How to overcome feelings of insecurity as a single mother?
February 2, 2021 2:33 PM   Subscribe

37 year old single mama to a beautiful 6 year old little girl with whom I have full physical custody of. Her father is not in the picture right now other than virtually due to his choice to move across country. I have been single for 4 years with a couple of unfortunate dating experiences that I have gained a lot of insight from. I am by no means prioritizing my love life or dating over my daughter as she is my priority, but I do know that I would like my chance at love and a family. How can I get over feeling as if my life is just too much for anyone? How can I get past feeling insecure about my current situation enough to open up my life and heart to someone who seems very willing understanding and respectful of my situation.

I am mature responsible and don't have a whole lot of drama or issues surrounding me, overall a very financially comfortable and stable life with great friends and family, career etc. I don't rely on my daughter's father for anything other than schooling and Co-parenting isn't much of an issue as I encourage whatever relationship my daughter decides she wants and in whatever capacity (in a healthy way with boundaries) that her father choses. My problem is that I feel I may have met a great person. We have casually dated, spent a lot of time communicating and getting to know one another -- after a few months he met my daughter as a friend and he seems great - he's let me into his life and things are progressing. I trust him, I am happy and I really appreciate our time together. He was a single father also with a now grown child who has moved away from home for college. We are both around the same age.

My insecurities are coming to the surface and eating away at me to the point of wanting to run, like this fight or flight feeling. This happens often when I meet someone with potential, and I am looking for advice on how to gain a better perspective and stop worrying so much about another person and rather just accepting that having full time custody doesn't make me less than, or less deserving, and that even if they saw me as that, they could leave, and I would be okay with that because I wouldn't want to be with a person who couldn't accept me for me a this moment.

I have not once felt anything other than support and understanding from this man. He's attentive to my schedule, taking things slow, working with me on what works for me and for her. But, I find myself questioning everything, feeling so badly that him and I can't even have a weekend or night alone together. We spend nights together and after she goes to sleep, we are able to have adult time, and try to get out on a date every month with a babysitter or friend's help. But there isn't much space for spontaneity. Again, this is me, and not anything he has pressured or let me know was an issue, he has actually reminded me that he was in the same situation that he understands that it is not an issue. But, I can't help it. I feel like my insecurities when I'm alone just eat away at me, I hear this little voice in my head telling me, why should this man who is now on his own finally after raising a son, why should he be suffocated or responsible for me and my daughter when it wasn't his issue in the first place? I think this isn't fair to him, because it is a lot - I mean It's a lot for me at times. I feel I could use a break at times when I just want to be alone. I can't imagine how he feels, and that makes me feel so terrible. Doesn't he deserve to be with someone who can give him all the alone time he wants or needs. Not having a kid in tow. Even just getting out for a date night, or if he wants to take me out, it feels as if he kind of avoids asking out of fear it will cause me to worry or stress or I won't be able to find a babysitter, so he always includes my daughter (which is lovely). But, I keep telling myself he deserves someone who can give him more. He deserves someone who can be there more for him, because he is so kind and gentle. This is a lot of the reason I have avoided dating because I start feeling insecure that I am too much, that having a full time custody, it will be too much. I am financially stable, not looking for a replacement dad for her, and not looking for anything other than real love and companionship, and if I can't get past my insecurities and feeling too much and not enough because of my situation. I feel guilty constantly that my time is so limited. How can I get past these feelings and re-frame my mind that if someone was uncomfortable they would tell me, that if they love me they love us both and will understand? I don't want to fall and my daughter fall just to have someone tell me it's just too much. Looking for advice maybe from someone in the same experience or that may understand on how to re-frame my perspective because I recognize how unhealthy this is.
posted by MamaBee223 to Human Relations (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Look the real answer is SO MUCH THERAPY, just LOTS AND LOTS OF THERAPY. But a quick end run around "this person can't actually be happy they must secretly hate me and resent all of my BURDENSOMENESS why must I insist upon being a PERSON instead of a perfect supernatural angel who has no needs and lives on oxygen and sparkles" just to repeat to myself, "they're an adult. They can leave if they want to leave."

This is separate from the bog-standard universal human fear that you will fall in love and get hurt because nothing can actually solve that problem. That is just a thing we have to learn as people to accept and live with.

