Lifestyle / Mental Health / Motherhood

Maid: An Ode to Single Mothers

The newest Netflix series, Maid, has roped in my “mother’s” heart. It is about Alex, a woman in her mid-twenties, who is trying to create a better life for herself and her daughter. 

Throughout the series, she faces many trials; the first one— leaving her mentally abusive child’s father and bipolar mother behind, who are; the only family and support she’s ever known. I don’t know what it was about this show that made me binge-watch it and get so upset that I had to pick the M&Ms up before I could watch the finale. I think it was because she took so many L’sthat I craved a win for her. I wasn’t going to take my eyes off the screen until she received one. If she hadn’t, I might have written a letter to the show’s creator. It would’ve been a whole Freedom-Writers-Holocaust-book type situation.

Nonetheless, there was something about watching Alex struggle that resonated with me and so many others. Her story transcends race and age. She’s a lower class, a newly single mother who is navigating the lovely government assistance world. We’ve all been here at some point, albeit some of us in more ways than one. Her struggle was relatable, I think, because if she won, we knew we all could win.

There’s the mom who is ready to run, ready to leave the situation that no longer serves her or her child. She can’t take it any longer, not another minute—sleepless nights of planning her escape route.

There’s the mom whose only plan is to escape. She’ll figure out the rest later. Taking it one day at a time. Making it from one day to the next is an accomplishment. Every night, after she tucks her children in, she sighs a sigh of relief. She takes delight in the quiet as she thinks of a master plan.

There’s the mom walking around frantically, who appears to be calm (IYKYK), with a child in tow, looking for support that should be available without question, but she takes what she can get. Her brain runs tirelessly, she can’t focus on the task at hand because, she’s constantly checking her phone. Not to see if she has a Facebook notification, but to make sure a real-life disaster isn’t happening.  

There’s the mom on the social services waiting list—many of us have experienced this backwards system. I waited eight months to receive childcare assistance. I’m pretty sure I cried when I received my papers. Paying for childcare was one of the biggest weights I’ve ever carried. To this day, it has been my highest expense, even with assistance. 

There’s the broke mom who is, mentally balancing her checkbook with every transaction she makes throughout the day—her ultimate goal is to stay in the green! When Alex was at dinner with her mother and Cilantro and she said, “I have six dollars in my bank account,”, I felt that in my spirit! If I had a quarter for every time I only had 19 cents in my bank account, I’d be a rich woman.

There’s the broken mom. The one whose trauma catches up with her all of a sudden from a mere, unexpected, nostalgic moment. The one who can’t run anymore, or even hold a conversation. She’s exhausted in every sense of the word. She’s done. This mom finds her home on the couch and watches her child tear up the house everyday. She can’t muster up a “stop” or “don’t do that,”. Whatever keeps them quiet.

There’s the mom who has nothing. Like literally nothing. She has only herself and her children. No support, no safe shelter, no car, no money, no job, no food, no knowledge of resources. But she still fights. There are times when a mother will have most of these, but the absence of even one takes a toll on our day to day operations. 

There’s the mom trying her best, but never moving forward. Giving 115 percent only to barely maintain. It takes so long for the work to pay off! I speak for myself, and maybe some of you, when I say single motherhood has caused me to pause and rewind more than I’ve wanted to. I’m so tired of starting over. On the contrary, it gives me a boost of energy. But still! It’s annoying. As I get older, I learn that life really is a marathon. My stepdad used to say, “If you get nervous, just slow down. If you get tired, just slow down.” He was teaching me to drive and referencing endurance during workouts, but I’ve applied it to many of life’s situations. 

There’s the prideful, struggling mom. The moment when Alex was sitting on the floor of the ferry station with her daughter, then Nate walked up, broke my heart. It moved me that she was still in good spirits, still trying to make sure her daughter had shelter (although not ideal to many), still trying to save face. Even when we’re down to literally nothing, we find a way to say, “I’m okay.” We’re hardly ever okay, but the strength it takes to even say that, and attempt to hide the struggle from your children, is immeasurable in my book. There have been times when I’ve had to pull myself out of a panic attack so I can pick my kids up from school. I could’ve asked someone else to do it so that I could finish freaking out, but that’s not the way single motherhood works. We try to save face because we’ve usually been struggling for so long, that by the time someone from the outside starts to notice, we can’t fathom answering the questions truthfully, nor do we care to discuss our reality. Yes, we have a lot of pride. We’re proud of ourselves, no matter how crazy we look because we’ve proved ourselves wrong and we’re stronger than we ever knew we could be.

