Mother’s Day as a Single Mom

Mother’s Day…man…It’s so interesting. When I was pregnant and prepping emotionally to be a single Mom, I anticipated and worried a lot about many things that I knew would be difficult to navigate. I had no doubt Father’s Day would be a tricky trap of emotion. But I never anticipated that Mother’s Day would also be emotionally loaded. That is until I actually became a single Mom and celebrated Mother’s Day.

As much as I love being a Mom, in those earlier days, Mother’s Day was yet another reminder of the fact that our family wasn’t how I planned for it to be, and that not only was my daughter missing another parent, but I was missing someone who was in the parenting trenches with me, someone who has actually helped manage the umpteenth battle over eating dinner, and who has been a part of the wrestling match that transpires when it is time to wash a child’s hair… someone who appreciates the seen and unseen work that goes into being a Mom. I mean let’s be honest, much of the responsibility for celebrating Mother’s Day typically falls on – Dad.

When Ellie was around 1 1/2 years old, my family had plans to come into New York City and spend the afternoon with Ellie and I at one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants. Since they weren’t going to get to my apartment until about 1pm that day, I had the whole morning to spend alone with Ellie, which really wasn’t very different from any other weekend morning. Except for the fact that on Mother’s Day, the early morning park crowd is entirely Dads and their kids. Like really. It’s Dads. And kids. And maybe some grandfathers.

Anyway, on that morning, I made my way over to the swings, put Ellie in, and started the repetitive motion of pushing her, over, and over, and over. And in the middle of the monotony, a father standing next to me said, “Dad couldn’t give you the morning off?”

He said it in a light, airy way, clearly meaning nothing by it, and just making small talk while sort of calling out the fact that it was clearly Daddy Day at the park, and I was very obviously, not a daddy. Ok, fine…maybe it was a tiny bit insensitive given the great variety in family structure that exists, but I really think he was trying to just be chatty and nice.

Regardless of what his intentions or level of sensitivity was, I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. Even typing this right now, 4 years later, I get tears in my eyes just thinking about how sad I felt in that moment.

“Nah…not in the cards…” was all I said, and I went back to pushing my gleeful daughter, who was blissfully unaware of any of this.

I felt some level of that sadness for years and Mother’s Day just sort of became part of the list of holidays/moments/conversations that I knew I just had to brace myself for and learn a way to cope. And of all of the things I openly talk about, I don’t think I ever told anyone that Mother’s Day, of all days, was an emotional snag for a long time. I felt doing so would make me look self-centered and whiny. Come on…I don’t need someone to appreciate me.

So as we rounded the corner to Mother’s Day, I was sort of surprised that this year, I didn’t really feel any of that sadness. I’ve taken my emotional temperature on this over the past couple weeks way more times than seems even remotely normal, and yea…I can confirm…no sadness…no real focus on what isn’t…just really pretty damn grateful for what is, and for the fact that I am lucky enough to have the title of Mom.

On one of my runs the other day I was trying to figure out when and how this really turned around mainly as a way to figure out if I could apply that coping skill to any of the other shit that I am working through on any given day. And I realized the turning point for me, was, as odd as this sounds, when an ex-boyfriend of mine gave me a Mother’s Day card a couple years ago.

Mother's Day Card

When he gave it to me I was sort of shocked. I didn’t think boyfriends got their girlfriends Mother’s Day cards…but…apparently they do. In it he said, among other things, “Ellie is the luckiest little girl in the world to have such a wonderful mother in you. You are truly an inspiration…”

Now…it’s not like this was the first Mother’s Day card I had ever received, my friends, my sisters, my Mom, have all given me really nice and heartfelt cards, and also purchased ones for Ellie to give to me. But…for whatever reason, this card, started to undo the loneliness I felt around Mother’s Day. Maybe it was because it was from a man, maybe it was because it was from another single parent who really got it and understood where I was at emotionally (more than I even knew) or maybe it was because in that moment I was finally ready to admit that I wasn’t as tough as I wanted to pretend I was, and that the encouragement and acknowledgement is just…really nice sometimes.

The reality is, we all need encouragement to counter the annoying, crazy, nagging, negative voice of self-doubt and criticism that we are battling against, on Mother’s Day…and on the other days too. And that’s not a bad thing at all. It sort of makes us…normal.

Maybe that is really how I got from there to here…just recognizing that we all need that pat on the back – and I am no exception. And also by understanding that learning to appreciate that pat on the back from unanticipated or “non-traditional” places is all part of falling in love with single motherhood.