Today is Mother’s Day back home in the USA, here in Malaysia where I now call home, and in lots of countries around the globe. First and foremost it is the day to acknowledge our moms and be grateful for the person they’ve helped us become. But for single moms (or single dads), it’s also the perfect day to celebrate the adventure and the beauty that our extraordinary ‘single parent’ life holds.
Although my daughter left for university in the UK a few years ago, she’s still the brightest glowing light in my life. Her father was from Spain and he and I divorced when she was a baby, just one year old. In the 17 years (204 months) before my little birdie flew the nest, my ex only paid 3 months of child support and to this day has never contributed a cent towards her education. It fell on my shoulders and luckily I have a supportive family who helps out when I fall short. My ex bought cars, holidays, and houses so he could have done the right thing as a parent but he was a bully and threatened to fight me for custody if I ever fought him for child support so I never did. I wish I did though, it would have made my life so much easier! But I suppose, we learn from our mistakes as life goes on.
And to be honest, I (mostly) never cared and certainly never played the victim.
I had the best gift in the world from him: an amazing daughter who I’m proud to say I know amazingly well and who trusted me to share her ‘firsts’ with as they happened in life. She’s funny, clever, giving, kind, adventurous, and just a little bit naughty. From day one, I made a conscious decision to live ‘single mom’ life to the maximum and simply feel blessed. At first, we did simple things like weekend trips to the zoo or Wild Animal Park together. Then domestic trips within the USA while we lived there.
Then I branched out into adventures for ME. I started driving into L.A. every Thursday night to go salsa dancing at the Mayan with a dear friend. I saved up money so I could get my private pilot’s license and it was a THRILL to move my daughter’s car seat from the back of my car to a Cessna or a Piper and fly around southern California with her! ‘Cuz I mean, come on! A mom’s fun shouldn’t only be as a parent, right?
Then when my daughter was 7 we moved back to Spain so she could grow up close to her father as well, and that year we spent our first Christmas and New Year someplace exotic on the African continent. Tunisia, to be exact. Money has generally been tight but I found an amazing flight + hotel deal for only 299 Euros each for 10 days. We filled up a suitcase with a ton of her old toys, bought French and Arabic phrase books, rented a car and explored the country alone, passing out her little gifts to boys and girls we encountered along the way. We didn’t have the money to buy new toys to give away but we had cleaned up and only selected the best of the ones she had grown out of and it was a marvellous adventure.
Never Let Anything Stand In Your Way
I imagine that my spirit to explore the world came from my (sadly now departed) Dad who worked for an airline and had me flying from the time I was 2 weeks old. However, I know with certainty that the foundations I live my life upon – that a woman can do anything a man can do, and to never let anything stand in the way – I learned from my Mom. She was a badass pioneer of women’s rights and equality in the 70s who fought injustice with logic and passion. She was one of the first women in southern California to buy her own home without a husband or family member as a co-signer and who had a department store credit card (which seems silly to say NOW but it was a really big deal back then!!).
When I shared that my Mom was my biggest influence in a Skype call yesterday with my daughter, I decided to ask her if she’d share the biggest life lesson she learned from me. Here’s what (I’m so proud) she sent over to me in a message later:
‘I guess what I learned from you is that I can do anything I want and be anything I want in life (career-wise). You’ve set some pretty good examples: moving us to Spain, moving us to India, wanting to start your own company, doing what makes you happy, and you never give up. You keep trying and you fight to do what you love and to make yourself happy, even when times are really hard. And you always want what is best for me (like sending me to the best schools so I can get the best education, which obviously would open up more doors than in public school) because you believe in me and want me to aim high and get what I want from life. So I think you’ve shown me that I can “follow my dreams” as long as I work towards them. I feel like most people are very restricted, like most people tend to not leave their home country and they aim for what they think is realistic. The career I know I want is to work in a developing country somewhere fighting against the diseases that no one cares about, and I don’t care if that makes me a lot of money or no money at all, I’m aiming for that life because I know it will make me happy. I’m pretty sure I got my ambition from you.’
She’s right, sometimes all it takes is ambition. I dropped out of uni but had drive and somehow having an ex husband who was a bully and who didn’t pay child support like every other father on the planet made me strive harder and go further in my career than I probably would have normally.
Tips To Lead A Remarkable Life
I’d like to end this on a peppy note so here are a couple of tips on life as a single parent that I learned over the years that I found really helpful:
- Prioritise Your Happiness! Imagine hating your job or the life you’ve been boxed into and living that life day after day. It seems like a tough order to walk through the door and instantly become a happy mommy or to bring up a happy child who believes that anything is possible if you don’t see your life (or at least your near future) as a happy place. Being a great parent starts with being a happy person so find a hobby you can escape into or make some changes. Maybe start a new career that inspires and delights you or move to where you’ve always dreamed of living. (Here’s a piece I wrote last year about how being a happy person makes us happy parents)
- Travel! When my daughter was growing up we’d plan an annual holiday, often around Christmas and New Year but also for important birthdays. When she was 8 we started planning her 10th birthday to Paris and that goal was wonderfully exciting for us both. Then it was her 13th to Venice, Italy. We had a very set budget and had to watch every penny during our trips but those are memories I cherish and they helped my daughter respect and appreciate our place in this big world.
If you choose to cook at home and pack your own lunches and give up the daily latte, you’ll have enough money for an annual trip, I promise.
- Never Be A Victim, Forget The Money! Once I understood that if I wanted to keep full custody of my daughter all I had to do was never push for child support, that was it. I was never one of those single moms who constantly complained about her ex because I owned my place as the single breadwinner in our life and that was that. I chose not to be a victim and instead I was a proud single mom 🙂
I’m not saying it’s always easy because trust me it’s not, especially as an expat living abroad. If you want a remarkable life, you’ll have to reach beyond what’s expected of a single mom (or dad) and beyond what’s easily achievable and kick some ass in life … but trust me, it’s so worth it.
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