Our resident advice-giver-outer Jenny True provides shouty, full-hearted answers to your niggling questions about pregnancy and parenthood in her column Dear Jenny. Warning: This is not a baby-and-me singalong, this is about yelling into the cosmos and actually hearing something back, sometimes in the form of an all-caps swear. Jenny isn't an ~expert~, but she has a lot of experience being outraged on your behalf. To submit your questions to Jenny, email email@example.com.
I'm a single parent. My son is 15 months old. My mom lives close by and watches him a few days a week so I can work, which I'm super grateful for, but other than that, it's just me: all the meals, all the diaper changes, all the midnight wakings, all the baths, all the tooth-brushing. My love for my son is incandescent, and there's definitely a hidden benefit to single parenting: not having to compromise with anyone on anything, ever! Still, this shit is hard. I have a few single-mom friends but little time to connect with them. Dating has completely fallen off the map. Mostly, I'm concerned that raising an only child as a single parent is somehow screwing up my kid. My friends say this is nonsense. But I can't shake the niggling feeling that I'm doing this wrong. What do you think? Should I quit now and give him to a nuclear family?
Dear Solo Mama,
Of course you're going to screw up your kid!
But it won't be because you're a single mom.
"Family" is a broad term, because we all come from something different. Some people come from nuclear families, widely regarded as the "basic social unit" of two parents and their dependent children — and some of those families are great, but they're not great because they're nuclear. They're great because the kids are parented in a way that makes them feel loved and seen, and they have the added bonus that society accepts and validates their framework.
Also, the parents don't shame the children into completing their Snoopy latch hook rugs from Christmas in front of guests NOT THAT I WOULD KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THAT.
But families come in all shapes and sizes: single-parent, adoptive, divorced, queer, blended, multiracial, multi-generation, first-generation. Some kids are neurotypical and some aren't; some are only children, and some aren't. Some are born with rare genetic disorders. And some never have parents at all, growing up in the foster care system before aging out of it.
Each situation comes with challenges. But none is a recipe for failure. Witness Barack Obama, a biracial son of divorce who grew up with a single mother and then a blended family with a stepfather and half-sister, who had seven additional half-siblings and who grew up in two countries and made three major moves before the age of 14.
(Not that being president of the United States is the ideal job. I, for one, am hoping my son becomes a bank teller so he can sit behind bulletproof glass all day, have soft hands, and walk to work from my basement, where he lives and possibly still breastfeeds at the age of 37.)
We are most shaped by the degree of security we feel from a parent's love, acceptance, and validation.
I like what Armistead Maupin says about family: It's not necessarily your biological family, but your "logical" family — the one you choose, or the one that chooses you — that becomes the place you find comfort, acceptance, and love. I think your logical family can be your biological family — it just might not be nuclear.
Here are some things that will screw up your kid:
1. Holding them over a fourth-floor hotel railing in front of thousands of screaming fans.
3. Bringing them to a haunted hotel in the dead of winter so you can work on your stupid novel.
Here are some things that might screw up your kid:
1. Underpants for Christmas.
2. All-Bran for breakfast.
3. Being out of the country on my birthday three years in a row BUT WHO'S COUNTING.
Here are some things that will not screw up your kid:
1. Having siblings.
2. Being an only child.
3. Coming from a nuclear family.
4. Not coming from a nuclear family.
It's not that children are resilient and can weather any turmoil without consequences. On the contrary, I heard Nicholas Kristof speak about international human rights issues, and a woman asked, "Why do you think children are still not the No. 1 priority?"
"Because this myth persists," he said, "that children are resilient."
CRAP. THAT MYTH SERVES MY NEED TO EXCUSE THE MISTAKES I’VE MADE SUCH AS FILMING MY CHILD LITERALLY SLIDING ON HIS FACE OFF A SLIDE INSTEAD OF PREVENTING SUCH A THING FROM HAPPENING BY FOR EXAMPLE NOT FILMING HIM.
Still, Kristof stated the obvious: We are shaped by our childhoods. But — notwithstanding the challenges of our circumstances — we are most shaped by the degree of security we feel from a parent's love, acceptance, and validation.
Also, diversity is what makes a species thrive. And within our culture, diversity is linked to empathy and kindness and is particularly important for kids when they're young. So another way to think about your unique family unit is it's necessary to the growth and survival of the human race.
Either way, keep doing what you're doing, Solo Mama. As parenting expert Kate Rope says in her book Strong as a Mother: How to Stay Healthy, Happy, and (Most Importantly) Sane from Pregnancy to Parenthood, your child benefits from your effort alone — even if it doesn't have the outcome you intended — and it's OK to struggle.
HOLY SHIT THERE'S ONLY ONE OF YOU RESPECT YOU'RE DOING A GREAT JOB IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU NEED SUPPORT AND SELF-CARE TRY TO STAY PRESENT BREATHE AND MAKE TIME FOR YOUR NEEDS WHICH WILL GET EASIER THE OLDER YOUR KID GETS BY THE WAY YOU'RE NOT SCREWING HIM UP. YOU GOT THIS.
Got a niggling question for Jenny? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.