My Mother Taught Me to Live My Life as a “Choose Your Own Adventure”

How being raised by a single mother taught me that it's good to go your own way

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Alliance Images/ Shutterstock
Alliance Images/ Shutterstock

I’m turning 35 in July of this year, and I find myself becoming more and more aware that I’m living my life in a different way than many of the women I know — not a better way, not a worse way, just different. You see, I’ve never been married. I haven’t even been in a relationship with someone I thought about marrying since I was 28. And thanks to the incredible woman who raised me, I am so completely fine with that. In fact, I’m grateful for it.

My parents separated when I was five. My father remarried, but my mother never did. She made a decision that she wanted a better life for herself than the one she had in her marriage, and she has just continued to live that way. She raised my brother and I all on her own. As a child, I watched my mother work full-time as an elementary school teacher, while she also helped us with homework and school projects, cooked us meals, provided us with all the necessities, and put a roof over our heads. She cut the lawn, fixed things around the house, and kept the car maintained. She held us when we were sad, taught us important values, and provided us with endless amounts of love and nurturing. When I was in grade seven, she even managed to buy a house on a lake in our small Ontario town, so that my brother and I had a huge yard and a beach to play on. She did all of this during a time when not many women around her were getting divorced, let alone going it on their own (it was almost unheard of in our small town). Looking back now, I can see how remarkable it was.

I was never aware of the influence all of this had on my values and worldview until much later in my life. When I was 28, I ended a serious relationship with someone I had thought, at one point, that I would marry. And I could have. I could probably be married right now, likely with a couple of kids — with someone who was absolutely not the right person for me. I can look back at that relationship, and see that it would have been so easy for that to have happened. There you are, approaching 30, and you’ve been with someone for a few years who checks all the “boxes” that you think matter at the time. They have a good job, you’re attracted to them, they’re committed to you, you have a good time together. And all of your girlfriends are engaged or married — some of them even already have a couple of kids. And let me be clear, many of those women were and are incredibly lucky and happy to have those lives. This isn’t about the superiority of being single or going it alone in life. At the time, I just had this feeling that there was a template for life that I was supposed to be following, and the pull to follow it was strong. But I never fully bought into the idea of following that template; how could I have, when I was raised by a woman who was an incredible and whole human, completely on her own?

So I was faced with what I consider to have been one of the most difficult and pivotal decisions of my life. I already knew then that if I ended the relationship, I was not going to get myself into another one anytime soon after. No, I could sense that the alternative for me would be spending several years growing my own garden, healing my old wounds, and developing an identity and a life for myself that felt absolutely real and right. I would love to be able to say that having this as the alternative made the decision easy for me — but it didn’t. It felt crazy to walk away from a chance at the life that everyone around me was choosing; it felt truly terrifying, if I’m being honest. And at the same time, it felt absolutely okay and right. Why? Because I watched my mother live her entire life that way. And without me ever having realized it, without us ever having discussed it, the way she lived her life had taught me that I could live my own life in whatever way I wanted to. She taught me that life is really a “choose your own adventure” novel, where you have the ability and the right to trust yourself to choose your own path. There isn’t a single lesson I’ve learned that I’m more grateful for.

You see, the woman I am today is so vastly different than the one I was back then, and I would never have found her had I not made that hard decision. She is someone that I love very deeply and feel completely at home with. She has found parts of herself that she had forgotten existed, found new parts, and shed old ones. She continues to grow and change and learn, and she’s going to be doing that for the rest of her life. As for those checkboxes, well, they look nothing like they did back then. There are more of them, and they are more closely linked to who I truly am, what I value, and what I would want and need in a long-term partner or husband. And while that does not make dating in one’s mid-30s easy (it seems to shrink the dating pool significantly, in fact), it does mean that if I meet someone who can be what it is I truly need in a partner, well, I’m set for life. And if I don’t, I’m also set for life. There isn’t a thing that I’m more grateful for, and I owe it all to my beautiful, caring, fiercely independent mother.

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