This is my first attempt at a new (possible series?) of blog posts that were prompted by what I wrote HERE. Lately, it’s been difficult finding the time and words that used to come fairly easily. I decided I just have to write and find stories where I can, when I can. After I shared that original blog post, Jessica wrote me a message saying she’d be willing to talk with me. I admitted to her that when I wrote that “Both Sides” post, for some reason she came to mind even though I didn’t know her or her story that well. We decided it was meant to be, and that was confirmed every time we talked. I can’t imagine a better person or story to have for my first round.
I met Jessica the night of our first small church group meeting. She sat on one end of the couch, resting her chin on her closed fist. We were all strangers at that point. I didn’t know her story, but I saw a young boy climb onto her lap and burrow into her arms. He was about four-years-old at the time. She quietly spoke to him, asking what he needed. He just shrugged his shoulders and nestled in a bit more. Then after a minute or two he got up and started to play with the other kids again.
I didn’t know at that point that she was a single mother, but something about their interaction was complex. She offered him both tenderness and strength. Two parts covered by one.
“When people give me pity I say, ‘Oh you can shut that shit up right now.’”
Jessica said these words the moment I sat down to interview her and I immediately realized this would not be a sad story. She did not volunteer for this because she wanted to relate how hard it is to parent alone. Jessica’s life is full of hope and redemption. She wants other single moms to feel that hope as well and she believes sharing her story is one way to help.
Her tale is a familiar one. She stayed with him too long and she ignored red flags from the beginning. It was a toxic, manipulative relationship that never should have lasted.
They met at a bar when she was 24. She had recently ended a long-term relationship and wasn’t ready for anything serious. All she wanted was some fun. Jessica didn’t know the guy buying her drinks would be her boyfriend in two months then the father of her child only nine months after that.
In the beginning they got together with his friends and partied. She didn’t concern herself with his ambitions; she had her own dreams and goals. “I didn’t know what I wanted in a partner. It was just fun and easy at the time.”
That all changed the moment she saw the positive sign on a pregnancy test.
Instead of being scared, Jessica admitted to being excited when she found out. Her young mind had visions of building a family with this man she barely knew.
On the surface, he reacted similarly. He claimed to want the role of a father. However, outside of his spoken desire to care for a life, he showed no shift in motivations.
Jessica consumed herself with work, taking on four jobs and attempting to earn enough money to pay for everything that comes with bringing a child into the world. He remained stagnant, unemployed and uninterested in finding a job. While this infuriated Jessica, she remained hopeful that he could change if he moved away from his friends.
When she was six months pregnant, she took a job in North Carolina in forensic sciences, the field she studied in college. “Looking back, I can’t believe all the red flags I ignored but I thought changing our environment and moving to a new city together would fix everything. It would take us away from the partying and allow us to be grown-ups.”
Once they moved, things only got worse. Baby Malachi came in a blur. Suddenly Jessica had a new job, a new home, a new baby, and a failing relationship. She admitted to being rigidly stubborn in the face of adversity. She was not about to give up on that idea of a family that played through her mind at the sight of the pregnancy test.
“I kept thinking that this baby deserved what I had growing up. Malachi deserved a mommy and a daddy under one roof.”
The more they tried, the more they fought. “I hated him and I’ll be honest, I wasn’t good to him either.” The combination of their toxic relationship with the exhaustion that comes with caring for a newborn was becoming too much for Jessica.
In spite of her situation, the idea of being alone kept her from giving up on him. She would kick him out, then invite him back in. They kept this cycle going until one key conversation Jessica had with her father. “I told him that I didn’t think I could do it alone. Then he said to me ‘Jessica you’ve been doing it on your own all along.”
It was this conversation that revealed to her how little her life resembled what she wanted for Malachi. She knew she needed to let go. “I prayed about it a lot. I hit rock bottom. Never before in my life had I felt so completely alone and stuck, but I knew I had to respect myself and Malachi enough to move on.”
Once she made this decision, her loyalties shifted. That stubbornness that kept her clinging to the ex, now kept her clinging to God. “That was the closest I ever felt to God. He’s where I found my strength.”
This strength helped her face the reality of being a single mom in a new town with no family. Slowly she started to build a support system. Her coworkers, other parents from Malachi’s daycare, and church friends all played and still play a role in her success. “Every day I tell myself I need to be a role model for Malachi and I do that through how I handle the circumstances.” Dealing with a bad situation for too long taught Jessica that the only way to live the life she wanted was to take action. Now she strives to look forward, letting hope, hard work, and God be her center.
“I once had a good friend tell me something that always sticks with me. She said to remember that we are never single parents. God is always there.”
This faith and strength radiated from her throughout our conversation. She has an enduring and inspiring hope that fuels every aspect of her life. For instance, because she wants to be home with Malachi more, she has taken on a new business venture. She has clear goals set for becoming self-employed through a network marketing company called It Works Global.
Even with her full-time job and side business, she still finds energy to give to her son. She served as a room parent for Malachi’s preschool, which involved sending out weekly newsletters and organizing gifts for the teachers. The preschool gave her an award for the work she did in this role.
After she told her story, I watched Malachi bring her his homework assignment. He climbed in her lap and burrowed in her arms. She calmly pointed out the work he had to do and encouraged him to try writing out a word again.
I understood the complexity in their relationship a bit more this time. And I had no pity for either of them.