I am not exactly sure when the negative stigma of being a single mother started. It seems to me that the only honorable way to go through this unscathed is to be a widow. I look at examples in the bible, women were married off, stories in history where women were bashed, I read comments from keyboard warriors and articles about how we are the demise of society. If you become a single mother from some type of tragic accident, you become strong and people feel compassion for you. Otherwise you are a careless, Jezebel, harlot with no morals or values and we get painted as husband stealing, half assing, horrible people. Someone literally has to die for me to be OK as a single mother. Let that sink in. I remember being young and watching something on the news about Dan Quayle slamming a character on TV named Murphy Brown because she had chosen to become a single mother and I couldn’t understand why people were so upset. I was about 8 or 9 so, there wasn’t much to understand honestly. My own mother had become pregnant with me at 17 and her and my father were hastily married a month later. Granted they just celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary yesterday, but in 1979 had she chosen to go it alone, i imagine that she would have been branded with a Scarlet letter across her chest. In 2004, when i became pregnant, i also received side-eye glances and was shunned by people i thought where my friends. Some people at church wouldn’t speak to me and it baffled me then. I was still the same person they liked yesterday. I was still kind and smart and loving. I wasn’t damaged. But religiously it showed that i was weak, that I gave into the flesh. I thought that was the most absurd thing to hear. I could have easily gotten an abortion and they would have never known. They could have continued to love me being none the wiser. But it was when i decided to carry this amazing life into this world that i received the most backlash from strangers and people. Meanwhile, there were revered people in the church beating their wives, having affairs, snorting cocaine before a sermon, but no one was talking about that, because that “sin” was in secret, mine was on the outside, growing stronger and healthier by the minute. I refused to be shamed or hang my head low. I made my choice and i moved on, leaving behind toxic people who i realized at that moment were never my friends to begin with.
Fast forward to 12 years later and as you know my kid is my world, my everything. I work, sleep, eat and breath to make anything possible for him. Our life is full of love and wonder and magic at times. People still look at me crazy, wondering what I’m up to and why I haven’t gotten married yet. As women we are summed up by the value of a man in our lives. It’s no wonder we suffer from self-esteem issues and feel worthless at times. We get reminded daily that we have “baggage” that we are “baggage”. There aren’t many men who want to step up and help raise another mans child. Those that do are saints. They should be elevated to sainthood, because you looked past the stigma and you saw love and a family and you wanted that so badly for yourself. Kudos to you.
It’s no secret that my ex and I have had our shares of major downs with a few ups sprinkled in between. For those that aren’t familiar ill summarize: Gas-lighting, emotional verbally abusive person who would try to break me down daily until i finally left.
Its been almost 4 years now, in that time I managed to buy my son and I a house, i paid off my car, i moved him to an excellent school district. He plays sports, plays in the band at school, he has sleepovers, we have a dog and a cat, friends and family who love us and life for the most part is good. The area that is lacking to be perfectly honest is that his father, although living just 5 miles away is mainly absent by choice. Only showing up when its convenient, often going “missing” for weeks at a time. It has taken a toll on our son emotionally and is one of the causes of his depression. It is something i cannot fix. All these years i have been solely responsible for him financially and physically. His father at times has helped, but only if i begged and pleaded. So sometimes we went without because i didn’t have it in me to humiliate myself again. My parents and friends have stepped in to help with groceries or bills or lunch money when i was in dire straits. I have applied for scholarships for him to play sports and gotten creative with couponing and grocery shopping etc. I have made payment plans with doctors and schools just so he doesn’t have to feel like “the kid of a single mom” I don’t qualify for financial assistance because apparently the government thinks I’m rich, and that’s OK. He has no idea, my son that financial sacrifices that are made and i don’t want him to feel bad about it. The home i bought us sits in a multi million dollar neighborhood, i bought it at a foreclosure for $150,000. So he plays with wealthy children and gets that great education and he doesn’t know that if not for that wonderful fortune of events, we could never afford a house so nice in a nice neighborhood.
