“I never know how to answer when someone asks how many children I have. It’s a seemingly straightforward question which, in reality, is a tricky math equation and a consideration of technicalities – and it often leads to stunned, confused faces and judgmental looks.
I have one child now. But I’ve had 9, altogether. One passed away. And I’m expecting – but I have no idea when my ‘due date’ is. Could be two hours from now, could be two months from now. I only know who the father is for one of those nine kids, and my forever son, Jack, has three siblings, none of whom live with us.
That’s just one minor example of complexities of being a single foster and adoptive mother.
I came to foster parenting by accident. Some women dream of having big families and becoming mothers – but not me. In fact, the older I got, the more sure I was I never wanted children. Children would take away all of my freedom and flexibility, and I liked living my life the way I wanted to: traveling when I wanted, napping when I wanted, doing whatever sounded fun to me at that moment. Why have a child and ruin that?
In my mid twenties, I led the marketing strategy for a foster care agency. Through my work with them I learned all about foster care, the desperate need for good foster parents, and the harsh reality children in foster care faced. While I had compassion for the children in foster care, it never crossed my mind that I could help. I was a single girl in a small apartment and I was definitely in no position to be a mother, even temporarily. Becoming a single mother by choice was something other women did, women who were stronger and far more selfless than me.
By the time my early thirties came around, the thought of becoming a foster parent landed in my mind and wouldn’t leave. The more I researched, the more convinced I became I was actually in the perfect position to be a foster mother. I now led corporate communications for a global tech company, so I was making plenty of money. I was also able to work from home whenever I wanted to, so I had the time and flexibility to dedicate to the children. I even had an extra bedroom in my apartment – the perfect size for a nursery. Since I had the most experience with infants (I nannied for twin newborns in college), I figured I’d specialize in children 2 years old or younger.
But even when I decided to foster, I fostered precisely because it wasn’t forever. I loved children, but I only wanted to play the role of Mommy temporarily. There’s no way I was strong enough (or financially stable enough, or selfless enough) to be a forever solo mother.
Over the course of the next two years, I fostered four babies: a three month old, a newborn straight from the hospital, an 18 month old, and a 6 month old. Some stayed just a few weeks, and some stayed many months. They were all eventually reunited with family, and I sobbed when each of them left. They left with a piece of my heart; I fell in love with each one hard and fast.
Then, on June 14, 2017, my plot twist arrived.
I was in Chicago on a work trip when I got a phone call from the Department of Child Services. They had three babies who needed homes and wanted to know if I was able to take one of them. The caseworker on the other end of the call said the third baby he described would be the hardest; the foster home he had been in for the first three months of his life reported he wouldn’t stop crying. The frustrated foster parents wanted the baby gone as soon as possible. I was feeling up to the challenge, so I chose him. All I knew was that he was four months old, his name was Jackson, and he had some strong lungs.
I clearly remember the first moment I saw him. He was so gorgeous and teeny tiny and he had the most perfect porcelain skin and giant blue eyes and rosy red cheeks and rosebud lips. He looked like a doll. I had never seen a more beautiful baby in my whole life.
Our journey was not a simple one. The goal of foster care is always biological family reunification, and for over a year I continued to fall deeply in love with Jack all the while knowing he could be reunited with his family at any time. I wanted his parents to get their lives together and earn Jack back, but I also couldn’t imagine saying goodbye to him. Eventually, the Department of Child Services moved to terminate his birth parents’ rights, meaning he would stay with me forever.
A year later, when we finally went to court to make the adoption official, I sobbed the entire morning. I was thrilled my son would be mine legally, forever and ever. I was relieved it was all over and we could be a ‘normal’ family without caseworker visits, complicated paperwork and legal limbo. But I was also crying because my ‘win’ was his birth mother’s huge loss. The happiest day of my life was probably the saddest day of her life. The reality is that there is no adoption without trauma and loss, and I felt the weight of that truth more than ever on adoption day.
