In November 2017, 24 single mothers by choice (SMCs) from across North America found each other on Facebook and decided to vacation together in Jamaica. What could possibly go wrong?
First, let me explain that a single mother by choice, or "choice mom," is a single woman who chooses motherhood. You are not a choice mom if you started a family with a partner and then divorced. For the most part, SMCs are single professional women over the age of 35 who go full force with their dream of parenthood, despite not having found the right partner in time. Many of us use sperm banks or adopt. In general, we are an ambitious and kick-ass group.
Now, back to the "what could go wrong" part...
A couple of weeks before the trip, I was getting my hair cut and chatting with my dresser/therapist. "And have you ever met these women, like, in person?" he asked.
I felt a slight panic rise in my chest. "Uh, no. But I don't think that matters," I stammered. Gary shot me some sass and continued styling my layers.
My stylist wasn't the only one foreshadowing issues. Several other friends scoffed at the idea of a group of women being able to vacation together without deteriorating into catfights and cliques.
I, however, wasn't too concerned. I had gone to my first SMC meeting about five years ago, back when I was trying to get pregnant. As I walked down the narrow steps of the grungy community centre in downtown Manhattan, I remember thinking, "Who are these losers who can't find a partner? I mean, I haven't either, but obviously my situation is just a case of bad luck." Well, my judgment couldn't have been further from the truth.
I walked into a room of attractive, stylish and successful women. They were lawyers, teachers, artists and bankers, and they weren't going to let the myth of the traditional family squelch their dreams. After attending events for years, I experienced a valuable kinship. Choice moms share an unconventional journey, braving motherhood alone despite all the criticisms and challenges.
Five years after that first meeting, I am now a mom to a spirited two-year-old. I have since moved back to my hometown, Toronto, to be closer to family and raise my son in a more equitable society. Although I am proud that I followed my dreams, I cannot lie — it can sometimes be lonely, stressful and exhausting juggling work, maintaining a home, navigating parenting and holding onto some semblance of a social life all by myself. This past fall, I was headed for single mommy burnout and in dire need of a vacation.
I realized that frantically filling every moment with work, errands and serving a little human is no way to live.
So, on Nov. 1 I boarded a plane with six other SMCs from Toronto. After wrangling screaming kids through a disorganized customs, we stepped onto an overcrowded bus with about a dozen more, some of whom had survived a red-eye flight and multiple connections with two kids, alone.
It's no secret that travelling with young kids is a special kind of hell. If I'm being honest, I also remember wondering why I ever had a kid in the first place. But travelling across time zones with a toddler would turn anyone into a disoriented existentialist.
The resort must have known that bumpy buses and young children lead to a sense of doom, because they greeted us with an abundance of warmth. We were each introduced to our personal nanny, (we weren't kidding when we said vacation) and breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Did we gossip or bicker? Did we compete over who was going to sleep with the hotel handyman?
Uh, no. (And isn't it a bit of a patriarchal projection, thinking that a group of women can't hang together without getting their meow on to compete for some less-than-deserving dude?) Maybe it's because we were all well over 13 years old. Maybe it's because SMCs are mature, pragmatic, educated, successful women who have their shit together. Maybe it's because catfighting is an outdated sexist fantasy perpetuated by The Jersey Shore and Jerry Springer.
It was actually was one of the best vacations ever.
At first, as an attachment parent, I worried about "abandoning" my newly verbal toddler with a new nanny for a few hours each day. But I quickly got over that when I saw that the caregivers stick together as a group, splitting time between waterslides, the beach and a play area. It is seriously kid heaven, complete with a ball pit, goat races and turtles you could feed any time.
And what did I do with my alone time? READ a BOOK, jumped off a waterfall like a teenager at summer camp, rode a friggin' HORSE in the OCEAN, had TIME to remember my DREAMS and WRITE THEM DOWN, floated across waves and talked endlessly with kindred spirits.
(We are already planning next year's trip.)
My son and I enjoyed quality bonding time, which included watching DOLPHINS JUMP in the OCEAN, napping together, admiring rainbows and going down a monster water slide together (not something anyone would allow a toddler in North America, but when in Jamaica...). My two-year-old opened our door every morning and proclaimed, "I'm looking at the WORLD!"
But, most importantly, the trip gave me time to reflect. I realized that frantically filling every moment with work, errands and serving a little human is no way to live. I need to breathe, eat good food and make love.
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I realized that every mother, married or not, needs time for herself. Virginia Woolf was onto something when she advocated that "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." And so I found a beach of my own. Although feminism has allowed us to have careers, most of us feel guilt-ridden when spending time away from our kids. We count the hours they are at daycare or school and neglect our social lives and relationships to make up for our absence. Although there is no evidence that kids who have stay-at-home moms fare better than those who work — in fact, some research suggests only advantages for children of working moms — the myth of the homemaker as ideal can be debilitating. Most of us can push through the guilt to justify earning money. But time to lie on a beach? That can be difficult for any mother, single or not.
Let me be clear that I am not talking about neglecting your child. I am all about attachment and quality time. But it's interesting that there are no studies that follow the emotional and financial success of a child with a happy, relaxed mom versus a guilt-ridden, over-compensating one. What if guilt and being over-taxed is more damaging than time away?
Single or not, maybe all moms need to take time out to dream.
Interestingly, during my trip one of my most reoccurring dreams was about finding a lover. Although in one sense being a single mother by choice is an empowering life decision, it can also be lonely. It was never my Plan A to become an SMC. I just didn't want to miss out on having a kid simply because I hadn't found true love before my eggs hatched.
Since returning from Jamaica, the girls and I keep in touch. I read another book, continue to jot down my dreams and have even gone on a few promising dates. But, more importantly, if I close my eyes I can still see myself riding a horse in the waves, and it reminds me that I am more than a working mom — I am a sexy, brilliant and complicated woman with myriad desires. There is so much more to me than someone who gets through her daily to-do list, and if I never forget that, my son will have a more satisfying, joyful and well-rounded sense of his world.
Single or not, maybe all moms need to take time out to dream.
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