As a single mother for a good portion of my adult life, I absolutely abhorred the word “Baggage” when it came to the explanation of my children. I know there are many forms of the derogatory term baggage, but no one influenced the missives of male listeners like those shock-jocks Howard Stern and Tom Leykis. They were constantly warning men over the loose morals of women with children, and how they would do anything short of hitting you over the head with a rock and dragging you back to their cave, claiming you as their new “Baby Daddy”.
My protests were met with silent ears when I argued these two above mentioned men’s point of views. I would remind them, not all women were this way. In fact, not only was I a capable single parent, I was by choice — a single parent. To make me, or others like me, out to be a fucked up mess, whose sole intent was to lay the perfect trap of either impregnating myself yet again (because we have no morals, or sense of birth control) or roping a man, any man – into the daddy role was insulting to me as a parent and a woman. This of course feeds into the very misogynist theory that birth control and pregnancies are very much a one way street. But this isn’t a feminist rant.
I was very selective with any man my children were to become involved with, having been raised nearly the opposite by a divorced mother myself. While my radar on partners for myself was definitely askew and needed some major tweaking, I surprisingly was spot on with the few my children interacted with. I didn’t bring home new men every few months with any indication for the children to meet their new daddy/uncle. In fact I did the opposite, and very few had the opportunity to make an impact on my children.
Fortunately something in me worked and the few who made it in, and made impression did so in wonderful ways that I will never regret. In fact it would be safe to say that in one relationship we stayed together for the sake of the kid. He eventually enjoyed his time with her honestly more than with me, and I enjoyed the positive male role model he brought into her life, more than the time I had with him.
I knew that in meeting men the old fashioned way – waaaay back before the internet or online dating, confessing I was a mother was usual a ticket to the back of the bus. Very few men, understandably, wanted to take on that sort of “Baggage”. The term shamed me, and made me at times defensive or insecure. I still dated between serial relationships. Meeting the men somewhere, or sheltering the kids at the babysitters.
As the girls got older and understood that Mom dated here and there, the men were permitted more immediate access to picking me up, thus having the children meet them. But then they would blow it by doing something stupid, like challenging math skills, with my very math-challenged child.
The truth is, when you involve yourself in more than a date here or there with a single parent, your whole view of dating changes. I knew dating me meant time limits because of baby sitters. Lack of impromptu weekends where you grab a bag and head for Vegas or San Francisco. Everything is planned around, and soon it seems controlled by, the need of the kids. Instead of that funky Thai restaurant, you end up at a Bob’s Big Boy, because Junior will only eat grilled cheese on white bread. Late nights are now limited, because of early soccer or cheer practice.
I was a strange sort – a hypocrite if you must clearly define, because although I came with my own mis-matched set, I would not, could not – date a man with his own children. I had tried that once and it was a massive failure with the child resenting me, creating problems, and me watching his spine turn to jelly when it came to his ex-wife’s demands or worse yet the guilt the very small daughter learned to wield as a weapon on her daddy. After about a year of this, I called it quits and placed it very high on my DO NOT list.
Of course, in drawing that line in the sand, my dating pool became very limited. So be it.
Then came The One, who had children himself. This was a quandary, because as our friendship blossomed I realized I had growing feelings for him. But he is breaking rule number one! My inner voice called out to me. Like me, one of his children was already grown and moved out. That only left the youngest, who was surprisingly the exact same age as mine. I learned about her from him, as he learned about mine. We took our time and were cautious initially about allowing the kids to even know about us outside of the obvious time we spent every evening online. Eventually we all met, blended families, and outside a few bumps in the road during the teen years, grew to love one another like real family. By now, our children are grown, out of the house and some even with children of their own.
Let’s fast forward a few years from there, place me back on the market and looking at On-Line Dating. I am in my late 40’s, my kids are grown, I’m well established in my job, I have a current passport and overall, things are good for me. I would assume the same about most of the men in my age bracket.
Instead I find that 90% of the men on-line have school aged children, either living with them full-time or very close to it. By school aged, I don’t mean high-school senior’s about to graduate. I mean 10 year olds with soccer practice, and 14 year olds with football games. I mean full-time, full-life parenting.
And suddenly the ironic THUD of the word “Baggage” hits me. With the exception of the misogynistic approach of the shock-jocks, I see what the Howard’s and Tom’s were warning about. The almost desperate plea you read in a man’s eyes. Help me, they seem to scream as they talk about how the kids are the number one priority. In an astonishing turn, I am the one doing the backwards scramble, with the frozen smile on my face, trying to assure them this is fine, while the eyes in the back of my head quickly scan for the nearest exit sign.
Because it boils down to this.
The choice to involve myself with this person, means dragging around another 60-150 lbs everywhere I go. This is Samsonite filled with rocks before the wheels-on-bags were invented. This is limited travel, and additional costs and quiet sex and no-naked Saturdays. This is dealing with a teenager who might resent you or worse yet find your sex toys in her dad’s drawer, or an 8-year old who might love you too quickly, causing claustrophobic attacks. This is cancelled plans because of chicken pox, and most of all? This is you coming in third (if you’re lucky) on the list of priorities, because let’s face it, the ex’s schedule comes in aboveboard on yours, because it directly affects the shared kids. And not being able to complain about it, because only a Class A Bitch would complain about a father wanting to be there for his kids.
Sounds cold doesn’t it? I know, and that’s why I never word it like this when responding to men with children. I AM upfront (because c’mon, it’s me, and I know no other way) but gentle. I don’t blame these men for the situations they are in. In fact, truth be told, I find single fathers rather admirable. Woman – most — are conditioned instinctively, genetically to want to care for their offspring. Men, as society has shown us for centuries, have it a little easier walking away. These men however are bucking their genetics, and shucking the stereotypes and taking on the responsibilities needed of them, even if it means they get laid a little less often. I have more understanding for what they are going thru, the juggle, the balance.
BUT — I came out of this already. I paid my dues. I served my time. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and every additional cliche you can think of. Like most parents I grieved the initial loss of my offspring (and in my case I greatly grieved it) until I didn’t just taste, but I reveled in my newfound freedom. The fact my needs could for the first time in as long as I could recall, Come First. That’s a heady thing to finally envelope. From something as small as buying crunchy peanut butter because it’s something I prefer, as to as big a deal as walking around the house nude on a Saturday morning.
So to those men who don’t read profiles completely where mine reads that I am looking for the SAME (as in alike. Opposite of different) in the grown child arena, I simply must state; As adorable as your baggage is, I love my naked weekend coffee mornings, more.