I was twenty-one when I fell pregnant with Myla, a person with much healing and learning yet to do but so determined to give her the best of me. From the second I held Myla in my arms, and watched her find comfort as she curled up on my chest with her head tucked beneath my chin; that love and connection was instant. And just like that the meaning of your essence unfolds before your eyes – marking the mission of a lifetime and beyond: to love, nurture and protect.
But when I made the life changing decision to step out into the world as a single mum and raise my daughter 90% of the time on my own, not for one second did I stop and imagine what that would really look like. And though I know it was for the best, it has torn me apart yet made me whole again.
I truly felt I’d failed before I’d barely begun, Myla was just a few months old when we split. I really struggled coming to terms with our transition – in-fact I think I spent a lot of time in denial. The first couple of months I even asked for him back, told him he was right and I couldn’t do it without him. I felt hopeless but determined to show everyone that I wouldn’t let this break me. Yet every night I went to bed feeling empty, staring at my baby while my tears hit the pillow, praying that I would find the strength to overcome this part of my journey.
Though, when I saw The Guardian had published, “For women to increase their hours is often impossible when childcare is so expensive that it costs more than the pay they receive”. And hear our own prime minister say children of single mothers were ‘ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate’. Knowing single parent families earn 27% less than other families, and a third of children in working single parent families live in poverty. Aware that nine in ten single families are headed by women, I knew choosing this path wasn’t going to be all that pretty, but the pressure to show up and rise to the challenge combined with the reality of having no option but to simply make it work, is undeniably the toughest yet most exhilarating thing I’ve ever done.
For the most part though, it feels like a tug of war. I’ve since started and quit two jobs. I’ve trialled what feels like a million different working hours to see which works best. I’ve cried on trains commuting to work. I’ve arrived drenched in sweat to pick Myla up from nursery on time yet paid the late fee more times than I would’ve liked. I’ve stayed up past midnight writing reports that I couldn’t finish in the office. I’ve drowned in guilt and quit on the spot. I’ve worked weekends to stay home during the week – and believe me when I say that’s all just the tip of the iceberg. Yet all while I have dedicated my life to making motherhood work, I still never wholeheartedly feel accomplished or like I’ve won that battle.
Most days feel like I’m doing the impossible but the pressure of everyone watching can be quite intimidating. It’s been two years since becoming a single mum and still, it feels as though my journey is constantly being reviewed. How I’m coping or managing on my own, how I juggle work and childcare or how I get by if I’m not working – so curious to know how I get it all done. I’m reminded that they really don’t see behind the scenes, the struggle to make ends meet. When I have no money and make every grain of rice count. The blood, sweat and tears that goes into staying above water. The daily effort it takes to get up and show up, especially on days I want to hide beneath my quilt. The loneliness, the constant fear of getting it wrong, the ongoing challenge of searching for balance. And so much more.
I’ve yet to find our middle ground but it seems nothing ever meets the criteria. And though our kids don’t come with a manual, we all grow with ideas of how we think we should and want to raise them. Once our ideas aren’t what we once envisioned, we now nit-pick and question everything else we do – Almost as though now nothing we do will ever be good enough for them.
I know I’ve hung myself out to dry by comparing what I have or haven’t achieved with other mums, regularly questioning if I’m even cut out for this, if I’ll do Myla more damage than good. Often focusing on my imperfections rather than my qualities. Fixated on what I can and cannot offer her. It gets overwhelming and exhausting – in every single way! I’ve without a doubt felt more vulnerable in my time as a single mum than ever before. I’ve never questioned myself and everything I do as much as I have the last two years. I’ve really never feared failure as much as I do now.
But our undying love is what keeps us centred and ignited with strength. And whilst the feeling of failure continues to follow me, being Myla’s mother is the one job I’ll never quit.
— Lorena Vargas