By Erica Miner
Web Exclusive – May 11, 2008
Pat yourself on the back.
As a single mom, you deserve that and more this Mother’s Day?and every day of the year.
You are performing one of the most difficult tasks on the planet: raising your child on your own. For the proverbial 24 hours and eight days a week, you are sole nurturer, psychologist, and chief executive officer of both physical and emotional nourishment. And you’re doing it all by yourself.
But doing it all by yourself doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have someone to lean on. On the contrary, the single-most important factor in your journey of solo motherhood is to have a network to reach out to and look to for support. That is what kept me sane through my own single mothering experience, and you must also seek it out for yourself.
I was thrust into single motherhood suddenly and precipitously when my ex-husband came out of the closet. That was shocking enough. But the fact that he couldn’t even bring himself to tell me, and instead put his best friend up to the task, made it even more devastating. After ten years of marriage with someone I thought was singularly devoted to me and our two fantastic kids, someone with whom I had everything in common (including a preference for men), I was faced with the prospect of sleeping alone, seeing to the kids’ needs alone and having no partner with whom to share my life.
There I was: mother of two, violinist with the Metropolitan Opera, and in one life-altering instant, I found myself on an unfamiliar, challenging path with a seemingly insurmountable task. Left alone with two small children to raise and support on my own (prying child support out of my ex was like extracting an injured person from a twisted car wreck), I floundered as to how to cope. Should I have seen it coming? When he urged me to take the kids on a European trip while he stayed behind, should I have suspected something?
At first, I was determined to suffer, martyr-like, through my ordeal. I went about mothering with a vengeance, uncomplaining, trying to balance my kids’ needs with the demands of my work. When things came to a boiling point, and I could no longer handle the stress, I locked myself in my bedroom and threw furniture. Yes, folks. I, a 112-pound woman, seemingly fragile and incapable of huge physical feats, picked up wrought-iron chairs and hurled them across the room. I shudder to think of what that must have been like for my kids, hearing the clatter of furniture crashing onto the wood floors. I knew it was horrifying, but it was between that and flinging myself out the ninth-floor window.
Ultimately, rather than torment myself indefinitely with the inevitable should haves and continue my self-torture (I was also running out of furniture), I sought help from friends and professionals. Mothers, that is your first line of defense: reach out for encouragement. Since there were no support groups for wives of gay men a couple of decades ago (let’s hope there are some now), I, at least, had friends who could offer a shoulder to lean on, a sympathetic word or three, and even some babysitting help. Necessity dictated that I not be shy about asking for aid. I arranged with another family in my apartment building to exchange childcare. I sought the paid help of our resident grandmother in the building to take care of my kids while I worked. I think Mamaw, as we single moms and our progeny fondly called her, was more responsible for the preservation of my sanity in those days than almost anyone else. The other person who was of utmost importance in my survival was my psychotherapist.
Rhonda was an older woman with a kind, understanding, and gentle manner. But she also knew when to push me firmly in the direction of self-determination if it was warranted. At a certain point, after letting me cry into my morning cup of coffee for a number of weeks, she put her foot down.
“I can’t take this anymore,” I wailed one day as I trudged into her office.
“You have two choices,” was her response. “To cope or not to cope. It’s up to you.”
That was the moment of my turnaround.
Help is out there, moms. If your funds are limited, there are clinics that offer therapy and counseling on a sliding scale for financially challenged families and their struggling single moms. If your time is limited, you still owe it to yourself to create windows of alone time to fulfill your own needs. The operative survival phrase here is the old cliché, “If Mom isn’t happy, no one is happy.” There were never truer words spoken, especially for moms trying to go it alone.
I have one more valuable technique to offer you: journaling. This may be the single-most helpful tool to single moms or anyone struggling through a crisis. A journal is a safe place for you to express your fears, anxieties, doubts, and anger. Studies show that in a stressful situation, those who journal have a much higher likelihood of traversing the crisis and coming out of it as a whole person. Journaling allowed me to rid myself of all the guilt, the frustration, and the pressures of my overwhelming responsibilities at home and at work. Every night after my opera performances and after picking up the kids from Mamaw’s and putting them to bed, I propped myself up in my bed with a pen and my large book of blank pages to pour out my heart and spirit. I moaned, and complained, and gritted my teeth as I expressed my anger and hurt. I wrote poetry about what it felt like to be abandoned and have the weight of the world on my shoulders. It was amazingly liberating. After a while, I found myself eagerly looking forward to my alone time with my journal. Eventually, years after successfully negotiating these troubled and challenging times, I fictionalized my journals and turned them into my novel, Travels With My Lovers. That is one of the best things about journaling. You can keep your writings to yourself and just use them as a tool to survive a crisis, or you can share your experiences with others to encourage them to seek their own personal freedom.
If there’s nothing else you take away from this narrative, believe me when I tell you that journaling will be your greatest asset in your voyage through single motherhood. As I am always saying in my journaling lectures, there are no rules. You can write when and where you wish and write anything you wish. All you need is a pen and a notebook and some resolve. No one will judge you, and no one has to know the details of your day-to-day struggle as a single mom.
All they will know is that you are brave, that you have endured the challenges, and that you will continue to carry on as a changed and stronger person. Yes, single moms, as one who has survived the challenge, I urge you to give yourself a pat on the back. You deserve it.
Erica Miner is a violinist, poet, screenwriter and novelist. Her book, Travels with My Lovers, was the recipient of the 2003 Direct from the Author Book Award in the fiction category. She has dedicated her life’s work to encouraging women to express their emotional freedom. Visit her online at www.ericaminer.com.