Published on March 21st, 2018 | by Kezia Willingham0
The Message I Wish I Would Have Received as a Young Single Mother
As a feminist, I am reluctant to admit that since childhood I searched for love and contentment. The life path that I took to achieve this goal was unconventional in the middle-class sense, though in the poverty paradigm it was fairly standard.
I was a junior in college at Portland State University, pursuing a fine arts degree, when I met Chris at a bus stop downtown on my way to work. I had never known what healthy love felt like, so when he smiled at me, and I smiled back, I thought that was the beginning of something sweet.
Chris played a massive role in my life, though mostly by proxy. For someone who was primarily absent in the physical sense, he left me with a permanent reminder of what betrayal felt like.
As a young woman who had no model of healthy interpersonal relationships, I had seen couples in love on TV. The man would tell the woman she was pretty and they slept together. That was what love was, I thought. So when Chris told me he wanted to marry me and have children with me and get his life together so we could live happily ever after, I believed him.
It took years to process the wreckage left from his lies, addiction, and absence. During those years I spent a lot of time curious about not only him, but also human nature in general. I wondered why and how people feel so entitled to destroy other people’s lives? Life was hard enough with poverty, hunger, racism, and various other ramifications of the capitalistic patriarchy.
I was unable to understand why one would willfully bring children into the world with no way to support them emotionally, physically, or financially. Which I guess is precisely the reason most people advised me not to give birth to the fetus I was carrying.
When I got pregnant, the people I considered to be my support system told me that I would be unable to parent my daughter effectively. I internalized those messages. They became my greatest fear. Was I indeed a bad person because I had sex, got pregnant, and did not want to have an abortion? Would I truly be ruining my daughter’s life simply by giving birth to her?
“The shit will rain down from your womb if you bring this baby into the world,” was the advice I was given by more than one middle-aged, white, liberal college graduate whom I once looked up to when I announced that I was expecting.
In retrospect, I wish that my choice had been met with support instead of condemnation. Today, at forty-three years old, I understand that my “support” system was genuinely concerned about how I would parent my infant. But I also have learned that there is more than one way to do something. Many paths may lead to one destination, or even a variety of destinations. One landing is not necessarily where we will reside forever.
My mentors were not intentionally sharing bad advice with me. I’d like to think that their privilege made them unable to see the strength and determination that I carried at such a young age. Perhaps my fledgling faith scared them. Maybe it caused them to think I was truly crazy. And maybe I was. Maybe my craziness would also become my secret super power, much like the naiveté of my youth.
I imagine my earliest parenting years would have been easier if I had known then what I learned over the last twenty years. I had to go through plenty of trial and error. I had to try and fail many times to learn from each lesson. I had to learn to practice to be more reflective and less reactive as I navigated each conflict that eventually led to an outcome in which I was satisfied with my choices and judgment.
The middle-aged me has a grain of wisdom that I would share with my younger self: Everything will be okay.
This is a time in which you are becoming the woman you were meant to be.
Your struggle will be profound. It will break you. It will make you question everything you have ever believed to be true. You will lose friends and have to redefine how you want to exist in the world. You will feel great confusion and a loneliness so deep that you will one day come to understand why old women riding in wheelchairs talk to themselves at Goodwill.
The primary criticism you are fighting against is that you are making inept decisions because of your youth, lack of income, and willingly bringing a biracial child into the world without a partner.
Despite what they say, your youth will be one of your greatest assets in the battle you are about to fight. When you look back on the path you took, you will realize that it all happened exactly as it needed to in order for you to grow to your fullest potential.
You are going to be a fine mother. Nevertheless, you will make mistakes. You will hurt people in your youthful innocence, but you will also inspire and heal and care for them with that same passion.
It’s true that you will solicit public assistance in order to feed, clothe, house, and care for your baby. Society will tell you that you are an abomination of a human being for choosing to have a baby without either a trust fund or a husband. Even worse, you fucked an addicted black man with one kid in state custody already, a man who you would come to see was a pathological liar. Society will tell you that you are wrong for loving, or wanting to love, this man who so many other people around you could see would not be your life partner, even if you thought that is what you wanted at the time.
You will see the good in bad people. You do not want society to tell you what to do, who or how to love, or that your worth equals the amount of money you have. If there is one sum kernel of ‘truth’ in the implied benefits of a capitalistic society, it is that the more money you have, the better a person you are. You will learn that capitalism’s promise is also a lie, kind of like your greatest strengths are sometimes also your greatest weaknesses.
You will go back to college.
You will graduate with honors.
You will be accepted into the most prestigious of Ivy League graduate schools but not have enough money to go.
Your heart will break.
You will pick up the scraps.
You will earn a master’s degree.
You will go back on welfare.
You will get a job.
You will want to quit.
You will keep going.
You will want to buy a house.
You will buy a house.
Your firstborn will survive her childhood with all limbs intact and will move out of the house into an apartment that she pays for with money she earns from work.
You will sell your house and earn a decent profit.
And then you will move to the Sonoran desert and live happily ever after.
While many warned you about all the shitty things you will experience as a young single mother, no one will tell you about all of the amazing things that you, and your children, will experience. So your young adulthood will be spent trying to prove everyone wrong. And in middle age, you will finally find the love, compassion, and contentment you searched for your entire life. While the journey will be anything but easy, it will certainly be worth it. You will be glad you decided to keep your baby and follow your path because it was the thing you needed to help you grow and develop into your best version of yourself. And in standing up for your ability to make your own reproductive decisions in the face of condemnation, you will have made the first best decision of your life, even if everyone else thought you were wrong. And in placing that reluctant belief in your own decision making process, you laid the strong foundation for a life in which you will learn to let love be a stronger compass than fear.