Thoughts on Parenting, Single or Otherwise

My “Expected Grace” post went a little viral over the past two months. Over a million people have read it. One million! (Yes, I’m holding my pinky finger up to my lips and channeling Dr. Evil.) It’s been a fun ride, an opportunity for introspection, and a little bit of a celebration. I’m thrilled, honored, and humbled to have so many new readers. A warm welcome and a big hug to every single one of you.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to me throughout this journey was the response I received to this sentence:

“Chris was still in Mississippi, and the full-time working/single-parenting/new home/new community gig was getting to me.”

For those who are new here, I’m not a single parent. I have a very devoted, loving, involved husband who equally shares the joys and challenges of raising our four kids. This year will mark our 20th anniversary, and we’ve been together for 26. The time I was referencing in this sentence was the month that I lived in Ohio while he lived in Mississippi. And my point was not to claim I was a single mother, but to describe my current circumstances; to set the stage for why I was becoming a bit unhinged.

I didn’t realize how hurtful and inflammatory writing that sentence would be to some of those who single parent. I have chosen a world of words as my livelihood, and they are fallible. What leaves my fingers falls differently on everyone else’s ears. There is no way around it. Every page, every paragraph, every sentence is open to interpretation. An occupational hazard — and blessing — in equal measure.

Here’s what I will say: I was raised by a single parent. I know exactly what it means to grow up without a father; to have a mother who worked three jobs to keep us fed and clothed and out of the elements. I understand the sacrifices she made, the loneliness she faced, the isolation she endured, the constant struggle of the day-to-day work, the unrelenting responsibilities, the financial instability. I breathed it in every moment. I absorbed it. It was my existence. That doesn’t mean my childhood was better or worse than anyone else’s. That doesn’t mean my Mom’s experience was more difficult or more fulfilling than anyone else’s. It just means that was our experience. It created us, shaped us, molded us. What we chose to do with it is what matters.

And here’s what else I will say: my “Expected Grace” post was about parenting. Period. It was about the challenges we ALL face, the insecurity we ALL feel, the responsibilities we ALL undertake when we choose to bring other human beings into this world. It was never intended to be a divisive post. I’m sorry that for some, it was. There are words that open wounds, and that is never my intent.

We all have challenges in this life. We all hurt, we all struggle, we all feel defeated and beaten down at times. It really does us no good to say, “My scar is bigger than your scar.” This life is not a competition. It worries me that we too often see it that way. Why are we still having the working mother versus stay-at-home mother debate? The breast milk versus formula debate? I guess I could get upset when people say, “I feel like I’ve run a marathon today” because I’ve actually completed a marathon… but I don’t get upset. Why? Because: Empathy. Of course someone can feel a fatigue similar to running 26.2 miles without actually running 26.2 miles. And because: Why? People get to experience their own experiences from their unique vantage points. As a friend posted on Facebook the other day: “I know it’s 10 degrees where you live and 20 degrees where I live, but that knowledge doesn’t make me any warmer.”

Perhaps what’s more important to say is this: “I see your scar.”

I often think of the quote by Ian McClaren (frequently attributed to Plato):

“Be kind. Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden.”

What looks beautiful and golden on the outside is often broken and battered on the inside. So, before we throw stones at those we believe don’t understand and — therefore, don’t appreciate — our private burdens and our abiding scars, perhaps we should, instead, open our arms and say, “I see you. I hear you.” Let’s stop building walls and sticking ourselves into locked, labeled rooms and instead say, “Hey, I know your path isn’t exactly the same as mine, but we’re heading the same direction. Wanna walk together?”

I think it’s a socialized thing — this need to be right or better or happier or sadder or harder-working or more put-upon or angrier. I think it’s a cry; this cry: “I’m here! I’m here! I’M HERE!” I know I’ve sung that song before. I know I will sing it again. Everyone wants to be seen, heard, understood. We’re human beings, after all. A beautiful mess of flesh and blood and feelings and thoughts. Let’s look up from our iPhones, step away from the TVs, engage with strangers who may just be friends undiscovered.

Parenting — whether single-parenting or dual-parenting or grand-parenting or whatever-parenting — is challenging and rewarding in a million different ways. I tip my hat to all those who make a consistent and mindful effort to do it to the best of their ability, day after day, month after month, year after year. Whether you’re single, married, widowed, divorced, black, white, gay… it does not matter to me. What matters is that you’re making a concerted effort to raise decent, contributing members of this society — of our society; that some days you’ll succeed, and some days you won’t. That some moments will be filled with poop and vomit and the next will be comprised of giggles and hugs. That we’re all in this life together, and that we’re all using whatever resources we have to do the best job possible.

I see you. I hear you. I am you.

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