|Painting by Arna Baartz|
My experience as a single mother has been a wonderful, healing and powerful gift. My family's life is now filled with unbridled joy, love, healing, creativity, freedom and an easy harmony that is all our own. A man does not dictate the mood, the tone, or the rules in this house. It is our home, run by a strong, grounded woman and her children, filled with healthy, singing souls unsquelched. It is a workable democracy cushioned from, not crushed by, the patriarchy.
I suspect there are quite a few similar stories out there. Women and their children, breathing happy sighs of relief, moving about unburdened by the demands of a domineering male presence, discovering the sweet taste of freedom. It is because, not in spite of my status as a single mother that my family's life is so genuinely peaceful, happy and authentic, so much more are our own, and so much more about what we deserve and not what the patriarchy demands.
Opening a piece about single motherhood by stating my family's happiness derives specifically from what is often referred to as a "broken home," will certainly open me to judgment. To be honest, I don't give a fiddler's fart who our truth offends. I am well beyond the point of apologizing to anyone, but I am quite willing to share my thoughts in the hope they might resonate and perhaps be helpful.
I remember commiserating with other single moms on a chat site who were also struggling under huge financial burdens, and we were accused by someone afflicted with simple-minded pettiness of playing the "single mothers card." At first, I was intensely annoyed to hear yet another serious social issue flippantly reduced to something as trivial as a playing card. Then, being a bit whimsical by nature, I thought it would be better to turn the idea on its head. Why not pull together as women, rather than judging as this woman had?
Each single mom in a group would be entitled to a deck. One card could be a free nap, another a leisurely bath, one a pee without an audience. There might be a card for one's laundry basket to help manage the never-ending pile, a milk and bread until next payday card, a sleepless night rejuvenation card, a someone else makes dinner card, a card that morphs into a lovely bottle of wine, a shoulder to cry on card. By sticking together, we could provide each other the support needed to enable us to more fully enjoy our lives with our children.
Single motherhood is not a game, nor is it a joke. It is far from easy but it can be glorious in its own right. The rest of the magical deck could easily be filled with delightful, intimate moments with our children, unencumbered by the awkward negotiations of co-parenting within the patriarchy, a task I was unable to accomplish and no longer feel guilty about but, rather, choose to celebrate.
Even as at least half of us are raising kids essentially on our own, there is still society's insistence that shame be brought upon single mothers. We screwed up, we opened our legs, we disobeyed, we made rash decisions, we expected something more for ourselves than our mothers and got too big for our britches.
The stigma the patriarchy insists on attaching to us stems from nothing more than the malicious intent of coercing us into submission. It is obvious when we look at the huge financial strain under which most of us are forced to live. We single moms are to be penitent martyrs, gratefully accepting what little is thrown our way. As supposedly fallen women, we are supposed to be deferential, asexual and saint-like. We somehow did not sacrifice enough of ourselves to earn the proper family unit. We failed to sufficiently enable the man to do his part, whatever part he saw fit to play while we picked up the pieces.
We are expected to keep the fathers of our children around, no matter the cost to us and our children. The burden of maintaining a bond between father and child often lies with us. As always, it is somehow our fault when men fail us and our children.
Let me share a bit of my own story at this point. I don't think it is particularly rare or unique. I grew up poor and neglected in an emotionally abusive home. My mother treated my siblings and I like burdensome interlopers. My father was a raving racist, misogynist, paranoid Napoleon and my mother worshiped at his feet. The needs of her children were seen as an annoyance, serving only to distract her from her desire to please him.
I have never quite figured out what made my mother tick, but I suspect it was, in a part, a need to be loved and accepted within the patriarchal system that wounded and oppressed her. What I will never understand is her unwillingness to love and protect her children from that very same beast.
My childhood was riddled with sexual abuse. When as a little girl, I was found masturbating, and I was punished and told I made Jesus cry. At age five, it was discovered I was being molested by an older sadistic male cousin. It is I who was shamed. When it became undeniably clear I was being sexually abused by a male teacher, no help or retribution was offered, just an interrogation about what I had done to provoke the situation. I was ten years old.
I internalized this inscrutable blame I received as a shameful part of the inconvenience of my existence. I did not understand what I did to provoke these assaults. I was especially confused as I had developed strong, natural sexual feelings when very young and was convinced, as I am sure many other girls were, that I was a dirty, worthless, deeply flawed creature.
It is estimated that at least one in five women experienced some form of sexual abuse as a child. What harm this does us, we can only begin to address when given the space, support and peace we need to heal. Reclaiming yourself can take a lifetime.
I suffered a massive, crippling depression at the age of twelve. I rarely thought of much but death and dying for months. When I tried in resigned desperation to reach out, I was told I was selfish, imagining things and a drama queen.
By the time I was an early teen I had lost my voice, my instinct, any semblance of self-esteem, and all but the basic ability to protect myself from psychological and other abuses. I wandered about in a daze, bumping into things, tripping over my own feet. I was constantly covered in bruises I could not remember acquiring. I was determined to blend into walls. I put effort into nothing but getting from day to day without harm. When I absolutely had to speak, I apologized compulsively to everyone. I was sorry for daring take up space on the planet.
While perhaps extreme, I don't think the feelings I suffered as a girl and young woman are rare within a patriarchal society. I did eventually begin to realize that my experience was due to forces outside of myself, and I wanted to heal. I knew what would be most helpful to me was to create my own family and love and protect my children as I wanted to be loved and protected.
