What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here.  Today’s guest post is by Erica Shaw.

I want you to know that this was something I chose. I knew the moment I walked out of the house on that warm, breezy fall day, that I was choosing a different life for me and Esper. I knew it would be hard, and I knew we would struggle. In that moment I felt like I was making the best choice for us. I have since doubted, regretted, felt peace with, regretted again, and come to terms with the choice I made. I wouldn’t change what I did, but it’s hard to completely remove the guilt you feel when making a choice that so deeply affects your child and the rest of her life.

I want you to know that while I knew it would be hard, my idea of what I thought being a single mom would be was pretty different than what it’s really like. While some of the hardest moments are the ones in which I am overwhelmed with the stresses of life (like trying to write a paper for school late at night while Esper decides she’s going to wake up every 30 minutes and cry), sometimes the hardest moments have been watching my child accomplish something or experience joy and not having someone there to share it with. The first Christmas away from her father I cried as I watched the pure joy coming from our sweet daughter, wishing he could be there to see it too. There were other hard moments. The first family photos we had taken in which he wasn’t there. Being at restaurants and seeing all the couples with their children. It hurt that “family” meant something different now. It hurt that she would never have memories of the way it used to be. That being said, those are things I mourn for. She does not, because so far she doesn’t know any different. Yes, one day she will realize that some kids get both parents at home, and that will be something she will mourn on her own time in a completely different way. As far as she’s concerned, she’s got a pretty cool life with step parents, siblings, and lots of family.

I want you to know that while I may have been able to do it all on my own, I feel like I did a much better job being her mother with the support and help of friends and family. We lived with my parents for the first year and a half after we moved out. It was amazing having four generations of family all living in one house. My daughter got love and attention from her mother, grandmother, grandfather, and great-grandmother on a daily basis. If her family situation had changed, she certainly didn’t feel it. There were (and are still) so many times in which my mother and father dropped what they were doing to help take care of their granddaughter. When she was sick, when I was sick, when I desperately needed to go on a drive to clear my head, etc. My friends that have joined us on lunch dates or even just offered advice on Facebook have provided me with some much needed social interaction and support. Now that we live on our own, our downstairs neighbor is someone we both look forward to seeing daily. Speaking of which…

I want you to know that sometimes Esper and I get really sick of each other. Especially in the summer when we’re out of school. Time away from each other is a really good thing for any relationship. Time to miss each other is something I value. Though I find that as soon as I’m out at an event, I inevitably start thinking about her and wondering what she might be doing. So our life is a constant balancing act of trying to spend a lot of time together, and getting a break from each other. Time for me to be independent and pursue interests and have a social life are necessary for me to be the best mom I can be to her. I’ve learned through the years that guilt is something that will come around every now and then, and that’s ok. It doesn’t mean that I have to listen to everything it is saying, though.

I want you to know that when you’re a single mom, people feel the need to judge you even harsher. I hear all of these things: You shouldn’t be going to school right now. You should be working full time. You shouldn’t be taking government handouts. You’re not doing what’s best for her. You need to try… You should be doing…
Parents are going to get unsolicited advice no matter what. That just goes with the territory. But when someone who has never been a single mom judges you for the choices you’re making, that is just ridiculous. I won’t try to convince you that what I’m doing is right for me and therefore right for her. The only person I need to answer to is myself and her. Please, keep your judgements to yourself.

I want you to know that while being a single mom is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, it’s also the most fulfilling. I’m not a person that carries a lot of confidence with myself, and yet being Esper’s mommy is giving me some. A lot, actually. Everything that has taught me or challenged me up to now has paled in comparison to the quest of raising this child and keeping my sanity. When faced with challenges, it’s a simple math problem. I have solved the equation of raising a single child. Solved = managed to make it work. Therefore, yes, I think I can handle this new challenge. A new relationship that brings with it new trials? Let’s do it. A disease that changes the way I look at food and completely alters my diet? Bring it on. Spend my life loving and teaching this amazing person? As Barney Stinson would say, “Challenge accepted!”

Oh, and also? I get to experience hundreds of kisses, thousands of “I love you”s and millions of moments of pride and joy. Doesn’t sound like a terrible gig, does it?