Archive for the ‘single parenthood’ Category

One can become unable, in certain emotional states, to read fiction, and for me there is a similar ‘fiction-averse’ component to human experience, where things can seem so intensely real that you don’t want, or aren’t capable of, any distance from them at all. Having a baby seemed like one of those periods; getting divorced was another.

From Rachel Cusk in “Rachel Cusk on her quietly radical new novel, Outline” in Vogue by Megan O’Grady.

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For ease of understanding, I use ‘divorced’ regularly to describe my status, though I was never married. But what other words do you use to convey a relationship you thought would be a lifetime and wasn’t? Until we had children, he and I lacked both the terminology and the ceremony to explain the significance of our relationship to others. Now, without marriage, the transition from inside to outside the relationship has similarly lacked terminology and ceremony, and is apparently so capricious as to require two witness statements to prove it. This is something I discovered recently when updating my tax information. By now, the presence of children is more a confounding variable.

The unstitching is frustrating at times. Even if I know which stitches to unpick for me, without the pattern of marriage and divorce others seem to have difficulty following. And when I turn the fabric over, I find the thread is bunching and looping in ways I hadn’t expected. (“Are you still going to call yourself a single parent if we move in together?”).

From “When will we start celebrating divorce?” in Daily Life.

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Am told my piece for Meanjin has a broken link at the moment so I’m re-posting it here. From the end of last year when I wrote about reading and love affairs…

There’s a small child in the bed with us. I hold the sheet over me and reach down blindly to find clothes on the floor. Under the sheet I slip my underwear and t-shirt back on. So, this is dating now.

One evening I find myself sitting in bed reading Hairy Maclary dog stories to the small child. “Out of the gate and off for a walk, went Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy..”.

It’s not my small child, it’s the son of the man I am seeing. My children are with their father tonight and I’m missing them. The father of this small child is in the living room feeling down. I’m trying not to see that as a bit of an indulgence. And instead, I’m reading to his son and those smalls hands on my arm and a small head rested against my shoulder are bringing a rush of pain to me.

This maternal business, when I’m not with my children, is tearing at careful compartments. But decompartmentalising is this man’s specialty. Out of the gate and off for a walk.

I meet his mother, and then in a rush, his whole family. He wants to meet my children. At first, I believe he’s fearless. He might be wrong for me in several ways but at least he’s fearless.

Last year I read Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson. This year I am re-reading it. I mostly re-read books this year because with everything happening in my life – the work, the grief, the rebuilding, the column writing, the conferences, the dating, the parenting, the budgeting, the anxiety and the calming – I can’t read anything new. I just can’t take anything else in. If I am going to consider anything in it has to be something I already know that I just want to understand better, and differently.

I read a lot to my children. They like re-reading books. The storybook I most enjoy re-reading to them is Stanley’s Stick by John Hegley. The rhythm in that book is something else. I marvel at it every time I read it. Every time.

I hardly read anything. Actually, I read constantly, all year, but hardly anything I think appropriate to highlight in a literary journal, like Meanjin. For instance, Twitter. For instance, Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness. I read that over and over again for part of the year, in a ‘dark night of the soul’ kind of way. I read papers and papers for work. I read a Coroner’s report with a fine-tooth comb. About the death of a child the same age as my daughter. Her mother kills her slowly, but quite thoroughly in the end.

She kills her slowly enough that people are wondering now how that happened. When you read the details, I mean really read them and re-read them, you see a lot of unraveling and the mother knows, she knows she’s unraveling. She asks her daughter to cover up the unraveling with her in more and more ludicrous ways. Most children killed by parents die before they develop the power of speech. But this daughter, who can speak and therefore reflect back what she sees in you, tries, reasons but also colludes. She is protecting her mother the way a mother is supposed to protect a child. Children do.

I distill the findings into something concise and lifeless for a report.

While driving home from the coast my own daughter starts reading aloud to her little brother and me from The Pinballs by Betsy Byars. It’s a young adult novel about children in foster care and I read it when I was about her age. Listening to her, I gasp. I forgot how sad this story is, I say. My daughter pauses thoughtfully and agrees before saying it is one of her favourite books.

When I arrive one night he is in a candlelit bath drinking wine, smoking cigarettes and wearing his dead father’s rosary beads around his neck. Even with tears in his eyes he can laugh. You look like something out of a film, I say. And I take some photographs.