Today, Jack and I enjoy an amazing open adoption with his entire birth family. His biological parents have since gotten clean, are in stable housing, hold good jobs – and are even expecting twins. An open adoption is a complicated, awkward, messy, lifelong relationship – but as it turns out, unconventional relationships are kind of my thing. Jack has two mothers, and he’s loved fiercely by both. I want him to grow up knowing just how important and special his first family is.
Being a single mother is more difficult than I ever imagined.
Let me be clear: any kind of parenting is HARD. Whether you’re a solo parent or a married parent or a billionaire parent with four nannies, no one gets out of parenthood with their sanity intact. I am in no way trying to suggest that married or coupled parents are skipping their way through parenthood fresh as a daisy. I see them struggling, too. The parenthood struggle bus turns away no one.
But single parenting is a different kind of brutal.
Having a partner makes parenthood so much easier financially, mentally, emotionally and logistically in ways you cannot possibly comprehend until you’re living the solo parent life. Having a partner means you have a wealth of resources and supports that single parents just don’t have access to.
If you were to say, suddenly lose your job, you have another income to fall back on. If you were up puking in the middle of the night with a stomach bug and the baby woke up crying, you have someone to nudge out of bed to handle the feeding. If it was your first day of work and daycare called to say your kiddo was sick and needed to be picked up, they could take one for the team.
Because when I suddenly lost my job through no fault of my own (not once but twice in a year), it was up to me to figure out how to make ends meet. When I was puking all night with a stomach bug and the baby woke up crying, I had to barf in a bucket while simultaneously feeding the baby and pray for death to come swiftly. When it was my first day of work and daycare called to say Jack was sick, I had to hope my boss wouldn’t hold it against me for leaving after just three hours of work.
But coupled parenting isn’t just easier logistically, it’s easier emotionally. You can share joys and pains. You can bounce ideas off one another. When you’ve had a terrible day and the tantrums just won’t stop, you have someone laying next to you in bed to give you a hug or a kiss or a comforting word, or even just to take solace in knowing there’s another adult in the house.
As a solo parent, every single child-related task falls to me. Every decision is my sole responsibility. Every dollar we need to pay our bills is up to me and only me to make. Every fear is mine to sit with, alone. Every bad day is mine to carry on my solo shoulders. There is no fallback. There are no co-pilots. I am Plan A through Z. I either make it all happen myself, or I fail my children. There’s no, ‘Hey can you handle this for a second?’
On my worst, most anxious days, the fear is so thick I feel like I’m suffocating. For a person already prone to anxiety and panic, this brings on some very dark nights where I feel like I’m drowning in a fear spiral: What if I’m not good enough? What if I lose my job? What if I get sick? What if I’m alone forever? Who will take care of me? Who will make sure I’M doing okay?
But on my best days, being a solo parent by choice is empowering. Yes, it’s all on me — but it’s all on me, baby! That house and those private schools? I worked my butt off to pay for it. The kind, loving, happy boy Jack has become? I did that. Sometimes I may not want to be Superwoman, but I am superwoman.
I willingly chose to be a solo parent and I would choose it again one hundred million times. In fact, we’re expanding our family through foster care again – and our next little one could come at any moment.
I knew it would be hard. I knew it would be inconvenient. I knew it would be isolating. I knew it would be expensive. It is still the absolute best decision I’ve ever made, and my life is so much better for having Jack and my foster children in it.
Jack is three now, and when we do something together like picking up toys or finishing a chore, he high fives me and says, ‘Jack and Mommy Teamwork POWER!’ He recognizes the strength of our bond and the strength of his momma. And for me, that’s all I could ever wish for and more.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Elizabeth Friedland. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her podcast. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read another story by Eilzabeth here:
‘That’s IT? We’re going to be a forever family?’ His parents terminated their rights. I was in such shock I was numb.’: Single woman becomes ‘forever mom’ after unexpectedly adopting son, ‘He’s the best gift I never knew I wanted!’
Read about more amazing foster care journeys here:
‘I’ve wanted to be adopted all the time I’ve been in foster care. This is the best day of my life!’ I squeezed his hand. ‘It’s the best day of mine, too.’: Single dad adopts boy from foster care, ‘Love defines our family’
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