There’s the mom that says, “he’s very nice and he’s great with the kids, but I don’t like him like that.” Every sane mother desires a man that loves her children as his own and is active with them. Sometimes, he comes around and it works. Then the kids are blessed to have a positive male figure’s presence and, oftentimes, new experiences. The load is lightened, you get a moment to breathe. Other times, he comes around and although he’s great for the kids and it’s  uber convenient, he just doesn’t do it for mommy. It’s unfortunate, but single moms do actually have the right and deserve to deny a man that doesn’t  light her fire. It’s not fair to either party. In my eyes, if he’s not the right one, he’s a preview of what’s out there for you. It can be scary to walk away from, but I typically opt against taking the safe option anyway. This mom looks like a lunatic for walking away from such normalcy, but ultimately knows what she needs to do to be genuinely happy with a clear conscience.

There’s the mom who took her sick kid to daycare. I promise you that was the last thing we wanted to do! We woke up every time they coughed and held them as they struggled to breathe. We stayed up all night, hating ourselves because we knew that when morning rolled around, we’d have to be that crappy parent that childcare providers hate. I promise you we wanted to stay home and snuggle. We wanted to give our babies the motherly love that heals like no amoxicillin can. We wanted to pay the tuition too though, because one thing about it, childcare costs accrue whether the child attends or not. On those days, I would be at my desk with my anxiety on 27, praying I could at least work until noon before I got the fever call. That call meant another eight hours of pay lost because ya know, the 24-hour rule. To get ourselves through, we remind ourselves that we’re mothers first. Which is quickly followed by the reminder that we’re not only the mother, but the sole provider, the emergency contact, the doctor, and the taxi cab. We’re everything. Those days break mommies down.

There’s the mom trying to keep her morals during desperation. When Alex was a child, her alcholic father abused her mother. Because of that, Alex  didn’t want her daughter to be around him, but she needed the help. So, when push came to shove, she reluctantly accepted his support. She knew her child was in a safe space when she was with her grandfather, but, simply put, he triggered Alex. Not only did he enable her abuser, but he wouldn’t admit to his role in Alex’s traumatic childhood. Then, she decided she no longer wanted his help. When this happens, it’s a hard place to be in. Think about running into someone who you had a terrible experience with. That encounter throws you off every time. When you know they’re coming around, you can prepare yourself, but who wants to do that? There’s never enough preparation for the anxiety that ensues. At the end of the day, you get a good night’s rest knowing you stood your ground. We can’t afford to be knocked off our game, no matter who it is. We have sanity to keep and children to raise.

There’s the mom who kept her baby when the dad didn’t want her to. I imagine this has to be a tough spot to be in. Parenting is hard enough when you’re happy about it. When parenting is forced upon someone, resentment and resistance of some sort are almost always guaranteed.

There’s the mom who loves her child’s father, but knows he’s not good for her. Oh, what a battle. We go back and forth with ourselves, over and over again. We know that once we leave, the access our children had to their father will never be the same, all because we chose to love ourselves. Yes, it’s very possible for children to still have a positive relationship with their father once the relationship ends, but it takes a ton of work that the other party isn’t typically interested in doing. 

There’s the newly single mom on dating apps— a jungle out there!

There’s the mom in denial about the relationships in her life that no longer serve her. If you allow yourself to grow, you welcome positive change and new relationships into your life. Life just gets better, ya know? You’ll also soon realize that some of the people you’re closest to aren’t in the same arena as you anymore. It’s a tough reality, but you eventually have to move around to make room for your growth. Sometimes that means intentionally distancing yourself from people you’ve spent years having great (or terrible) times with. It means walking away from the comfort of the familiarity that those particular relationships bring. There’s nothing wrong with this, especially if you genuinely wish them well. It doesn’t mean that you think you’re better than them. It just means you aren’t in the same arena anymore, so things may be different and that’s okay. We have to accept it and continue to grow.