Now if, like me, you are the sort of person who does NOT feel like they have agency to leave situations, then this mantra will take awhile to feel true. But it really eventually will. And one day you will say it and realize that actually the thought feels OK to have, because if they DID leave, it would be OK and so will you.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:54 PM on February 2, 2021 [16 favorites]

Doesn't he deserve to be with someone who can give him all the alone time he wants or needs.

Maybe he doesn't need much alone time? Maybe one thing you offer him is the chance to be involved in another kid's life? Does he talk fondly about raising his kid? Maybe he likes having parenthood as something you two share in common. Plus, men can be a bit lonesome as empty-nesters too.

I will just give you one data point: I had a very lovely colleague who was a single-mom to a kid your daughter's age when she was in her early 30s. She was from another country, with next to no local support network. Dating was hard for her, but she eventually found a guy who was really into her and really into her kid. They had a lot of dates as a trio. Now they're married with a baby, and very happy. She had a lot to offer, as I'm sure you do too!
posted by coffeecat at 3:04 PM on February 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

As a positive story for you: my stepdad entered the picture when my mom and I lived in a city far far away from the rest of our family. I was 9 or 10 I think. My mom had total custody in every way. Two years later he moved across the country with us, and they've been together 20+ years. He has never once made me feel like it wasn't fair that I existed or that I was in any way cramping his lifestyle or how he thought his life would end up. I also happen to think he got a total catch in my mom, and he seems to feel the same way even 20 years later.
posted by hepta at 3:08 PM on February 2, 2021 [7 favorites]

It sounds like you're doing a wonderful job raising your daughter in a stable environment and recognizing your own mental distortions and fears around this new relationship. I second the recommendation for therapy if you have the means.

Maybe it would help to give yourself permission to explore your thoughts and the end result of what you're afraid of, and/or write it all out in a journal, sometimes doing this helps me escape spirals of anxiety because once I've gotten it out and have a place to express as much as I want about an issue, it suddenly seems small and like something I can handle.

Maybe it would help to think about if the situations were reversed and his kid was your kid's age and vice versa. Do you think you'd feel the way you're afraid he feels? He's a parent who has had a child your kid's age and I suspect the anxious part of your brain isn't giving him enough credit for that, and being able to understand the practical limitations of being a parent. And hey, maybe he enjoys the warmth of being part of a family unit with a little kid, without having to start over from scratch with a baby and sleepless nights...

Sounds like there are no obligations or legal ties binding you to this guy. So clearly he's with you because he wants to be.

Most people around your age are going to have done some amount of living and learning! And that includes him! And who you are includes being a mother and having a life of your own, so if he is going to be a partner to you, he has to accept YOU, including your status as a mother. Most people are not going to step out of a pod at age 37 with no attachments, ready to just be a perfect girlfriend who's available all the time and has no other life outside their relationship. And if they are like that, I might have more concerns about that than about a single mother in her 30s.
posted by music for skeletons at 3:13 PM on February 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

Your daughter is a gift, and not a burden. He must be grateful that you are willing to share her with him.
posted by amtho at 3:13 PM on February 2, 2021 [16 favorites]

My brother started dating a single mother (with unhelpful ex-husband) when her kid was around two or three, so obviously in need of even more comprehensive attention than your little one. A number of years on, they're married, and my brother has adopted her kid. Some people are just family-minded. If he didn't enjoy being with you and your kid, he wouldn't stick around.
posted by praemunire at 3:24 PM on February 2, 2021 [5 favorites]

Gently, I think you are wildly overestimating the amount of spontaneity available or even desirable to most people your age, regardless of whether they've got small children. Most of us in middle age, whether or not we have small children at home, are busy with work and domestic responsibilities: housework, house repairs, yard work, child care, elder care.

Some people are just cut out to be domestic homebodies, and are perfectly OK with that. We don't yearn for an exciting life of spontaneous dates, but rather for a nice calm domestic life with pleasures like making a nice home, cooking, gardening, helping a child with homework, playing a game with the whole family, relaxing at the end of the day with adult conversation or Netflix. And sure, the occasional special date every once in a while is nice! But it's special because it's not an everyday (or even every week) thing.

It sounds like not only is this guy used to a busy domestic life, having been a single dad for so long, but he also likes it. If he didn't like it, he wouldn't be drawn to you. Perhaps some of the things you think of as a liability are actually attractions for him.

