10 years. I didn't want to "work on it", "choose to love" or whatever other cliché people are trotting out this week and I feel great about it.

My only failure was not doing it sooner. Oh and even more shocking, I was never married. I didn't want to be married so I bore two children with no ring on my finger.

Still not ashamed.

I was, at first. Embarrassed that I'd chosen badly or that somehow I was not lovable/sexy/deserving enough to be treated kindly and with love. Admitting that I'd ended up in my 40s, alone, broke and broken and that while I had pretended that things were OK, they were actually hideous for years, was fairly fucking humiliating actually.

The revelation that the worst had happened and that the kids and I had actually survived and were pushing into thriving came slowly. I just grew tired of feeling apologetic and of avoiding the topic of my (non) marital status.

There's a lot of shaming of single parents. Other people do it for us and that's pretty well documented -- the mother at school with her stage whispers about the children of the single parent, the internet know-it-alls who insist that if you'd just "worked at it" -- but we single parents can be our own worst enemies here.

Shame is the pervasive tone in a lot of writing about single parenting. It needs to stop. Like, yesterday.

Even as we write assertive, affirming pieces about finding strength as a single parent in this game of public therapy we call blogging, there's an undertone.

Once you see it, you can't unsee it. It's the vaguely apologetic, defensive, "I know I messed up" sub-plot that runs through otherwise powerful writing.

It's like we feel the need to apologize to people who are still in relationships and explain ourselves, as though still being in a relationship makes those people experts at something you failed at (remember your own relationship? Did you know it all then? Of course not, and neither does Mary from Kansas just because she's been married for 24 years.)

We lived and if we are open to the lessons, we learned. I'm through with feeling shame, either by my own words and thoughts or by letting other people shame me when I am a stronger person, better mother and nicer friend for having been a single parent.

The epiphany on shame came from an unlikely source. An online discussion about deadbeat dads turned up quite a few posters with the opinion that the mothers were still to blame for absent dads "because they picked them."

See? Some people just HAVE to shame you, even if you're the parent that stayed, that loved, that endured. It's still your fault in their eyes.

But what, exactly, is my fault, I wondered? What ghastly thing did I bring upon myself with my poor choices?

If it's the two bright happy kids glued to iPads behind me while mummy rants on her blog again (I never said we were perfect) then cool, I'll take the blame for that.

Our peaceful home where they have more stability than they've ever known, get all their needs met and some of their wants? I'll take the credit for that too.

Put it down now, that sense of shame. Other people will do it enough, you don't have to shame yourself. Motherhood in particular, as the fabulous Brene Brown will tell you, is a big shame trigger for women. Single motherhood even more so.

My friendships have changed, in the four years since I struck out on my own. I was devastated by that at first -- people I'd been close to suddenly didn't want to have so much as a quick coffee with me and that hot, sick feeling of shame would wash over me. I was clearly tainted.

Now, I just have coffee with the people who don't avoid me and the others? I shrug.

I'm thankful for the lessons of four years of single motherhood. In truth, I wouldn't change it even if I could turn back the clock and retain those friends.

Put down the shame, defensiveness and the idea that because yours didn't work out, you don't know anything at all about relationships. You know more than you think and you are better than you know.

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