A couple of years ago after struggling to pay for after care at school and stressed about having to send my son to my parents for the summer because I couldn’t afford summer babysitting, I finally applied for child support. I was nervous and drove almost an hour to the office with all the information i might possibly need in a neat little binder. My stomach was in knots and a friend came along with me. I hated that i had to do this because i knew the repercussions i was about to face when he realized i put in an order. After a couple of weeks, i was given a court date and i waited and waited for that dreaded call from him. It never came of course because they couldn’t serve him, so court dates were pushed back and rescheduled at least 5 times. It has been two years and i still have not been to court to even begin the process. In the interim, i have begged his father for help only to have $26 dollars thrown my way or to beg for new shoes and clothing. Sometimes he would help, but more often than not I was ignored. My mother would be the one who bought his shoes, clothes and Christmas presents this past year. And I paid her back in installments and in gift cards that people had given to me as gifts, i went to several taste tests where they paid you and promptly turned that over to her. It was like handing someone a bag of pennies you collected and hoped that they understood you were trying. And she does and she did and words can’t express how grateful i am for that support. She even came to stay with me over winter break for a month to help take care of him while he was out of school so he wouldn’t have to be alone while i worked since i couldn’t afford for him to be in a camp or anything.
This Saturday, I finally got the call. I had fallen asleep on the couch and my phone buzzed me awake. I sleepily answered and his father was on the other line.
“I got the papers” he said, in a low voice
“What papers?” I sleepily asked
“I got the papers. The child support papers”
“Oh…..” I sat in silence for what seemed and eternity but was probably just a few seconds, bracing myself for impact. Trying to remind myself to be strong, that I knew he was about o be awful to me but any of the words that came out of his mouth were not true. That I wasn’t awful for asking for help, that it was his job as a parent to want his son to succeed.
“You need to withdraw this” he said
“Um..No” I said quietly, then asserted myself “No”
“You really want to put him through this? You want him to go through a paternity test? You need to withdraw”
“Uh, he’s not going to go through anything, he’s not going to court this is child support. I filed this 2 years ago, when you refused to help me with day care and I had to send him off. This is because he needs shoes and underwear and clothes and I shouldn’t have to beg you and plead to help him”
“You need to withdraw this”….. and then there were other exchanges that are not really important to this narrative. But the jist of it is he tried to get me to cancel the order. He gave me reasons why this wasn’t a good idea and tried to play on my insecurities and I held firm. I hung up the phone and sat in silence for a few minutes. Not really knowing what fresh hell I was about to open with this. My stomach ached, I was nauseous. Because what you don’t realize is even getting away from your abuser, your never really free and sometimes the sound of their voice or a disagreement gives you flashbacks of the worst of times.
About a half an hour later, he calls back. I answer the phone with a “hello…” followed by silence.
“Are you going to put him through this?” he says more forcefully this time. “Have you looked at Michael?, have you looked at him?”
Knowing where this was going I responded with “Uh yes, I know what my son looks like, i only gave birth to him and i see him everyday”
“Oh YOUR son” he said. I thought to myself, oh boy here we go. “Because he doesn’t look anything like me. Do you think he looks like me?” he said angrily. “He looks nothing like me”
Cheese and Rice on a fucking stick. Are you serious?! Was all I could think. I didn’t even get to respond before he said “Because they are going to put him through a paternity test and you need to withdraw, because he doesn’t look like me and you’re going to put him through this”
So this is where he is mentally now. He’s upset that he has been ordered to pay child support and now after 12 years he’s trying to attack my integrity by implying that there is a possibility that our son is not his. He is. There is no doubt.
