I made a bargain with my boyfriend to raise my son on my own. And it was the best decision I have ever made.

By Deborah E. Kennedy
July 02, 2019
courtesy of Deborah E. Kennedy

Most mornings when the weather is good, my son and I start our day with a walk to the nearby duck pond. Benny is 2 and a half. He calls the ducks "quack quacks." He loves to show the quack quacks his newest Matchbox car. Sometimes he hurls said car straight into the pond, so that I either have to fish it out of the muck or break his heart by telling him it's gone, all gone. Once in a while, a nutria makes an appearance, or a great blue heron. After about 20 minutes, I take Benny's hand and we walk the half mile back home.

Benny's little fingers are so light and soft in mine it's easy to imagine they aren't there at all, that I never had him in the first place. Those feather fingers remind me just how close I was to that reality, and the thought takes my breath away.

The deal I made with my boyfriend

When I was 37 and very eager to have a child of my own, I fell in love with a man who had three kids from a previous marriage and no desire to be a father again. Eric wasn't shy about his ambivalent feelings toward fatherhood, and I knew him well enough to understand he meant what he said. I also knew that didn't want to throw away something good and real for a hypothetical.

At the same time, I was starting to spend far too many hours crying in the shower, sure that, at my age, I would never become a mother, that I would have to settle for sobbing into my ice cream every Mother's Day, every time a friend of mine announced her pregnancy on Facebook.

Two years into eating my feelings, I made Eric a deal: we stop using birth control on an upcoming vacation to Greece and see what happened. Take the brakes off, in other words. Stop being so careful. If by some miracle I got pregnant, the child would be my responsibility. I would change the diapers and draw the baths. Kid cries in the middle of the night? That's my problem. I would pay for the child's upkeep and medical care and binkies. And, when it came time to go to dance recitals/spring musicals and/or baseball games/swim meets, I would be there in the front row/lawn chair/bleachers, cheering my head off. I would be, in effect, a single-ish mom.

Eric very reluctantly agreed. I think he saw how much it meant to me. And he loved me and wanted me to be happy. I could tell, though, he thought I was being naïve. I could also tell he was hoping it wouldn't take.

Spoiler alert: it did.

How the arrangement works

To quote Lego Batman, "First try!" I got pregnant in Greece. And now, three and a half years later, I'm holding up my end of the bargain. When it comes to raising Benny, I do about 90 percent of the work. I change most of the diapers and make all the doctor's appointments. I feed Benny and clothe him and discipline him. I'm the heavy one, in other words; Eric's the fun one. And, believe it or not, it works.

I should mention that Eric and I don't live together. Our houses are a mile apart in the same neighborhood, but we maintain separate living spaces. I take care of my elderly mother, who needs help with meals and housework. He takes care of his older three children, who don't really need another mom in their lives. We're together as a couple and a family when we want to be, and we're apart when we want to be, too. Eric's older three adore Benny and he adores them right back.

I suppose there are many people who find such an arrangement puzzling, if not downright retrograde. Another man who gets out of the hard work of taking care of his kid, right? Congratulations on sending feminism back 50 years. But the truth is, being Benny's single-ish mom has empowered me like nothing else has. It's boosted my confidence and self-esteem. I feel like, if I can keep a kid alive on my own in this crazy, mom-shaming, sometimes ugly world, I can do almost anything.

I'll admit I often look like the woman you see in the grocery store who could use a hug. And a decent night's sleep. And a stylist. The midnight wake-ups are no joke, especially when they come with a side of croup and a trip to the emergency room. And then there are the public tantrums and the arranging of one's life around nap time and the worries that I won't be able to keep Benny in rice cereal, let alone afford college.

But there are also the marathon snuggle sessions and the growing number of firsts (first steps, first foods, first words) and the smile Benny saves just for me.

I know I got this

He's smiling now. We're back at the duck pond. This time he's showing the quack quacks his new baseball.

"Don't throw it," I tell him. "Do not throw the baseball at the quack quacks."

He wants to. He really wants to, but he refrains and I'm proud of him. I'm proud of us. I reach for his hand. We'll walk home, I'll read to him for a while and put him down for a nap. Or I'll start reading to him, but it won't work because he'd rather watch 101 Dalmatians for the hundredth time, and so I'll get a tantrum instead. A full on red-faced screaming fit complete with flying snot and flying shoes.

Whether cooperative Benny goes sweetly to sleep or "exorcist" Benny flays around my living room, I know now that I've got this. Benny is my responsibility, my boy, my burden, my bundle of joy, my favorite thing, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

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