Shame. Such a cloying, crippling emotion. And useless to boot. It doesn’t motivate you to rise up, to reclaim your life and make the most of your particular set of circumstances. No, it keeps you small, it keeps you apologetic, it keeps you defined by a story you haven’t yet learned to own.
I am a single parent. I am a single parent twice over; two beautiful boys by two different fathers, neither of whom live with us. (One currently lives three-and-a-half thousand miles away, in fact…).
Writing that still feels slightly uncomfortable; a bit like an introduction at some kind of recovery support group meeting. “Hi, my name is Kate and here’s how I screwed everything up not once but twice! That’s right, TWICE! I quietly await your judgement!”.
Of course, that’s just the residue of the toxic shame talking, and in the 16 months it’s been since my baby’s father and husband-to-be unexpectedly left us (I was pregnant at the time and his departure, directly after my 20-week scan, obliterated me, but that’s another post…) I have worked tirelessly to get a handle on that particular internal monologue. As you can imagine, my days are pretty busy and sleep is in short supply, I simply don’t have the time or energy to dwell in a prison that’s ultimately of my own making. And, more importantly, neither do my brilliant boys.
At this point, I’d love to be able to say that the disapproval is all in my head, that no one of any importance is judging me and my particular family set-up, but that just isn’t true. Members of my own immediate family have cut myself and my sons off since I became a single parent again; their ongoing silence making their disappointment very loudly known. Other members of my family, meanwhile, along with some of the most rock solid friends a girl could wish for, have kept us afloat when I totally lost sight of the land.
Surprisingly, while I was pregnant and shattered, I actually learned what true love is, and that I am deserving of it; that I have always been deserving of it. We all are. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.
In the midst of this past year, the meaning of family as a whole has adapted and widened for me, just as myself and my sons have adapted to our unexpected new life. Family fits a more fluid framework now and that’s something I take great joy in. The writer, Katie Roiphe, nails it far more eloquently than I ever could in her striking essay on single motherhood, The Alchemy of Quiet Malice:
“In the weeks after the baby was born my sense of family was burned down and clarified. I began to see that some of the people related to me by blood were not my family, and some of my friends and ex-flames were. In some way, the definition became very basic and pared down, like the person you can call to drive you to the hospital in the middle of the night is your family. My family was suddenly voluntary, elective, chosen: a great thing I came to late.”
That paragraph kept me going in the early days after my second son was born, when I was all at sea. A great thing. My family was a great thing. It didn’t look like I had imagined it would look but once I let go of that picture – and learned how to stop apologising to others for not delivering it – I started to see the beauty of what was.
We are so vividly connected to each other, my sons and I. Of course I’m not saying that this wouldn’t be the case if there was another parent around to share the load with, but I think it’s fair to say that the adult/child divide in our house is definitely more relaxed than it might otherwise be… There is a lot of love, a lot of laughter, and some days the struggle is, as they say, real.
Not much happens behind closed doors here. There are pros and cons to that, of course, but the kindness and empathy that my five-year-old extends to others suggests that we’re doing something right. I couldn’t be prouder of him. The 11-month-old, meanwhile, is the smiliest babe I know. The aim is to simply keep giving him things to smile about (that’s the closest I’ve got to a plan at the moment and it feels alright to me).
To be a single mum and not totally lose your shit on the daily, you have to be pretty resilient. Resilience turns out to be something that I have in droves. I am proud of that. I am learning that taking pride in who you are and what you are capable of doesn’t allow much room for base emotions like shame and guilt to take root. My self-talk is improving, my self-view is brightening and, by extension, my boys are flourishing as individuals in their own right. And that’s what it’s all about isn’t it? We really do lead by example after all…
A Guest Blog from Kate Scott
Kate is mum to five-year-old Spike and eleven-month-old Kit. She moved from London to Stroud when Spike was a baby and absolutely loves the space and freedom of a more rural life (although she’d be lying if she said she didn’t occasionally need to hotfoot it back to the Big Smoke for a city fix!). Kate used to be a Copywriter but retrained as a Beauty and Holistic Therapist in order to structure her working life around her family. Her maternity leave is almost up and she’s just about to start working for herself from the cosiest cabin at the bottom of her garden. You can find Kate on Instagram.
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