Some nights, hours after my son has gone to bed, I sneak into the room just to peek at him. I watch his adorable face frozen in sweet slumber, and I can feel my heart swell. I gently stroke his hair, kiss his impossibly soft cheek, and quietly whisper “I love you” hoping that the sentiment permeates his dreams.
I can’t help myself. It’s as though those 3 hours between when he went to sleep and when I look in on him have felt like so much longer. The tiredness I felt at the day’s end has once again been replaced by longing. The all day battles we had about not drinking the dog water and the necessity of sleep have dissipated, leaving me with the simple fact that this little person is mine to love and he’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
Sometimes in those stolen moments at my son’s bedside when I’ve lingered a little too long, my mind starts to wander into the realm of responsibility, my responsibility, and, as a single parent, that responsibility often feels twofold.
Mine is the only face my son sees each night before he goes to bed and every morning when he wakes up, and my arms are the only ones that rock him if he wakes in the hours in between. I kiss all the “owies”, fight all the battles, brush all the teeth, set all the boundaries, and read all of the bedtime stories.
My son knows nothing other than a household where his mom does all of these things since his father and I separated even before he was born, and his father lives in another state, but I know something different. I grew up in a household with two present, actively involved, married parents, and I always envisioned a similar life for my children. I’ve mourned and let go of that vision for the past two and half years, but it doesn’t change my son’s reality of being raised by a single parent.
The longer I sit in quiet reflection as he sleeps, my heart starts to beat a little quicker and my thoughts start to wander a little farther. I start to feel similarly to how I did when I was reluctant to let go of my crumbled marriage for the sake of my unborn child. I make myself ill worrying that my son is at some disadvantage, because he doesn’t have two parents living in the same household or because he doesn’t see his father very much. I hungrily read books and blogs in the dark about single moms raising boys and how to be sure my son will grow up to be a well-adjusted, well-rounded gentleman without a father in the home. I worry he’ll be sad to go to preschool and learn how different some of his classmates’ households look from his own, or that somewhere in the future his upbringing will present challenges he wouldn’t otherwise face if his parents stayed together.
I could sit and think like this for hours, but eventually I settle on a thought that gives me much comfort and reassurance that my son is going to be okay, and will, in fact, grow up to be a true gentleman.
I think of my own father who stops by every single night after a usually very long day at work to play with his grandson, give him a bath, share a meal, or, in the very least, make him feel loved; moments when they are each equal parts exhausted by their days and exhilarated by each other’s presence. I think about the special bond they share, and the ways my father is setting an example every day for my son of what it takes to be an honest and hardworking family-man.
My heart overflows with gratitude and threatens to burst watching my father be the grandfather he is. This relationship changes everything for my son. This relationship, as well as others, has helped me to realize that I am my son’s mother and the way I raise him will undoubtedly shape the man he becomes, but there are also other people capable of loving him and helping him succeed.
Parenthood is hard and comes with a whole lot of anxieties, but, single parent or not, it helps to remember that we’re never truly doing this alone. Whether it’s a spouse, friend, teacher, daycare, coach, uncle or aunt, grandparents, etc., lean into those that love you and your child(ren) and embrace the beauty of their presence knowing that they are all there for a very special reason. They are giving your child the gifts of time and connection, and helping them feel supported in this great big world.
Feeling my heart start to slow and my thoughts settle, I brush my son’s hair from his forehead and kiss him gently one more time. I leave the room knowing that I may be a single parent, but really, I’m just a mother doing her best with a whole lot of help.
After all, it takes a village, right?