Why I Don’t Talk About My Daughter
I have a 5-year-old daughter, and outside of my family, hardly anyone knows.
There’s no mention of her on social media. I don’t talk about her at work. One time I had to leave early because she was sick, and my co-workers thought I was making an excuse to leave until I showed them a video of us together.
When I take her to the store, everyone asks if she’s my sister. I guess I don’t look old enough to be a mother.
“She’s my daughter,” I say.
“Oh,” they usually respond. And then…
“It’s just you and her? Oh, wow.”
“Nobody would ever date a single mom. It must be hard, right?”
There’s a lot of perceived shame around being a single mother, and more so about being a young mother. Never from other single mothers, and never from other young mothers, but I hardly ever encounter any of those.
I’m not young by any means, but I’m at least 10 years younger than the parents of her classmates, so I can’t help but feel like I don’t fit in.
And I am acutely aware that pretty much nobody wants to be in a relationship with a single mom. Why would you want to be with someone who has a kid, when you could be with someone the same age who is years away from even entertaining the thought?
My parents tell me to socialize with other moms, but it’s hard when there’s a huge generational gap between me and other parents. We have absolutely nothing in common except for the fact that we brought children into this world. I tried it once; I went to a “mom’s night” at my daughter’s school. I encountered a room full of moms talking about bedtime routines and pediatricians. The DJ played “In My Feelings”. I was the only one who recognized it. I was the only one who knew the dance.
Although this might seem petty and insignificant, it felt very significant to me. If I wanted to fit in with this group, I’d have to put on a facade and pretend to be passionate about the latest baby gear or the hottest new toys. If I wanted to be a mom, I’d have to ditch the popular music and start listening to Baby Shark. I’d have to give up the manicures and the skinny jeans and start dressing the part. I’d have to research the latest parenting trends and be prepared to discuss them over a cup of coffee while the kids play in the next room.
And I would have to lie about my daily routine with my daughter.
Yes, we wake up, eat breakfast, go to school, I go to work, and then we [pauses to check Google] come home and sit at the table and have a healthy dinner. Then, we start our bedtime routine! We … take a bath, put on pajamas, sing a calming song, and she goes to sleep in [pauses to check Google] her toddler bed. Then she sleeps all night!
I stopped talking about my daughter when I got tired of the subtle but critical remarks that other parents would make.
- You don’t take her to the park after school?!
- You ordered takeout again?!
- You let her pick her own clothes?!
Usually, I just sigh. But sometimes, I snap back.
- Why is she wearing nail polish? Did you know that nail polish contains formaldehyde? I’m aware; she actually paints her own nails, and she paints mine too. Every Saturday morning. And it’s formaldehyde free.
- You let her have a phone? Are you out of your mind? It was a wifi-only device. She was at day care for 12 hours a day. She used it to take pictures of her day; she showed them to me when she got home. That bonding time was the best part of her day.
- Why is your daughter buying her own snacks? Yes, I gave her five dollars and told her she could buy whatever she wanted. She chose bananas and milk, by the way. And she did the math by herself.
- She needs to zipper her jacket. She will zipper her jacket when she realizes that it’s cold outside.
- Your daughter said that she cooked last night. Did you let her cook alone? Oh, sure. I give her unrestricted access to the stove, the oven, and all of the food in the pantry. Come on. Of course I didn’t let her cook alone. She cracks and scrambles her own eggs while I watch. She makes quesadillas and I put them in the oven. Am I really putting her life in danger?
What these people don’t know is that for the first year of her life, I stayed up all night, every night, to watch her sleep because I was afraid she wouldn’t wake up. I would set alarms for every 15 minutes around the clock to make sure I wouldn’t sleep too deeply. I worried more than some people worry in an entire lifetime.
I can withstand the nasty comments about being a single mom. I can withstand having nothing in common with other parents. But I can’t withstand the thought of anyone thinking I would do something to put my daughter in danger.
Honestly, how dare you? And how dare you say any of this stuff in front of her?
The only way I know how to protect her is to teach her to be fiercely independent, so that she will be strong enough to withstand anything that comes her way.
That’s why she does everything for herself. I give her advice and guidance. I let her make little mistakes. I let her try things again. And yes, I talk to her as if she were my friend. I tell her what I did at work, who annoyed me during the day, and I ask what she wants to make for dinner. It doesn’t mean I’m not a parent.
The result? A strong, empathetic, and independent child.
If she hears a stranger making a nasty remark, she says, “That was very rude. Right, mom?”
If she sees me cry, she asks why I’m upset. “Grandma yelled at me,” I tell her. She says something like, “Don’t worry; I’m sure your mommy didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I think she still loves you.”
If she sees that I’m working, she says, “While you’re working, can I play a game?” or “Can I see what you’re doing on the computer?”
I’m proud of that.
But sometimes, it feels like if I were older, or if I weren’t a single mom, I’d be praised for some innovative parenting techniques. Like, wow! Your kid knows how to cook! Wow! Your kid knows how to read and write very well! Wow! She just entertained herself for an hour!
Instead, I’m just a girl who selfishly goes out on a weekday night when I don’t have my daughter instead of staying in and doing her laundry. I’m a girl who spends too much time on her phone instead of reading parenting blogs. I’m a girl who dresses like a teenager and does her hair and makeup before going out.
I couldn’t possibly be a good mom, too.
Perhaps as I age, and as the wrinkles burrow into my forehead, I’ll feel more comfortable telling people I’m a mom.
Perhaps one day, I’ll feel comfortable “hanging out” with other parents.
And perhaps one day, I’ll feel confident talking about how amazing my daughter is.
Maybe when the judgement stops.