There’s the mom on the floor crying, defeated. Again. Because sometimes you get tired of fighting! It gets ugly when you’re a single mom. And by ugly, I mean ugly face crying. On the floor. Did I say cry on the floor yet? It’s like, so hard, but we get up every time! Because you know what? We KNOW the show doesn’t go on without us. The people need us! The babies need us! A lot of the time we have an amazing friend like Alex’s friend, Danielle who is walking around the living room while we’re all down and out, clapping all ratchet-like, fussing, “Get your ass up! You’re wasting time! Let’s go steal that hoe’s puppy!” I’m so glad Alex got up off of that floor. She found her power that day. 

There’s the mom who wants more for her child and will stop at nothing to get it. The first daycare that Maddie went to was terrible! Alex knew that Fisher Island was the place to be if she wanted to get her daughter into a better school. She got a taste of the good life when she toured Happy Friends, a highly recommended pre-school. I say it all the time, once you see better, you can’t unsee it. It gives you insight to a new world of information, resources, and opportunities. She took the liberty of asking her employer if she could be her nanny, for free! Just so she could use the address! When her employer said no, Alex flat out asked if she could at least use the address. That’s my kind of girl! 

There’s the mom at work in the bathroom who is taking deep breaths so she doesn’t lose it. Work is one of the most annoying places to be when you’re a single mom. I don’t  even know how we get any work done. I actually didn’t. I was mostly re-writing my budget for the 50th time. Researching elementary schools. Writing my personal statement for a grad school that I knew I probably wouldn’t have time for. Using sick days for my daughter. Cleaning up mistakes I made at work because I couldn’t think straight, while mindlessly entering data. Frankly, my employers didn’t pay enough to pay attention *closed teeth* when there’s a monsoon going on in my stupid life *exhales and smiles*!

There’s the mom who has worn out her welcome. She comes and goes as quietly as she can. She tries not to ask for much, maybe occasional babysitting, but only as a last resort when she knows for a fact that you aren’t doing anything. She didn’t do anything wrong, the vibe just changed. There were no hard feelings. She knew everyone wanted their space, she wanted hers too. It’s human nature, but the timing is always terrible.

There’s the mom crying in the driver’s seat of the car while her kids are in the back. Trying to figure out her next move when she feels she’s exhausted every option. At least she has a car, right?

There’s the mom who throws the birthday parties and invites dads who show up late and don’t help clean up.

There’s the mom who didn’t get to tell her side of the nightmare.

There’s the mom who went back after she got a taste of freedom, independence, and peace. She won’t get a good night’s rest until she gets it back. 

There’s the mom who gets accepted into college and/or begins to follow her dreams after delaying her goal and sacrificing her children’s needs over her desires. That feeling is like no other. Once she saw her chance, she took one small step a day until she accomplished her goal. She decided that she met the qualifications to be her child’s role model. 

There’s the broke down mom who still finds it within herself to encourage the next mom. She never dismisses an opportunity to say “let me help” or “you got this” to a mom friend who is down in the dumps. She finds a way to pour from an empty cup. She knows us moms have to stick together because one day it does get better, but until then we can’t give up.

There’s the mom who finds herself again. When Alex left her child’s father the first time, she went to a domestic violence shelter. She was prepared, she’d packed bags. The second time, she left with nothing. She visited the shelter’s clothing store where everything had been donated and was free. However, she couldn’t pick out anything. She was overwhelmed. She didn’t have a sense of style or a sense of self. It took me back to when I was pregnant with my son. It was Thanksgiving and we were in the den at my great grandma’s house about to pull names for Christmas. We were supposed to write down three things we would like as a gift. I couldn’t think of anything! How could I think about something for myself when I was broke, pregnant, and miserable? Malik was due January 7th! I wrote diapers, wipes, and bottles. I figured that anything someone did for my child, they did for me. Jesus style! What happened next? One of my cousins drew my name and told my mama! She was not having it. Haha! So, I got Bath and Body Works! I say that to say, single mothers are selfless and get so caught up in sacrifice that we forget ourselves. Read that again. We don’t forget “about” ourselves, we forget ourselves. *In my church lady voice* Honey, Alex put on some new linens, she put on that mascara, and she was able to face that man without fear. She remembered who she was, what she was living for, and stood firm. 

