Single Parenthood Abroad

Many changes have happened in the past (almost) two years. We uprooted ourselves from Virginia and planted our roots in foreign soil. I left the hospital I’d begun and grown my career in; beginning anew in a completely different healthcare system. Tristan grudgingly left his friends and beloved neighborhood and followed his mama on a crazy journey across the sea. And about six months ago, I moved away from beside nursing, to pursue clinic life – something I never thought I would do.

But, if I’ve learned anything in the past year and a half, it’s that change is what you make of it. What we anticipate to be a not so great experience, can turn into the best decision made.

Life had become chaotic at home. The stress of middle school, making new friends, being away from those he grew up having minutes down the road, and my inconsistent schedule began to really take a toll on Tristan. I could see the anxiety in his eyes when he would nonchalantly ask, “You’re going to work again?” I could see that my stress was becoming his stress, as I was unable to leave it at work. It was invading our home and taking hold.

Tristan and I argued constantly – daily even. I’d begun to yell, unable to hold in my emotions, frustrations, and temper. Tristan said that he never knew how I would react – would I just be upset… or would I “freak out”? I couldn’t constructively parent any longer. And he was growing into a teenager – emotions and hormones intermingling with an inherited inclination towards depression and anxiety. I was becoming scared for him.

As a teenager, my mother made the decision to leave her full-time position at the Credit Union to have a deeper presence in the home when I’d attempted to harm myself while she was on a business trip. I remember feigning annoyance that I wouldn’t have the afternoons to myself anymore – that she’d just successfully and completely invaded my space. But inwardly I was relieved. I would have never admitted it, but I needed her there.

Her being home didn’t fix everything. There was still drama, rebellion, fights, bad grades, depression and anxiety… but she was there to keep the loose threads from completely unraveling. She was able to get me back into the consistent counseling and therapy that I so desperately needed. And later, she went back to work at the Credit Union, full time, when I was back on my feet and able to be a productive member of society again.

My mother was also fortunate enough to have a spouse that could support the household while she didn’t work. Money was often tight, but our needs were always met. My stepdad worked hard to keep us afloat during those times.

But, I am one person – a single parent. We are a family unit of 2 (three if you count the pup). I support us comfortably on my nursing salary – one of the reasons I was convinced of a career in nursing. I made decisions that would work to keep our heads above the water – working weekend nights because the shift differential was better, and taking on a leadership role that I didn’t feel I was ready for and struggled to cope with.

And then the discovery of this amazing opportunity (with a little help from my friends)… I’d always wanted a nomadic life. I’d been envious of those that could pick up and move place to place with nary a fear. Here I was, checking off goals like I’d never done before – but still unhappy; still stuck in one place. I could also see Tristan sliding into the comfort of small town life; the walls of his mind shrinking despite my efforts to keep them open. I could see him filling with the emotional funk I too had succumbed to as a middle schooler, and I hated it for him. I hated that I had to take him to counseling. I hated that I had to start him on antidepressants. It was all falling into the same old story of my adolescence. It terrified me.

I wanted us to experience the world – to learn and grow and continue to rise above Chesterfield, Virginia – to rise above the bullshit of suburban life. I wanted Tristan to learn flexibility, adaptability – to learn to be fluid instead of stone. I wanted him to be able to cope with change. But I also wanted him to see the fruits of all the hard work I’d done to get to this point – all the late night studying for exams; missed holidays because I was working.

His counselor agreed. My thoughts barely left my lips before she said, “go!” I expressed my fears and she repeated herself. She said that we both needed to make the break from the life we had in Virginia. We needed to grow as a family unit. So we did. And it wasn’t easy.

I remember one of the first reactions to my “wild idea” was: “you’re not gonna do that.”

Watch me.

Others said I couldn’t do it because I didn’t have a support system there.

I’ll make one.

My entire life people have doubted me. And the surprise when I’ve proven them wrong has changed from satisfied accomplishment to annoyance and disdain. And that’s what I felt when people began to comment about the change I was making within my career due to my home life. People asked why I even came here if it was just me.

My answer: why wouldn’t I come here?

Why do I have to remain unhappy and stuck because I’m a single parent? Why can’t I experience what other’s do simply because I do not have a partner to help? I’m punished because of my unconventional family unit – because I refuse to settle for anything less than what I want? Because I refused to allow myself and my son to be subjected to the trauma of court and forced custody and child support? Am I not permitted to reward my hard work and effort with a life I want to live? Am I not allowed to make the adjustments needed for my child? Or am I meant to allow others to support us because “I have to work again”? It’s disheartening.

But here we are. In January, I’ll have been away from the bedside for a year. While I miss laboring mama’s and bringing new life into the world, I don’t miss the emergency of it all. I don’t miss the permanent rise of cortisol – the inability to leave my worry about it all at the doors when I leave. My work in the clinic isn’t emergent. It’s rarely urgent. There is always another day to call patients about their lab results and appointments. And, for now, I’m okay with that monotony because it allows me to focus on what is really important: home.

Did the change cure the middle school funk? Absolutely not. We still argue. I still raise my voice. He still acts like I’m the worst person in the world when I make him get off his computer. We’re both back in counseling. But life is consistent. I’m here in the morning, afternoon, and on weekends. I have the holidays off to spend with him. And I’m showing him that life outside of Virginia is pretty damn amazing.

Single parenthood isn’t a prison. It isn’t a life meant to be spent sitting stagnant because it’s “just me.” The world is just as much my oyster as it is for those with the most conventional of family units. And I’ll keep fighting for that.

2 responses to “Single Parenthood Abroad”

  1. Ashley, I personally think you have proven to everyone that you are an amazing person and Mom! Teens are always difficult but you are strong and will survive and so will Tristan and one day he will thank you! 😍

    Liked by 1 person

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