Seeing single parenting a different way
Since being diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at age 8, which caused severe visual impairment, every day of my life has been about modification and accommodation. As many people living with a disability will tell you, success comes in approaching things differently. For me, the biggest hurdle to overcome was (and still is) the inability to drive. Now, for those of you living in big cities with public transportation, that may not seem like much of a challenge, but growing up in the sun-scorched desert of rural New Mexico, I can tell you that driving is a necessity.
Despite my limitations, I never saw my disability as something that would stop me from doing anything I wanted to do. I just had to get creative from time to time. But nothing prepared me for the reality of being a mother with a disability. The moment I heard my son’s heartbeat for the first time, my mind was full of doubt. I began to wonder how my disability would limit my children’s potential. Looking back, I can appreciate the irony of that train of thought, but at the time, I was simply terrified.
Though I knew I’d never be the traditional soccer mom, shuttling my kids from activity to activity, it wasn’t driving that had me worried. After all, I was married, and my husband could handle that aspect of our lives. What really had me nervous were things such as reading to my child or taking care of his medical needs. Most parents of newborns spend lots of time studying every detail of their new precious bundle of joy. But details are lost on me. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to read the thermometer or see cuts and scrapes. Forget pulling out splinters or even cutting my baby’s nails—those tasks were simply not something I could do. I pictured myself reading to my baby boy, having to hold the book so close to my face that I couldn’t show him the pictures. The kid wasn’t even born yet and I was already imagining his irritation with all the things that his mother couldn’t do.
Not surprisingly, I managed. Motherhood does that to you. You dig down deep and realize that everything is doable, even if it doesn’t always go the way you thought it would. This lesson was driven home for me when, just two years after our daughter was born, my husband moved out. Leaving me with our two children in the same rural New Mexico I grew up in, he headed to Colorado to find a new job. The terror returned. Now I was a single mom—still very much visually impaired and unable to drive—solely responsible for the welfare and well-being of my two beautiful children. Hello, Anxiety; I’ve been expecting you!
If you think this is a story about perseverance, well, there was a lot of that. But I’m being really honest when I say that being a Solo Mom brought out the best in me, and the worst. On the one hand, I worked full time, volunteered in my community, and got my graduate degree while still taking care of my children’s needs. But on the other hand, it also brought out insecurities about my disability that hadn’t surfaced since childhood or, in some cases, ever. I had to ask for help all the time. Just getting my daughter to day care and taking the kids to doctors’ appointments became a matter of rigid scheduling. In my house, there was no such thing as an impromptu shopping trip or a spur-of-the-moment dinner out.
My parents stepped up in a big way, and I’m not sure I would have survived those years without them. My mother appeared on my doorstep every morning around 7:00 a.m. to help shuttle the kids to school and me to work. My friends made sure I didn’t become a recluse by joining me for lunch and going with me to events. We ate a lot of pizza, as it was the only source of food delivery in town.
Though they were some of the hardest years of my life, I wouldn’t trade those Solo Mom days for anything. They taught me so much about myself. I learned to ask for help without feeling like a burden, mostly. My confidence in my ability to handle crises and stress grew exponentially. And my children and I thrived despite the circumstances.
My advice to other single moms is to be as self-sustainable as possible while learning when and how to ask for help. Sound like an impossible combination? It’s not, I assure you, but it does require fighting against some bad habits that are perpetuated by society. For instance, as single parents, we sometimes feel like we have to do everything ourselves. Society reinforces that by shaming us into thinking we are weak when we seek assistance. But learning to be a good advocate for yourself is not only an essential skill for Solo Moms but also a necessary skill to develop as a parent, no matter who your kids are.
Oh yeah, and keep it simple.
I am a mother of two amazing kids. I won’t ever drive the carpool, and we’ll probably never be up for last-minute activities. Our lives require planning, especially now that we live closer to my ex and the kids spend more time with him than they used to. My life is still about modification and accommodation, but I like to think that my kids see my adaptability and creative thinking as a good thing. I know I do. And though I know we face many more challenges to come, I no longer fear being a parent with a disability. I know that I can make it work. I just have to look at things a little differently.
Amy Rivers is a writer and mother of two. She has a master’s degree with concentrations in psychology and political science, and enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction pieces about women and women’s issues. Her debut novel, Wallflower Blooming, was released in August 2016. You can follow her on Twitter at @WritingRivers and learn more about her work at her website, www.amyrivers.com.
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