If you don’t feel it, it will kill you
Single parenting is full of little resentments.
When they’re young, it’s never being able to take a shit or a shower alone, sleep through the night, wake up when you want. When they’re older, it’s never being able to let someone else handle a teenage mood or ride in the car with them when they’re learning to drive and every trip makes you feel like you’ve aged 10 years.
Never being able to rest when you need to, at every age. Never being able to have an off day.
There’s so much anger over those little daily resentments, being taken advantage of by everyone from your kid to your ex to your boss.
It’s full of big resentments, too, especially if you’re the only or primary parent doing all of the work. Creation requires two humans, yet here you are, doing it all alone: the money, the planning, the dentist appointments and homework and deodorant buying and dishes and lunch packing and trip form signing and therapy and somehow, also, fun things, sleepovers and birthday parties and crafts and day trips.
No one ever understands how much it costs you to be able to do it all.
For women, I think, there’s an even deeper resentment at work: the resentment of being held to a higher standard than anyone else, the constant measuring up and the relentless pressure to somehow be both assertive and feminine, to have your shit more in order than anyone else because of the ritualized Puritanical morality of America.
It’s the misogyny masquerading as admiration: oh, you’re such a good mom, even though you’re doing it alone! No, motherfucker, I’m a good mom, period, regardless of whether I’m doing it alone. Oh, you’re balancing it all, good on you! As you should, since you obviously did something wrong not to end up with a man to help you. Asshole, I’m balancing it all because a MAN DID SOMETHING WRONG NOT TO HELP ME.
There’s so much rage and anger inside, being held to these standards, being told to sacrifice who you are because that’s what good little women do.
It comes from the pressure of being told to stay, to stay silent, to stay no matter what, whether you’re in a bad relationship or a bad job or a bad living situation, because you are doing this grownup gig now and you (apparently all on your own, without a man participating at all) decided to have a kid while doing it, and grownups value money and security over everything else, including emotional health and physical safety and happiness, even though it’s not like you signed a contract to be miserable the day you became a parent.
Grownups don’t do things like leave alcoholics or toxic bosses because that would threaten their financial security, no, you are paying your bills down now, you are on your way up, you have a debt payoff plan and 39 months to make it happen and you cannot do that alone so you should. Just. Stay.
How many women in the world tonight will say yes to someone’s hands on their body because it is easier than arguing, easier than the ritual of excuse and silence and early to rise, because they know they will get more sleep if they just submit and sleep is the driving factor in every decision these days? How many women every day just swallow all their snarky responses to terrible bosses and harmful working situations because we are doing it to protect and nurture a child at home, all on our own?
Man. Fuck all that noise.
I can bottle shit up with the best of them, and god I had a lot of it: shit relationships, a financial game I could never win, decades of pure exhaustion.
Feelings aren’t useful or productive when we are just trying to survive, which was pretty much always for me. And as any single parent will tell you, anything that isn’t useful or productive on the way from point a to point b (meals and shelter) gets tossed fast.
I tidied all that messy emotion like I was trying to make Marie Kondo jealous. Compressed and folded, shined and ironed, packed away in trunks in my brain behind doors down long hallways.
I tried hard never to badmouth my ex because I’m a child of a horribly messy divorce and I never wanted to cause my kid the same kind of pain. I never went to court for child support. I never asked for a dime. I stayed in touch with toxic family for longer than I should have because I thought kids needed a big extended family. I changed my schedules and my life and my career to fit around a man who would never step up on his own just so my kid could have a dad in their life, a dad who was good at play and affection and absolute shit at everything else.
For seventeen long years, I bit down on every remark that crossed my mind, trying to be what society said was a good woman and a good mother.
For seventeen years I let that shit build up in my system, causing all kinds of random symptoms: road rage I couldn’t seem to control, crying at the injustice of it all because I never let myself feel anger; GI issues I’ll be dealing with until I’m 60; heart problems, illnesses, blood clots.
Mostly, for the last seventeen years, there’s been a distance between me and the rest of the world that I couldn’t seem to fix, one that was even there between me and this kid I’d sacrificed so much to raise well. It was a distance that came from nearly two decades of not allowing myself to have feelings. Feelings are a luxury when you’re doing it all to keep a kid alive and relatively whole in this world.
It took seventeen years before I even acknowledged to this kid how frustrating and devastating it was, all those years, to be the responsible parent, to organize and fund and schedule all the fun they had with their father. To be the one who had to do all the hard things. To constantly feel like the second place winner, with all the happy moments sacrificed to the parent who was just fun — because that’s all they ever had to do.
I know now that this just enabled my ex to never grow up and my kid to have unrealistic expectations of both themselves and the adults around them. I know now that feelings are actually (who knew?!) an important part of being human and that all those years I spent feeling distant were a product of not allowing myself to be human.
And I still don’t hate myself for it, because it’s a perfectly valid way to live when we drop single parents off the edge of a cliff with a newborn in their hands and tell them to figure it out on the way down.
If I could go back, I’d try to feel it anyway.
If I could tell you one thing, it’s to let yourself feel it.
It’s to be honest with your kid when you’re struggling. They’ll never need to know all the crappy details, or be your therapist, but they do need to see you a) have feelings and acknowledge them in a healthy way and b) know how hard this shit is to do. Hiding it from them and hiding it from yourself isn’t the answer; it’s a temporary solution to a really hard problem, but it won’t work for long.
Rage and resentment are tools. They’re telling you when your boundaries are being crossed; they’re trying to help you see that something is desperately, terribly wrong.
Maybe if I’d allowed myself to feel anger all those years ago I’d have actually gone to court and gotten some financial help and used it to work less, so I could be present more. Maybe if I’d allowed myself to feel anger and rage I’d have left bad relationships that cost decades of therapy and kept me from being in good ones that supported me along the way. Maybe I’d have followed a passion instead of every penny, traveled with my kid, built a community of people around them so they knew they weren’t alone.
I can’t go back and fix mine now, although I’m doing my best to make up for it now. But maybe you can. Take a look around today, and find yourself five minutes to feel angry. Keep a rage journal where you can write it down. Occasionally let yourself physically let it out — even if you can’t afford a gym or a martial arts class, tackle a house project or yard work or a run or even a dance alone in your bedroom, with the fury of a woman held down.
Let yourself feel all those little resentments, look at what can be changed, and then let it go.
Let yourself feel all those big resentments, and don’t let go — use them to help you get closer to having a life, so your kid can have a parent. A whole one, one who is capable of being present and human and vulnerable with their children.
Don’t waste another year living someone else’s idea of what it means to be a good parent.
Don’t waste another second making up for someone else’s shortcomings.
Give yourself that rage, and learn to work with it.