This was a reasonable plan in theory but to find a suitable partner when you are the walking wounded in a sea of patriarchal sexism, abuse, hate, violence, and objectification is close to impossible.
This leads me to the point that, so often, single moms are chastised for not choosing better, not valuing ourselves enough to withhold our natural sexual instincts and for procreating with the "wrong kind" of man. From what planet do these sanctimonious beraters come? What exactly do they see in the world around them? The place is hardly swimming with well-adjusted, enlightened, forward-thinking, feminist men. I am afraid it is quite the opposite.
Most of the time, young women settle. To one degree or another, we decide to adapt ourselves, as we have been groomed to do, rather than attempt the daunting task of challenging society and instead we settle. I know I did.
How many women when at the age for choosing a mate for the purposes of creating a family are fully or even partially aware of their own psychology? How many of us realize the extent to which the patriarchy has stifled, dismissed, objectified and abused us and the pool of men and women from which we must choose? How deeply does this affect the decisions we make? Decisions for which, the vast majority of the time, women only are held accountable.
How people go about choosing a life partner after growing up in our society is far more complicated a process than the patriarchy would have us believe.
I met a man I thought was suitably different if little else. He was born abroad, I was eager to leave my childhood home behind and eventually we and our children returned to his country. But the magical transformation I expected from this journey, even after years of ruthless domination, neglect and harmful, selfish behavior - something I attributed to depression after countless nights listening to him cry with homesickness - instead became a further nightmare. I had seen the warning signs before this crisis point, but I ignored them thinking I deserved no better. I had been told as much, my entire life.
My husband spiraled further into depression, and the relationship became undeniably abusive. He barely allowed me or the children to leave the house, let alone helped us integrate into our new country. We spent an entire year cooped up without heat or hot water with a disturbingly depressed and remorselessly apathetic man. I was 3000 miles away from all I knew at the whim of a very sick, very selfish person.
I knew I had to get myself and my children out and I did. It was incredibly daunting but with the help of other women who noticed and acknowledged my plight, I did it. And while doing so, I finally came into myself. I realized my incredible strength as I protected my children. I realized my worth as I was cherished by new and loving friends. I regained my voice in my constant protest against the unacceptable. I was no longer ashamed of or confused by my sexuality but reveled in a lover who did not tread upon me and respected me for all that I was.
In choosing to leave my husband and create a life for my children and I as a single parent, I found the healing I had yearned for most of my life and was able to nurture and guide my beloved children from a place of confidence and strength.
We are all, women and men, shaped and damaged by the patriarchy. We are all in the process of healing from its relentless savagery, while also struggling to live within it. While I do not blame men alone for society's sad predicament, I am no longer willing to enable male complicity. Whether a man claims to be innocent or belligerently embraces their part in perpetuating violence and abuse, the results are the same, just with varying degrees of devastation.
I am weary of combating the twisted indoctrination both men and women cling to obtusely, so fearful are they of change. I am tired of constantly having to box my corner, shield my children, struggle for the basic acknowledgment of my rights as a human being.
I realize some couples find ways to live traditionally under the umbrella of the patriarchy. I could not and will no longer try. It is too dangerous for the likes of me. I may still bend. I may still capitulate. I might accept the unacceptable. I might rationalize abuse as something I deserve. I might finally drown trying to navigate the treacherous waters of the system that oppresses us all and finally lose myself for good.
Everyone, especially women, knows that a certain willingness to accommodate others for the sake of an easy flow in your day or week or life is necessary. But many women like me, after suffering years of abuse under the patriarchy, struggle to know and maintain our boundaries, or to recognize what is a reasonable compromise and what is bullying, malicious dominance or flat-out abuse.
I have only just found shelter for my once barely flickering flame, have only just scraped enough of myself back together to thrive and be the mother I want to be for my children. I will not jeopardize this paradise I have created for us trying to fit into any so-called normal, patriarchically acceptable existence.
My time with my children is precious, as is the life we have reclaimed and are now living as we see fit. A life we shape and choose every day, having struggled to step outside the suffocating box of male domination. We are doing it our way, patriarchy be damned.
|Painting by Arna Baartz|
The recovery necessary from a life rife with misfortune due to misogyny is why I am unapologetically joyous about the opportunity to raise my three gorgeous children alone, without domination, without deference disguised as compromise, without patriarchally-imposed emotional injury to any of us. Our home is a haven of chaotic bliss, full of love, healing and adventure. We have our own unique way of living and no one gets in our way.
I doubt I would have escaped our abusive situation without the warm circle of women who held me and my children tight throughout our struggle. This sisterhood gently guided us to the other side. We are strong now. We have our life back. We have triumphed. The supernatural strength that comes from women pulling together can do far more than transform the lives of individual women. We can transform the planet. That is why the patriarchy is so very afraid of us. That is why such an enormous amount of energy and resources are spent trying to divide and squelch us. I'll comply no more. No more silencing single mothers, no more poverty and abuse for our beloved children. It is time, my sisters. Let our collective goddess shift the earth, let our fierce strength, love, and joy be unleashed, let the planet be healed.
By Jennifer Kimmel, an excerpt from the upcoming Girl God Anthology, Single Mothers Speak on Patriarchy
Jennifer Kimmel is writer and mother of three wonderful children. She currently resides in a tiny magical town on the top northwest tip of Ireland, and hopes to stay there for the remainder of her days. She enjoys hugging and reading to her kids, pairing mismatched socks, pretending sheep next door are mocking her hairstyle and experimenting with her new waffle maker.