First comes love then comes marriage then comes the baby in the baby carriage. Not one for bending to the whim of a rhyme, I started with the baby.
You should know upfront, this is not a silver-slippers, Disney-esk love story.
In fact, up until recently I had thought my fairy godmother had died of cholera. This is not a post about perfection or presenting a smug 'look at me and my happiness', or getting a storybook family that you 'should' have. It is about hope, and strength, and how journeys aren't quite always what you think they will be.
When pregnant I was convinced a family was what I needed, what my son needed. It was told to me, it was demanded and urged both subtlety and shouted. That plaguing thought drove me to stay in a place, in a relationship, that was desperately unhappy. Sometimes families don't work, people don't stay together and shouldn't stay together. The glacial fear of separation potentially being 'bad' for a child bound mummy and daddy together until all there was left was anger and resentment.
Through no one's fault love can get lost.
Being a single mother was perhaps my greatest achievement but at times felt like my greatest failure. I carried disappointment, stigma, financial strain and loneliness. Life was juggling a hundred heavy balls and having no one to catch them except me. Picture perfect white picket fence mums and dads sometimes incited jealousy. But then I had duvet forts and fish finger sandwiches with no one to consider but my son and myself. Two musketeers instead of three works pretty darn well. As a lone parent I did feel like I would never find someone else, like I should never find someone else because I had a little person reliant to me forever, my first priority. How could I trust a person with my feelings or with the care of my child's? Who would want to take on this kind of milk-drinking, sticky-fingered, Teletubby-loving extra?
Dating and relationships seemed like one big impossible paradox. My sleep deprived brain had little time for it.
As I said, this is not a, 'how to get a boyfriend' post. Single parents can kick ass on their own. A single father does not need a wife to be a good dad. A woman does not need a partner. Family, 'a group consisting of two parents and their children living together as a unit'. The dictionary definition needs to wake up and smell modernity. I was a family alone with my boy. What about those that choose to go it alone, those that adopt and use donors?
BUT, if in those quiet hours at night you are worrying and wondering and hoping. Just because one future faded doesn't mean all of them are lost. It is a universe of endless possibilities... and Tinder.
The other week my partner proposed and I said yes. Three little letters. I wasn't looking for someone. My new family didn't fall beautifully into place. It took time. My partner lovingly folded an unexpected child into his world, into his life. We have all stumbled round in the dark at times and constantly compromise.
Sin and the single mother.
The thing I find difficult? A sparkling ring on my left hand is not enough to silence judgement.
People pose well intended questions to my partner, casual conversations asking him why he chose someone with a child. Should I feel grateful that my partner is marrying me? I am grateful yes, for him and everything he is but our relationship is not founded on charity.
We are all deserving of being loved with no exceptions or apologies.
The weight of a baby born out of wedlock is heavy. Will I for the rest of my life have whispers follow me for not staying with someone that treated me badly? Why can't being a single parent be a celebration of being brave and independent, rather than a social pariah?
And my partner? He gets two people that love him instead of one. Family life will be a challenge, happily ever after is hard won, but no family is perfect or easy.
Instead I need to start worrying about if fitting into a wedding dress when I eat Snickers for breakfast.
Are you a single parent? Are you in the process of separating, are you happily married? Is there a right or wrong parent or family?