‘Why does our family look different than families on TV?’ There isn’t one way to be a perfect family.’: Lesbian single mom shares journey

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Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of sexual abuse and suicide that may be triggering to some.

“’Families come in all shapes and sizes. The most important thing is the love we have for one another!’ This has been a conversation I’ve been having with my 3 ½-year-old son, August, ever since he became old enough to ask why our family looked a bit different than the ones he was used to seeing in his books and TV shows.

I have been raising my son as a single mother since he was born, when I was 19 years old. His biological father has not been a consistent presence in his life, nor a safe one, and at this point, he legally is not allowed any contact. It’s absolutely for the best, but it has still been a pretty difficult thing for a 3 ½ year old to have to begin to understand. In addition to being a single mother, last year I also came to terms with the fact I feel most comfortable identifying as a lesbian.

mom holding son
Courtesy of Audrey

Realizing this about myself was difficult for many different reasons, part of me was convinced I couldn’t actually be gay because I had already had a child and had been in a relationship with a man before, and part of me didn’t want to admit the feelings I was having were real because I was scared of what that would mean for my son. He already had so much he would have to face growing up, and I felt guilty for adding a gay parent to his plate of future trauma he would be dealing with. I don’t have that same feelings of guilt now, after coming out this last year I realized it’s better for my child to have a happy parent than a straight parent.

But in a society that values the nuclear family structure as ideal, it’s uncommon to see much representation of unique families like ours in the media. Society seems to paint unconventional families in a negative light. But in reality, there are so many different, but still valid, types of family structures! Some families have a mommy and daddy, some families have two mommies or two daddies, some families have only one parent, some families have step parents, some families have adults other than the biological parents raising children, etc. There isn’t one perfect way to be a family.

mom and her son at the park
Courtesy of Audrey

I believe if I had more conversations that looked like this when I was growing up, there wouldn’t have been so much guilt and stress when I was finally coming to terms with who I am. I wouldn’t have had to go through such an extensive process of unlearning this deeply ingrained societal ideal I felt like I was a failure because I couldn’t uphold. I grew up in a selectively liberal, but still very heteronormative and very Christian household. When the topic of homosexuality was brought up to my parents, the idea of being gay was viewed as a rare abnormality, something that was ‘gross’ or ‘weird,’ and normal people just grew up and married who they were supposed to. There was virtually no queer representation, but I still knew from a fairly young age I liked girls.

At some point in high school, I decided maybe I was bisexual, but didn’t feel like I needed to ‘come out’ yet, because if I was bi then that meant there was still a chance I would end up with a man, so no point in opening up that can of worms just yet. Growing up, the traditional nuclear family was emphasized as the ultimate goal for a young woman. Marriage, house, babies, the American dream. I was conditioned by my mother to think that getting a boyfriend should be one of my main priorities in life. She centered importance around our physical appearance and idolizing the traditional feminine beauty standards. This was a mindset my grandmother had ingrained into my mother long before my mother attempted to ingrain it into my sister and I.

mom and son walking
Courtesy of Audrey

This mindset was reinforced in big and small ways throughout my entire life. Raised to seek male validation, while simultaneously trained to be your own worst critic. Never allowing oneself to feel comfortable enough to find that validation within. My childhood was basically the definition of compulsory heterosexuality. I understand now a lot of that came from societal ideals at the time. And now in 2021, my family has made some serious progress in terms of their views towards the LGBTQIA community, their willingness to listen and grow has been surprising and very much appreciated. But still, some damage was definitely done while I was young.

This is where I was at mentally when I met August’s father. I was a few months away from turning 18 and it was my first, last, and only relationship with a man. I was at my lowest point and he saw a young girl who he could easily manipulate and take advantage of. He built this trust between us in a manner that can only be described as predatory. He manipulated me and mentally, physically, and sexually abused me many times. I tried to end things over and over again and whenever I’d try to leave he’d put on a convincing show saying he would kill himself and it would be my fault, knowing my mother had committed suicide only a few years prior.