The list goes on, but basically, you need to watch this show. Maid, is for us. The struggling single mother, the one getting it out of the mud. In this story, we win. Alex found her strength. She fought through a traumatic childhood, navigated the social services system, and ignored the people who told her that her dreams were no big deal. She ignored the people telling her that she didn’t need all that, the people who thought chaos was normal. She left that abusive relationship and the manipulation that came with it. Not only did she find her voice, but she found a hustle too! When you do all of that as a single mother, you feel like you’ve won the Olympics. You’re lighter on your feet, your mind is clearer, you can take selfies without disgust. Man, IYKYK!

My takeaway from the show was that it’s okay to desire more for yourself. It’s okay to want a different lifestyle. It’s also okay to let people go if they don’t share that same desire and will actively prevent you from progressing towards growth. Honestly, they have the right to want what they want just like you do, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept it. 

I don’t know about you, but I often struggle with my ambition. I feel like I have too much of it sometimes. I think I should sit down somewhere and just raise my kids. Ironically, I think I only feel that way because some of the men in my life have struggled to understand my desire for more, just like Alex. Her father wanted her to stay with her abuser and her child’s father stood in her way at every turn. Even Nate, the nice guy, thought he should be chosen just because he was nice. In the midst of everything Alex was going through, he wanted more from her. Boy, bye. What is it with men and their expectations of mothers? *rolls eyes* 

It’s 2021, by now we know that families don’t always stay together. While I’m all for families staying together, I believe healthy co-parenting is much better than being in unhappy relationships. It’s more important that kids see you communicating effectively and practicing conflict resolution than it is for them to be under one roof where no one is talking and tension can be cut with a knife. Who can thrive in an environment like that? 

What I know is that I want a different story for my little family, just like Alex did. I want the world at our feet, or at least the highway; anything other than the same sidewalks that I’ve seen since I was a kid will do. It’s my ambition that keeps me going, my ambition that’s going to break generational curses and create wealth. It’s the reason why my kids and I are in a much better situation today than we were 5 years ago when I was the one leaving.

You wanna know something? I’ve recently reached a place in my life where I’ve had to start over again. I’m not as afraid as I was the first time, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel the pressure of losing everything. I’m only one person, ya know? Maybe that’s another reason I couldn’t take my eyes off of Maid. It gave me a lil PTSD and hope at the same time. It reminded me of the struggle that I survived. It reminded me of my strength. If I did it the first time, I know I can do it now with the wisdom I’ve acquired.

If you’re reading this and you’re in the space that Alex was in, ready to run, just know that whenever the time comes, you got this. You deserve everything that your heart is set on. You’re worth all the sacrifices you’ve made for other people. We don’t have to do what our parents and those who came before have always done, we already know how that story ends. It’s okay for us to want more and it’s okay for us to bring our kids along for that ride. They deserve the best you have to give them. They deserve to see you glow up. You deserve the best you have to give yourself. You deserve to remove yourself from people who don’t give you their best. And after you’ve fought tooth and nail to leave and succeed, don’t you dare quit on yourself. You’ll find your strength. I know you will. We always do. It’s mandatory. By no means will it be easy, it’ll actually be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. However, the sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll be able to start making progress. 

Maid can be found on Netflix.

I do not own the rights to the above photo.

About Author

Hi! I’m Geneeka! I’m a single mother of two, IU MPH graduate student, and a cohost of Ladies Night Podcast. I was born in Indianapolis, IN, raised in Hopkinsville, KY and made my way back to Indy after finishing undergrad at the University of Kentucky. It is my goal to empower single mothers to continue to find time for themselves and to continue to pursue their goals and aspirations.

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