When any relationship comes to a screeching halt, there will be strife, grief, and difficult changes. We might seek out our friends (even though we’re so sorry we ignored you for x amount of time), and we may particularly lean on our girlfriends so that we’ll reach a semblance of Beyoncé’s confidence, leaving subpar men in the dust. But when children are involved, the beast of breaking up comes with an entirely different set of obstacles.
Our society champions the nuclear family (mom, dad, and however many dependent children) as normal, and maybe even necessary in order to achieve a lifetime of familial bliss. But my relationship with my baby’s father was in tatters even during my pregnancy. Though tensions eased when our son’s birth came and went, I knew that I would either have to face the consequences of staying with an unideal partner and eventually leave—or I’d have to choose to work things out. After being given the most beautiful gift I’ve ever received on earth—my baby boy—why wouldn’t I continue to try, for his sake? I signed up for couple’s counseling with my partner of almost four years, but counseling came much too late for our relationship.
Our communication was shattered, fraught with hateful words and a meanness that we couldn’t escape. Our mutual trust had been broken and rebuilt upon a wholly unstable, codependent foundation. At my son’s first birthday party, his father had an emotional outburst that resulted in my family leaving our home. We discussed this incident during a counseling session, and in a move I’d never experienced before, that particular counselor agreed with my ex entirely. He blamed my sarcasm for our problems—not my then-partner’s behavior. Until then, I’d never known a professional counselor to so haphazardly place judgement on one side; to claim that there is a clear-cut right and wrong in any situation. Clearly, saving our relationship was skewed to be my responsibility. And that was the nail in the coffin of a degrading and unhealthy relationship that gave us an angelic baby.
When I broke up with my son’s father, or my baby daddy, as I like to call him, I had to combat certain “grin-and-bear-it” belief systems.
As a feminist, I resent those attitudes. “Grinning and bearing it” does nothing to assuage the unhappiness and near-terror of a failing, unhealthy relationship for all parties involved. And where the hell were my feminist homies in my time of need? When I divulged my decision to leave my ex, even my most empowered, wise friends were extremely confused and wary for me. Their first questions were always about childcare and financial next steps, and my inner reactions were, “Go ask him,” and “Bitch, can I breathe.” These women themselves had never imagined leaving their own partners—despite palpable issues they continued to battle in relationships with their children’s fathers. It was shocking to me; why is choosing single motherhood over dysfunctional relationships with men still so taboo?
My baby daddy’s mother would even periodically vent to me about the horrid behavior and treatment she endured with her own ex-husband, describing, with tears in her eyes, her eventual breaking point in the relationship. I realized that she not only tried her fucking best—she tried too much for someone who’d proven themselves to be a thoughtless and harmful person. Yet, despite her stories and general “fuck men” attitude, I never got any support or understanding from her when I shared my decision to leave. Not even when I expressed to her that my relationship was on its last legs because her own son replicated the tendencies of her ex-husband towards me. I thought to myself, why are single mothers disregarded? Why is it a tragedy for a woman—not for a man—to be left dealing with single parenthood?
But, admittedly, I could see this coming. Because I was a young mother, most folks my age could barely even wrap their heads around me undertaking parenting with a partner—let alone on my own, unless perhaps they’d grown up in a similar household.
But my son and I have been blessed with one another. We’ve only benefited from the separation between me and his dad.
I have done my best to replicate a home similar to the one I created with his father, and on the days when my precious baby is with me, I make sure to center him. Since I am now a thriving and happy mom, it’s a lot easier parenting my child alone than it was alongside a difficult partner. The only thing I’ve missed during this journey as a single mother is more understanding and support from some of my feminist friends. They could have learned from one of the most challenging decisions that I, and many other women, have needed to make.