I answer back with “Look I know you’re sitting there with hopes and dreams of a Maury Povich situation where you get off the hook on a technicality, but he’s your son. Don’t you ever question me again about that. You raised him, you were there when he was born, he has your mannerisms, you and your fathers eyes among other things. Besides, he’s a bi-racial child, guess what genius? he’s not gonna look like anyone, (Even though the kid is my doppelgänger honestly, which is OK because UM I’M HIS MOM)
Then he responded with what he does best, the big bow on the gift of insulting “Oh you think I don’t want him to be my son? why would you say that?” And ladies and gents that is called gas-lighting. Bringing up something, creating a fuss and then turning it around on the other party as if they created the issue and thus they begin to replay and question their sanity. Realizing this i ended the conversation immediately and decided that i needed to have a talk with our son . He’s twelve. if there is a court order that involves a paternity test (which is normal in cases where you file for child support and were never married, this isn’t because my morality is in question or because its assumed i passed my vagina around like an hor de oeuvres plate, its standard procedure in my state. )
I decided to go upstairs and see my sweet boy who was playing video games and none the wiser. “Hey Buddy” I said “Do you have a second? I have to talk to you about something that’s kinda hard”
“Sure” he replied
“Buddy…” and I took a deep breath, a minute or so passed before I could muster up the words to start this awful conversation, but my son and I have that type of relationship. Were very open and honest, you have to be when your running a house like ours. It has to run like a well oiled machine. “Buddy, um, do you know what child support is?”
“Not really, No” he said
“um, well child support is when one parent asks for help financially from the other parent. To help them buy clothes and food and things that the kid needs. Sometimes, child support has to be done in the courts because of the way its set up”
My son, who is half wise but also half sarcastic, a trait he definitely got from me says “So you’re suing daddy?”
“No dude, I’m not suing Daddy. I filed for help a few years ago and they finally sent him the paperwork and we have to go figure some things out. But I’m telling you this because of the way it works, you have to go to a lab and they have to swab your cheek. Its to establish paternity. They do that to protect the dad because there are some not so nice people out there who lie and say that the father is one person when it really isn’t so they make everyone do this”
He laughs and goes into a Maury Povich “you are not the father!” dialogue. I give him side eye and say “Sorry bud, that’s not the case here. Your mother remembers well when you were conceived and there is no doubt in my mind, that’s your daddy”
My son in a moment of clarity and knowing his father says “Let me guess, Daddy’s mad and acting like I might not be his”
“Well, he’s a little surprised by the order and asked me to cancel it, but I said that i wouldn’t because it’s not fair. You have things that you need and i try my best to provide them, but i need a little help. I hate that i even have to ask, but i had to, and I’m so sorry buddy, that you have to be part of this. You wont have to go to court, we wont fight,He sill loves you, he’s your Daddy. i just had to tell you because of the swab thingy” and then i hung my head in shame and started to tear up.
My son, the best thing to ever come out of our genes, said “Mommy, don’t feel bad. You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone. You have already shown that you can do it and if you need help that OK. Adults always tell kids to ask for help but forget to do it when you become and adult and if you have tried all you could and exhausted all your options, then this is what you have to do”
I look up at this amazing soul and say “how did you get so wise?” and he gives me a sly grin and a mischievous look and then yells out again “You are NOT the father!” because Maury Povich to him is funny and he’s 12 and a stinker. I laugh and give him a hug, call him a bum and ask him if he has any questions. We talk about the stigma of unwed mothers, the baby mama title, the feeling that people think we are out here getting our nails done and at the club spending child support money while our kids sit at home hungry and in filth. I tell him its unfair and that most of the time the money people get is only a little so it’s not even what the main provider spends in a month. That this wasn’t a “Mommy is mad at dad” thing and that anything i received we would put into his bank account and use for his needs. He seemed to handle it well. however, after i walked downstairs about an hour later, he said “I’ve tried calling Daddy twice and now he’s not answering”
Hold your head high little one, we will get through this. This isnt the life i wanted for us, but ill figure out a way to make it a life your proud of.