He often ‘joked’ about different ways he would kill me too. The entire relationship was so scary and I tried to break it off many many times, and kept getting sucked back into the cycle of abuse. This was my first ever relationship and I didn’t have many healthy relationship dynamics to reference, I knew what was happening was bad and scary, but as someone who grew up in a traumatic household it didn’t feel abnormal to have someone tell me they loved me directly after they had hurt me. I didn’t understand the depth of how much danger I truly was in at the time.

I got pregnant at 18 years old, while I had the Nexplanon birth control implant in my arm. I still have the scar from the implant. I tried to make things work with his dad on and off throughout my pregnancy, for literally no other reason than pressure from family to fit into that coveted societal ideal. I didn’t want my child to grow up and resent me for not trying to give him that ‘perfect family.’

pregnant woman in yellow dress
Courtesy of Audrey

I now know there is no such thing as a ‘perfect family’ and the mindset only the biological mom and biological dad are the ‘perfect family’ for the child can actually be incredibly damaging in today’s society where there are so many beautiful variations of families. I understand that now, but I was 19 when I gave birth to my son and was doing my best with the knowledge I had at the time.

baby in chair
Courtesy of Audrey

After I became a mom and looked into the face of my new baby, this little human that I was responsible for keeping safe and healthy, the fantasy of a ‘happy family’ just shattered and it was like a veil had completely been lifted and I was just looking at the reality of the situation.

baby sleeping
Courtesy of Audrey

I ended things completely with his dad when August was 6 weeks old and my body had recovered from birth. At 6 weeks postpartum I packed all of our stuff and moved out of the apartment we shared and my son and I moved into the spare room at my grandparents house. It was the best decision I have ever made. We lived with my grandparents for over 2½ years and in that time I was able to get my GED, go to a trade school, graduate with a 4.0 GPA, become a certified medical assistant, get a car, work at a pediatricians and a dermatology office, build my savings, and get my own place for my son and I, all while raising my son as a single mother.

mom in cap and gown with son
Courtesy of Audrey

I didn’t do this alone. I am more than blessed my family has changed their views and they have been very supportive of me as a single parent. There were many issues in the past that have been addressed and even forgiven, due to willingness to listen and change moving forward. We are all in a much better place now physically and mentally, our family is closer than ever and I’m so grateful for how much love and support they’ve shown us. Especially after I came out.

All the alone time in quarantine really made me have to deal with the things about myself I was purposefully not dealing with. The lack of day-to-day distraction gave me the opportunity to really sit with the thoughts and feelings I was avoiding. I had been single since I had my son, almost 4 years in my early 20’s. I was comfortable being single because I couldn’t really picture myself with a man. I’d go on dates, talk to guys on dating apps, and just lose interest or feel uncomfortable. But in reality, I was comfortable being single because I saw the only alternative as being with a man and between the two, I just rather not be with a man.

After being alone with my thoughts for a good long time I realized so much about my ‘attraction’ to men was seeking that validation I was raised to desire from them. But I wasn’t attracted to them in the way that felt genuine. And definitely not in the same way I love women. Once I began to allow that seed to fully blossom in my mind, the idea maybe I really was gay, and maybe that was even okay… everything changed. That little seed blossomed into a full blown garden and it was like I was seeing the world for the first time from the point of view of someone who felt right in their body. I had always had this deep level of discomfort that was centered around my body and my appearance and came from years of catering myself to the male gaze.

mom and son in a park
Courtesy of Audrey

Slowly as I started living my life more authentically and presenting myself as who I truly wanted to be, I felt that deep discomfort start to disappear. And one day it just hit me, I actually feel good about myself. I finally feel comfortable with who I am. It was literally like a weight was lifted off of me and I just felt ‘right’ within myself. Shortly after this I realized I only wanted to live life as my most authentic self and didn’t want to waste anymore time feeling shameful or hiding. I came out to close friends first, and then slowly started telling my family.

