I have frequently resented my role as a single mom — not the child, but the loneliness — however, I'm incredibly thankful that single motherhood taught me not to tolerate laziness cast as a twisted version of a perfect childhood.
Single moms don't have the luxury of believing we can give our kids a perfect childhood. We lost that fantasy when our dreams of a happy marriage vaporized. And while it feels tragic to face the reality of brokenness head on, I firmly believe there is something freeing about giving up our supposed control over perfection.
When I was still married, I drove myself crazy trying to stay one step ahead of brokenness. I carted around my child as we visited parks, museums and Whole Foods. Heaven forbid we stay in the house for an entire day, and work on mopping the floors or cleaning the dishes together. I want to give her happiness, I thought. I want to give her perfect childhood memories and the chance to be a kid while she can.
The luxury of fantasy disappeared when my husband left. We no longer had the money — not that we really did before — for organic restaurants and day trips to the museum. What's more, I no longer had the time to create my version of perfect childhood memories. Day trips turned into nights in the house, where we had no choice but to face the dirty dishes together. Even harder to admit, I needed my daughter's help to care for our home. I needed her to pick up after herself, to keep her room tidy and to help sweep the floors.
When we were still new to our joint housekeeping endeavors, I asked my daughter to pick up her puzzles one day. She retorted, "Mom, that's your job," to which I was able to respond with freedom, "No, kiddo, I have two jobs. Now get after it and pull your weight around here."
In that moment, I realized that giving my child a sense of responsibility, agency and cooperation is a vital part of giving her a good childhood. I may have missed out on giving her perfection, but perfection has never been measured in the number of hours spent running around in a children's museum rather than scrubbing a dirty floor.
Perfection, moreover, isn't measured by straight-up laziness. Housekeeping is not my job. It's the job of everyone who comprises a family, including tiny children. When I became a single mom, I finally allowed myself to believe it.
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