I don’t relate to all of this article, “Single Moms are Crazy” – my mother didn’t choose to be a single mother with three children and she wasn’t particularly bohemian. But I do relate to the intensity Katie Roiphe is describing in this piece about her single parent family. And I relate also to that sense of there being almost shifting tectonic plates underneath me when my father left; the way family routines and practices were being remodelled and reimagined in my home in such a spontaneous way without the immovable lines that two adults inevitably draw. And I remember liking it.
But is it more stable or secure to grow up in a house with two parents? There is arguably an absence of what people like to call borders in my house. For instance the baby seems to have caught my insomnia. Before going to bed he howls like a wolf, then says, “I am a wolf,” then says: “Where is my bottle? Where is my mango? Where is my ketchup?” then very deliberately climbs out of his bed and walks through the halls saying, “I am lost, Mama, I am lost.” It occurs to me that in this unfiltered, unmediated environment I am passing everything along to him. In any event, that’s exactly how I feel at 2 in the morning—somewhere in the middle of “I am lost” and “Where is my mango? Where is my ketchup?”
I am prepared to believe that in a household with two adults, there is often a little more balance, a healthy dilution of affection, a diffused focus that makes everyone feel comfortable. One morning I overhear Violet saying to the baby: “You can’t marry anyone. You are going to live with me.” When I first separated from her father five years ago, she said, “Mommy, it’s like you and I are married.” And this would pretty accurately reflect the atmospherics of our house: a little too much love, you might tactfully say.
Quentin Bell once wrote about growing up with his single-ish mother, the painter Vanessa Bell: “We had to balance the comforts of being so well loved against the pain of being so fearfully adored.” And that seems like a fair assessment of what goes on in my house. (The grown son of one of the single mothers I know refers to this same thing as “the unparalleled intimacy.”) But if I am being honest I like the fearful adoration, the too-muchness of it, the intensity, the fierceness. I don’t actually believe “healthy” is better.
This piece probably isn’t doing much to counter the enormous judgementalism that comes at single mothers, and Roiphe’s adventurous upper-middle class life is a long way from the reality of many other single parent households, but it is refreshing to see a single mother celebrate her single motherhood.