I was incredibly lucky in the fact I did not receive a single negative reaction. My family had some questions but all in all were very supportive, my grandmother even said ‘the lesbian thing doesn’t surprise me’ and reassured me it didn’t change anything. We love a supportive queen. My younger self would have been surprised everyone reacted so well. I wish I could go back in time and tell teenage me she didn’t have to be so worried, it may take some time, but their views will change, they will have their own growth too. And they will understand and still love you no matter what.

I’m 23 years old now, my son August is almost 4. We’ve spent the last 4 years growing and learning together, and it’s been the happiest years of my life. I genuinely love being a single mom. I love I get to experience everything with my child and don’t have to fight about decision making, or deal with any unnecessary drama, or share the good moments half the time. It’s just me and my little dude and the happy little life we’re living. Nothing has brought me more joy or given me such a sense of purpose the way that motherhood has.

When I used to picture my future, I saw a husband and kids. After I came out, I started to realize the reality of our future would obviously be a little bit different now. Something I thought a lot about was when and if August would get to have a sibling. I knew I wanted him to be able to have the opportunity of having a sibling close in age because I grew up with my only sibling being 8 years older than me and it always felt like we were just at very different places in our lives.

The more I thought about it since coming out as a lesbian as an already single mom, I began to think about starting the process to intentionally have a child through the use of a sperm donor so my children could have siblings close in age. This is one way queer women choose to create children, through the use of a donor. So the idea of having a child that way wouldn’t seem as taboo to a future queer woman romantic interest, as it probably would be if I were still interested in dating straight cis men.

mom and her son smiling
Courtesy of Audrey

I put a lot of thought into everything and realized I rather have MY children as a single mom and then choose a parent to fit with my family and my kids and then after they develop a bond I could even make the decision to let that person adopt MY kids. I would be able to truly see what kind of parent they would be before actually creating a child with them. I would rather choose to let someone adopt my child after a long period of time where they build a relationship, than get into a relationship and create a child with someone and god forbid they aren’t a good fit, go through another scary fight for custody. Fighting in court for the safety of your child and having to go above and beyond to convince a judge your child is in danger, is an experience that can truly change your mind about how you want to have children in the future. That experience with my first son was traumatic and I never want to go through anything like that with another child.

Being a single mom already, I’d rather base a future romantic relationship around my children than base my children around a future romantic relationship. There is NOTHING more important to me than my children. I’m very comfortable and happy being a single mother. I’ve never felt like the type of person that needed to be in a relationship and I’m perfectly content with waiting for the right one to come along.

In the spring of 2021, I made the decision to conceive my second child, who I am currently 12 weeks pregnant with as a lesbian solo parent through the use of a donor and my doctors office by artificial insemination. I got pregnant on the first attempt and was completely shocked I got lucky so quickly! August is over the moon excited to be a big brother and I’m so grateful he’s going to get the opportunity to have a sibling he will be able to grow up with. I hope they develop an amazing bond and will always be there for each other. My family is very excited and supportive and looking forward to having another little one in the family.

mom with positive pregnancy test
Courtesy of Audrey

I feel so incredibly blessed to be at this point in my life right now, I have truly never been happier. I finally feel comfortable in the life I am living and I’m so excited to see what the future brings. I wish I could go back in time and show my younger self the life that I have now and reassure her everything is going to be okay and you will find a happiness you can’t even begin to imagine. A family consisting of a single lesbian mommy to two little ones may seem a little unconventional to most, but it’s beyond perfect for us.

I’m so grateful for my children and the opportunity to raise them in an accepting and inclusive home. I know growing up in a non-traditional family dynamic may bring up a lot of questions and new experiences for them, but I hope they understand my intentions have always been positive and I will always be here for them no matter what. Raising this next generation with empathy and pride. Happy pride month!”

Courtesy of Audrey

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Audrey. You can follow her journey on Instagram and Tiktok. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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