I know I've talked about this way too much, but I can't stop thinking about this jerkwad and everything jerky he says. I mean, my husband tunes into Fox News on the regular and I get slightly spun up about some things, but mostly I just roll my eyes and move on. Seriously though, this has been bothering me for days, and last night while I lay awake listening to my husband snore I really thought hard about why.
The thing I came up with? Pretty upsetting. I'm ashamed to admit this.
I used to think like this man.
Not totally, of course. I never really thought of "nonmarital parenthood" (Lord) as abuse. Not really. Honestly, I guess I never really considered the children of single parents at all. I just thought being a single parent was wrong. Not for any reason really other than the picture in my mind of what having a baby entailed was a mom and a dad and a white picket fence. And a dog in the yard.
I really, really believed it was wrong. I also believed that single moms were probably just sluts. Not all of them. Not the ones whose husbands left them. Just the ones who got knocked to the up without being married. I probably thought the ones whose husbands left them should have tried harder. I don't remember. I try not to think much about it now.
This is probably a huge surprise to people who know me now (the word "bleeding heart" comes up more than I'm comfortable with). I am so ashamed to type these things. My only excuse is that I was nineteen or twenty years old. Oh and a complete, total, 100% idiot.
If you are familiar with my story, you know this already. I was twenty-two and pregnant with twins when my then-husband walked out the door. What you may or may not know is that I became very poor, very fast. I didn't have a job. That I had to do things like get on Medicaid and WIC. That there were times that I really didn't know if I would have the money to pay for the light bill, because my then-husband decided he would open up his own checking account and I wouldn't have access to a dime of it. I was a single mom for five years (and the least slutty person you'll ever meet, I assure you).
I had to go out into the world and be judged by people just. like. me.
You can't really explain to the woman rolling her eyes behind in you in the line at Kroger that honestly, you really tried to do the right things and it all fell apart anyway. That you did try, really really hard, and he still left with that chick he worked with. You can only hold your head down and try not to cry when the cashier announces, loudly to everyone, that she's having trouble with your food stamps (it was WIC checks and when I tried to correct her she sneered, "SAME THING!" at me). You can only keep walking into your church with a baby seat in each hand, smiling at the people who you know are looking for the ring on your finger. When you are living this you can't do anything, anything at all, about what other people think.
You can only change you. So I did that. I did the right things again. I still went to church, even though I didn't feel very welcome. I went back to school. I got a job, found a daycare, bought a little townhouse and didn't answer a lot of questions. I even lied a few times to people in stores who would ask me things like "Where's daddy?" I'd say "Work". Maybe he was at work when I said that. I wouldn't know.
The most important thing I changed, though, was my heart. I stopped seeing everything as so black and white. I got really disgusted at myself for my past thinking and behaviors. I tried compassion instead of judgement.
I met tons of people with amazing stories. Amazing lives. I met women who were fooled by men they loved, picked up the pieces, and moved on. I met women who were so strong and capable and brave that they said, "I'm thirty-five and never married and I want a child" so they adopted one. I met men and women with dead partners who said, "This sucks and I've lost the person I love, but I'm going to give my kid a good life." I met women living in a homeless shelter, living with their little children with hollow eyes and broken hearts. Who ran away from the men who were abusing them so they wouldn't turn on their precious children next. I met someone who decided to be my partner and even though he's not biologically related, we give this whole "family" thing a really, really good go. He was raised by a single mom and I dare you to tell me that this good, kind, loving, compassionate man was somehow damaged by not living with an addict in favor of living with someone who worked three jobs to send him to a private, Christian school. I dare you.
I have become a person who is awed, humbled, and amazed by people who, for whatever circumstance, raise a child by themselves. Are they all perfect? Of course not. Are all "traditional" families perfect? No. My children, despite their five years of living with an unmarried woman, seem (somewhat) normal. They make good grades, keep their rooms clean, are sunny and funny and bright. You know else? They like everybody. They like people who are different colors. They like people who come from "nontraditional" homes. They like people who are different religions. Until someone gives them a reason otherwise, they like everyone. I like that about them. I wish I had been like them at fourteen, instead of a know-it-all fool who spouted off about the environment and teen motherhood and a million, billion other things that I had no damn clue about.
All we can change is ourselves, right? And maybe our kids will listen if we change ourselves. And maybe their kids won't grow up thinking that there is only one way to think.
I live now pretty close to what I thought I should always live as a child. From the outside we look like a pretty "traditional" family. No picket fence and the dog would never live in the yard, but otherwise? We're the picture. People tell me sometimes, "Your son has his father's eyes!" and I just smile. He does, probably. But I don't know. I do know that he has the same heart as the man he calls dad. I do know that.
I won't lie and say I don't love my life. I love my children, I love my man, I love my dog, and I love my house with the brown wooden fence. Sitting here today in my office with the hardwood floors and the tall windows, my puppy dog snoring at my feet...this is pretty much my version of Heaven. I am thankful for every second of this life I get to have.
I'm also thankful that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if this life I get to have ended tomorrow, that I'd be okay. That God forbid my husband dropped dead or ran off with a stripper named Shalaylay (my apologies if that is your name) that my children and I would grieve and then we'd be okay. That if I dropped dead tomorrow that my husband, the non-traditional father of my children, would continue raising them just the same. That even if it just dropped down to one of us, we have enough resources, know-how, and intelligence to keep right on being good parents to these kids. I am also insanely comforted by the fact that the vast majority of people I choose to have in my life would be 100% supportive of me as a single parent. They would be 100% supportive of Jason being a single parent. The people I know, the people who love me, would be there. Just as they are now.
Our children will be okay. No matter what.
Because this is what we choose for them. We choose for them to be okay. We choose not to beat them. We choose to let them have enough freedom to make mistakes and then gently explain what they can do differently next time. We choose to teach our children about God. We choose to have family dinners. We choose to talk and talk and talk to them about everything from the planet formerly known as Pluto to how to separate laundry. When it was just me? I made those same choices. I accepted that life had handed up a deal that I wasn't expecting and then I made a choice. I really, honestly believe that the vast majority of parents, single or not single, make that same decision. I really believe that.
I am sorry I ever believed the way I did. I am ashamed of who I used to be. If nothing else, I am proof that people can change their hearts and their way of thinking.
I have doubts that Glenn Grothman will ever change his mind. I also have serious doubts that Glenn Grothman really understands the meaning of the word "family".
My non-traditional kids will probably pray for him though. They're evil, corrupt, and totally messed up like that.