Sandi and Dan's relationship remained ambivalent for a long time, and Sandi fluctuated between thinking, "Maybe he'll drop dead" and "maybe we'll get married." Then Sandi discovered that Dan was seeing other women, and she terminated their troubled romance. But not his relationship with Amanda.
When Amanda was two-and-a-half, old enough to spend the night at Dan's house, things changed. Suddenly, Dan wanted Amanda to live with him half time. Sandi realized she needed legal protection and definition. She and Dan went to counseling, and they went to court. Now Sandi has primary custody of Amanda, but Dan has Amanda for at least one day every week, sometimes as many as three days. They share Amanda's expenses.
Because things were so hard between Sandi and Dan for the first couple of years after Amanda was born, it took Sandi a while to face the reality that Dan existed, that he would continue to exist, and that it was essential to legally define his role in Amanda's life. It was hard giving him visitation rights: "It's hard not having full control over your child's world, especially when you don't love—or even particularly like—the father," says Sandi. But as her lawyer stressed to her, "Kids grow up, it's a process of letting them go. When you have a custody situation, it just happens faster."
Over the past six years, Sandi has actively worked to keep her co-parenting relationship with Dan as smooth as possible. They're not friends, and they disagree over many aspects of child rearing. But, "it IS better that she know her dad, no matter who her father is," Sandi stresses.
In Sandi and Dan's situation, the relationship between them was ambivalent from the start. Both initially had hopes and dreams that their love relationship would work out. "The hardest part to get over was the image that we were going to be a family," says Sandi. Yet in a way they are a family—they are both family to Amanda.
Then there are other stories... my blood ran cold when the call came a few weeks ago. Martha, a woman whose ten-year-old son goes to my daughter's school, has just gone from single parenting—as a divorced woman whose ex-husband had shared custody—to a completely single parent. Her son's father suddenly died, leaving few financial resources. Suddenly, Martha's life is up in the air. She works full time. How will she afford the additional childcare? Now she has nobody to share expenses with. Nobody to take Cody three nights a week or on important weekends. Nobody to co-parent with. All decisions, all responsibilities, are now hers, alone. And this is not something she is prepared for, or bargained for.
I know Martha, and I know that she will cope. She and Cody will struggle through. We all would—we have no choice. Life as a parent ultimately seems to be about learning to "roll with the punches." But thinking about Martha's situation, I began to realize how difficult single parenting can be. Martha was already a single parent, now she's the ONLY single parent. A complex situation has just become more complex.
And more and more it seems evident to me that, for many single parents, the biggest issues and struggles come around childcare: the expense of it, its lack of subsidy (the United States is the only industrialized nation without subsidized childcare for everyone), the poor quality of it, the often-heartbreak of poor care. But that's another article.
The strongest women I know are the single mothers I know. There's something about being forced to cope—alone—with parenting that strengthens, encourages humor, and builds perspective. Yes, it's tough. Yet it's within you to build strong bonds with your child and community, to challenge yourself, and to succeed.