Get in the bath, he tells me. And when I have pulled off my clothes and am stepping into the water he says to stop covering myself. We’re not young, don’t worry about it. He says it with such softness that for a moment I think I am falling in love. (You’re younger than me, too young, I think secretly). I hope you change me, he whispers in bed with a kiss. I can’t change you, I can only be with you while you change yourself, I reply. I guess, he says.

I read The Culture of the New Capitalism by Richard Sennett, the poem of Relational Self-Portrait by Dean Rader, A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, Long Division by Kiese Laymon, The End of Eve by Ariel Gore, The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright, and Aftermath by Rachel Cusk again (and again). It goes without saying I recommend every one of these. In a way, I am reading about uncertainty, but then everything is about uncertainty. Eventually I am reading new things.

But I am also still re-reading The Autobiography of Red. It’s a novel written in verse. Everything is a metaphor. It is terribly beautiful and you need to read it slowly and if you have forgotten how to read slowly, as I have, then you simply read it repeatedly. The more you read it the more you realise stories about love affairs are really stories about trials are really stories about dreams and monsters are really stories about self.

We were supposed to be bringing one another stillness, I point out. He promises me he’s very calm. Yes, I say, because you’re the eye of the fucking storm, you might be calm but no-one else around you ever is. He likes that and we both laugh. But he has a shadow self. It’s appearance is even more alarming to him than it is to me. The kindness, the openness, the intuitiveness and most of all, the fearlessness are gone.

His sense of self crumbles. He tries to argue with me about things I don’t recognise. It’s his past, not mine, and so I lack the bitterness towards it that he is seeking. I return home in a panic. Safe inside my own house I suddenly feel like I am reassembling. Enough, I decide.

Out of the gate.

And off for a walk.

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Over the last couple of years when I have been single, I have thought about what I really wanted in someone for a relationship and that it was kindness and a capacity for awe, never realising how closely related these two things were…

In one part of the study, participants who spent time looking upwards at high eucalyptus trees were more likely to help a researcher who had dropped some equipment than were those who looked at a building. In another, watching clips from Planet Earth triggered more altruistic attitudes. “By diminishing the emphasis on the individual self”, researcher Paul Piff was quoted as saying, “awe may encourage people to forgo strict self-interest to improve the welfare of others.”

Perhaps it’s not surprising that awe has strange effects on us; after all, it’s a pretty strange phenomenon. The late psychologist Paul Pearsall – who did much to campaign for its recognition as an additional “official” emotion, alongside mainstream psychology’s accepted ones – noted that awe cannot be categorized as wholly negative or positive: the mixture of the two is fundamental. Relatedly, it isn’t provoked only by experiences we’d categorize as positive: glorious natural scenes prompt awe, but so can the recognition of mortality brought about by the diagnosis of a potentially fatal disease. Crucially, in the new study, pro-social attitudes were associated with awe felt in the presence of natural beauty and natural disasters. Both are vivid reminders of the smallness of the individual self.

From “Awe: the powerful emotion with strange and beautiful effects” by Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian.

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See The Babadook because it is really about the claustrophobia of single parenthood.

The Babadook

See Actress because it is really about the sexuality of mothers.


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There was only one group of unmarried women for whom the birthrate increased in recent years: those 35 and older. In many cases, they are having babies outside of marriage by choice, with more resources and education than the typical single mother.

They are still a small minority. But if these trends continue, single motherhood could become less of a sign of family instability. It could increasingly become one of the new ways people are choosing to form families, in an era when both marriage and divorce are declining.

From Claire Cain Miller’s “Single motherhood, in decline over all, rises for women 25 and older” in The New York Times.

I just want to say… single motherhood has always been a sign of “the ways people are choosing to form families”.

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From Alice Robinson’s “Aching for Apocalypse” in The Lifted Brow:

I was five when my parents separated, divorced. A series of rented houses followed. I became aware of (then tried not to see) the admirable, painful capacity for carrying on in the face of adversity that some adults possess. My good folks were unflinchingly diligent in their efforts to position themselves equally in my life. For thirteen years I swung like a pendulum between homes and rooms and rules, coming to understand that if there were two different ways of going about domestic life – different foods, different furniture, different ideas about health and wealth and leisure – there must be more. An infinite amount.

I was only ever intermittently with each of my parents, but I guessed that their lives continued when I wasn’t there, unfolding in the private spaces I knew intimately but only sometimes inhabited. I imagined what my distant mother or father might be up to, alone in their home. I grew curious about the things that went on when I wasn’t looking. But there was always some doubt in my mind when I pictured the house I was absent from. The knowledge: anything could be happening.

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