It’s Valentine’s Day. For the occasion, I’m writing my first Choice Mom commentary in quite a long while. It’s been too long since I’ve been in deeper communication with the community. This seems a nice occasion to return.
I’ve never been particularly holiday-oriented. Perhaps it was because our family used to juggle around Christmas dates to accommodate those occasions when my mom — a nurse — was scheduled to work. I think I decided that holidays were arbitrary “group agreements,” and didn’t have any innate meaning other than what we bring to them by our own design. That’s why I relish the Thanksgiving ritual the kids and I have created: staying in PJs all day and creating our “flowers,” acknowledging the people we are grateful for.
This is why I did not have much conflict about becoming a Choice Mom. Society has a basic “structure,” but we don’t have to follow it. Creating our own individual path seems far more interesting to me.
Where Have the Past 8 Years Gone?
My kids are now 16 and 12. Wow. Some of you have seen bits of them as they’ve matured. My youngest was barely a tadpole when I started sketching out the original version of “Choosing Single Motherhood: The Thinking Woman’s Guide” in 2004.
After it was published, there was a fair amount of hand-wringing by some — including Bill O’Reilly, Anne Coulter and some social scientist, whose name escapes me now, who strongly believed that single-parent households were universally the scourge of family values. (I remember introducing myself to her at some later event and getting a funnily dismissive response from her, “oh… it’s you.”)
I did a fair amount of rebuttal in those earlier days, just 10 years ago. And now look — I have met thousands of Choice Moms, many of our Choice Kids, and the ChoiceMoms.org website has effortlessly shot up to an average of 9,000 visitors per month! We are so “everywhere” and established as a family structure that I don’t even see battles about it in the media anymore.
Of course, there are still those who aim to reduce reproductive options — especially for the LGBTQ community. We expect here in Minnesota continuing battle over surrogacy in the next legislative session — some prefer to see it as an “unholy” method of bringing a child into the world. (I’m not sure why the story of Jesus’ conception has not been rewritten yet.)
But by and large, the politics of our choice is effectively a non-issue for the majority of the country right now. The “let me meddle in your family values” rhetoric has moved on to Black Lives Matters and immigration/refugee vitriol, it seems to me.
Partly as a result, there has been less new communication I’ve needed to create to tell our ongoing stories. This website still offers more than 400 articles and profiles, links to 40 Choice Chat podcasts, our Choice Moms Facebook page keeps growing in numbers, and more single women are coming every day to learn what they can about building a Choice family.
Life at Home: The Boy
It is my home life, then, where I see the dramatic changes. My son turned 12 recently, and day by day he is in less need of “mothering” in the way that focused so much of my attention for years. He now has a cell phone, I can leave him home alone, he washes the dishes and takes out the garbage, and all in all my “baby” is growing up to become a young sweet boy who gives me a hug when I need it, rather than the other way around.
I do not generally feel with him that I am expendable, even though he never rushes into my arms after a day at school anymore. But… the shifting sands of parenthood are a reminder that time changes everything all the time. There is nothing more to be done about it than to sit back and enjoy as many of the morsels as we can along the way. Here’s one of my favorites, re-sampled every January on the anniversary of his birth:
Life at Home: The Teenage Daughter
And then there is my 16.5-year-old girl. She has every bit my strong points — which I of course consider great traits for an adult, sometimes harder to parent. Independent, strong-minded, knows “everything,” determined when she wants to be. An introvert with a nice social circle.
She has a boyfriend for the first time, and a new driver’s license, and a bus pass. We rarely have those great car chats anymore. I don’t see her for meals as often. Sometimes she sleeps away her off-time weekend hours, when she’s not with her study buddies making or watching film, and being sarcastic together. She bakes to relieve stress.
I recognize in her that same “can’t wait until I’m off on my own for college” eagerness to step into her own life.
It’s 12 years now since she asked me — after we relocated to our large house in Minnesota after living in our floor-through co-op apartment in New York City — if we would always live together. I answered honestly that no, someday she would want to live on her own. There was a long quiet pause and then — my little girl burst into tears. (I will regularly remind her of this when the timing is right 🙂
Do I miss those days? When conservative pundits railed on the irresponsibility of bringing a child into the world with only one parent — yet, there I was, with my three-person family, thriving and loving, and hearing from women all over the world who wanted nothing more than to build a family in order to thrive and to love, regardless of whatever difficulties might be in the road…
Yes… I do miss those earlier days as a parent. To an extent.
Seeing my beautiful kids growing into young adults in the not-distant-enough-future is an amazing gift.
There are definitely aspects of parenting a teenage daughter that are harder than the newborn days. I don’t miss the diapers at all. Or the relentless demand of ‘take care of me, even if there is no one to take care of you.’ But it is perhaps the biggest challenge now, of ‘knowing what to say or do,’ with my lovely girl, in a steady relationship, with a lovely young man, and an active life that sometimes exhausts her resources.
My daughter has been fiercely hands-off roughly since birth. When strangers wanted to admire her pretty blue eyes, even as a pre-toddler, she would turn her head away from them. As a two-year-old, she was spotted in a NYC coffeeshop and I was asked to bring her in for some modeling work; she hated smiling into a camera just because someone asked her to.
My son remains a cuddler… my daughter, not so much. It is unexpectedly delightful for me to see that she has an intimate connection with someone.
Of all the possible things to worry about as a parent, first and foremost for me was whether my daughter would remain safe from predators — testosterone-y boys, strangers, acquaintances. I did not fare as well in that regard when I was growing up, so I was naturally more fearful of what this particular transition time would hold. I was much less worried about my own step into Choice Motherhood than I was of my daughter’s entry into the age of boy hormones.
I was relieved that she declared, around age 14/15, that boys were a distraction and she wanted to focus on her academics.
Of course (many Choice Moms will understand this back-and-forth mind game) that also meant my next fear became, “what if my own single-ness choices have clouded her path and she thinks men are ‘unimportant’.” That’s not what I want.
So it is with joy — baby’s first steps — that I see her choice these last few months in beau, that she is experiencing positive aspects of being in a relationship, and that she is learning how to negotiate life as more than just “me.”
I had a conversation recently with another Choice Mom who had different concerns with her teenage son’s dating life. “What if he learned through example that women call the shots and he has no particular say?” That’s not what we want for our boys either.
She was unexpectedly overjoyed when he put his foot down in a relationship and expressed his own opinion about what he would not like to do.
Funny, isn’t it, how much we worry about how much our own ‘weak spots’ might overshadow our children?
Yet as I noted to my Choice Mom friend, when I interviewed 20-something Choice Kids about their experience growing up in the pioneering generation of single mother by choice families, I asked specifically about whether they had concerns about their own ability to develop intimate relationships. Their universal message — said in many different ways — was this:
On that note… I want to wish all of you a Happy Valentine’s Day. Whether you are a mom now, or are planning to be one, it is truly an awe-inspiring, challenging, ever-changing journey. Welcome!
— Mikki Morrissette, founder, ChoiceMoms.org