I'm A Single Mother Of 4. Here's What The Wellness World Gets Wrong
I’m a 34-year-old single mother of four. I have two sons (13 and 10) and two daughters (8 and 5). Because I’ve never been married and my children don't have the same father, there is often an assumption that I'm negligent, complacent, and promiscuous.
The last guy I dated, for example, told me that I'd be more “socially acceptable” if I had been divorced rather than having had children out of wedlock. (This same man's mother was a single mom.) My own father once told me, "It will take a hell of a man to marry you with children by different men." Maybe he's right…
I'd love to buy 100 percent organic and practice yoga. But most days, I’m thinking about how I’m going to make my car payment.
Some people don’t understand why I chose to give birth four times. I know in many circles, it's more acceptable to have had four abortions than four children, but I believed that each of my babies deserved a chance to experience this life and give something unique and beautiful to this world.
I can concede that I've not been as discerning as I could have been in relationships — and at times, I was desperate for love in the men I've chosen.
However, what’s less evident to outsiders is that I've also spent years practicing abstinence, trying to sort out my core wounds and understand how I can be a better woman and mother.
I love wellness, but I sometimes feel like the world doesn’t understand what it’s like for those of us who are struggling to make ends meet. There’s a focus on self-actualization, which is difficult for those of us struggling to fulfill basic needs like food and shelter. (Think Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.)
Sure I'd love to buy 100 percent organic and practice yoga three times a week. But most days, I’m thinking about how I’m going to make my car payment or buy groceries or afford after-school activities for my kids. The wellness community often operates on the assumption that simple mind-shifts and affirmations alone will result in a better life, and that’s true — as long as your basic needs are met.
I didn’t anticipate struggling to make ends meet. I earned my master's of social work from Arizona State University in 2009, a career trajectory I thought was secure. That same year, I lost my best friend and co-parent, my mom, to cancer.
After being unable to find full-time employment or affordable childcare in Arizona, I moved back to my home state of Illinois.
After a year here, I found a full-time job. I made $43,000 a year, on which I was supposed to support a family of five.
For a while, I received a state child care subsidy, which brought the cost of child care down to about $600 per month from $2,000. But I still had to “rob Peter to pay Paul.”
I'd routinely pay bills in part or late in order to afford groceries. (Some nonessentials would simply go unpaid, resulting in my recent filing for Chapter 7 this summer.)
In 2011, my employer wasn't required to offer health insurance, but I qualified for Medicaid because of my family size. This coverage allowed my family to receive necessary physicals and needed urgent care without incurring massive amounts of medical debt.
In hindsight, social service work may not have been the best career field for a single mom — especially given the demanding positions, fluctuating agency budgets, lower wages, high stress, and job insecurity, but at the time I chose the field I thought I could really make a difference in the lives of the hurting and disenfranchised like myself.
There are days when I feel like a complete failure at life, let alone motherhood.
Earlier this year, I lost my job (and also my child care subsidy) and I'm now driving cars as a chauffeur as I seek other opportunities. My entire parenting experience, financially speaking, has been a patchwork of government assistance, earned income, and minimal child support. (I need way more space to tell the tales of trying to negotiate child support enforcement without legal counsel.)
I currently work while my youngest daughter is in half-day kindergarten. We then run errands and take trips to the library until her siblings are out of school at 3 p.m. I also work evening or weekend shifts, because that’s when other family members are available to care for my children. (Though this is not often.) I continue applying for jobs, with tepid optimism that child support will come through.
My children are all strong people and require nearly all of my time. They are all at developmentally different stages and I find myself continually stretching to meet their needs. The sheer volume of homework, school, and activities is overwhelming on a good day. Each child has his or her bad days.
Sometimes they wonder why one father is more involved than the others. Other days, they feel socially excluded because I'm not able to afford the trendy clothes and recreational activities their peers get.
There are days when I feel like a complete failure at life, let alone motherhood. Yet, after a near complete nervous breakdown in the summer of 2014, I realized how much my children need me and how much I need me. So as result, I do my best.
Every day I'm owning my journey and releasing my shame. I keep positive affirmations on my phone and say them every morning. I try to take detox baths at least once a week as I listen to hypnosis recordings or audiobooks. (Right now I’m reading The Four Agreements.)
I work out at my local YMCA and I enroll my children in various activities when I can afford them. My sons enjoy martial arts and basketball and my daughters like gymnastics and rock climbing. I practice guided meditation several times a week and I buy myself $4 roses from a local florist when I can afford them.
For a little more than a year, I have been working with a wonderful therapist on a weekly basis. She is one of the few mental health professionals who will accept my Medicaid plan. The work we've done has opened the door to me finding my own self-worth and voice. As a result, I feel more complete and valuable as an individual and I don't pursue unhealthy relationships as a means of fulfillment.
Even if my choices and identity fall outside what is considered "socially acceptable," I'm learning to acknowledge the warrior within me.
I've had a lot of struggle, but the light and love in my children’s eyes is priceless. I'll persevere, and I have faith and confidence they will, too.