It doesn't sound like he likes you despite who you are and what your life is like; it sounds like he likes you because of those things.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:37 PM on February 2, 2021 [32 favorites]

Also, I wanted to address this part of your comment:

I think this isn't fair to him, because it is a lot - I mean It's a lot for me at times. I feel I could use a break at times when I just want to be alone. I can't imagine how he feels, and that makes me feel so terrible. Doesn't he deserve to be with someone who can give him all the alone time he wants or needs.

You seem to be projecting a lot of the way you are feeling onto him. And your feelings are legitimate! You could use a break, and sometimes you want to be alone, but--that's not necessarily how he is feeling. That's how you are feeling. Accept and validate your own feelings, but don't assume that he feels the same way too. You can't just assume he wants a lot of alone time, or that he finds your life overwhelming, especially since he has already reassured you that he doesn't, and that he is happy with the way things are.

Take what he says at face value. He's an adult; he has the agency to communicate with you if he has needs that aren't being met, so until he does that, there is no sense making up all kinds of narratives in your own head about how he "must" feel. You are choosing not to trust what he has told you himself (that he is happy with your relationship the way it is). Why don't you trust what he's telling you? Is it because he's shown himself to be actually untrustworthy? If not, then it's best to take him at his word.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:47 PM on February 2, 2021 [8 favorites]

Some men want to have more children - I think your daughter’s father’s lack of involvement might be skewing the picture here a little.
posted by heyjude at 3:54 PM on February 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you are dating a human adult that you do not hold some kind of manipulable power over (employment, money, safety, housing, food), he gets to choose what is or is not fair to him. It is not your place to make these decisions on his behalf. Yes do maintain a healthy open line of communication about it, yes ask him about his concerns, but your choice there is to believe what he says or don't believe it - and if you don't believe it, you shouldn't stay with him.

You should not be imagining how he feels, you should be communicating about how he feels and how you feel and how the two of you feel together.

You do need to tackle these insecurities, first and foremost because your daughter does not need them in her life, but also so you can have a good happy life of your own. You have understandably experienced some trauma, you appear to have internalized a lot of terrible single-mother messaging, and it's making it difficult to bring your best self to your relationships. I know therapy is incredibly challenging with an old-enough-to-overhear kid, but if you're able to do that I think it would be really good for you.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:40 PM on February 2, 2021 [14 favorites]

I am a homebody. I married a really extroverted, spontaneous woman. We’re both close to your age. When we were dating, I had to deal with some “why on earth is she with me? I’m boring. I want to stay home and do crafty things, not [her hobbies/social calendar]” feelings. After some therapy for both of us (individually and together), it turned out that she actually liked that I wasn’t exactly like her, and that my frantically trying to keep up with her and failing was not the right approach, which is what she had been trying to tell me and I had a lot of trouble hearing. Worked out ok, we’re married now, and I’m happy we are (and have every reason to believe she is too).

Point is, there are lots of people who want lots of different things, and if someone is choosing to be with you and telling you he is happy with how things are, you should take him at his word, if you believe him.
posted by Alterscape at 5:03 PM on February 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think your anxiety is trying to rationalize you out of a potential good thing. I wonder if perhaps you are projecting some guilt over not seeing red flags in your recent bad dating experience onto this person.

I don't really have advice on how to reframe your thinking, but I think it's a big step that you recognize that you need to. Maybe you need to "fake it til you make it a bit"? You talk a lot about what he deserves, but you deserve to be happy too. You are so much more than a single mother. You're strong, caring, financially stable and independent -- you don't need a man, but that doesn't mean you aren't allowed to want one.
posted by sm1tten at 5:16 PM on February 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

I love kids and whether I have more of my own is up in the air, so I really treasure getting to know and spend time with kids who are younger than my kid.

You might be reacting to him not showing enough, er, romantic enthusiasm towards you and framing it as guilt instead of annoyance or disinterest. A man who didn't want to spend alone time with me would ping my "this guy isn't into me" alarms pretty hard, even if it were logistically difficult to arrange alone time. That, to me, doesn't seem like you're off-base. I think you're wrong that there's something wrong with you but I agree that it's unusual and could be what's triggering your anxiety.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:32 PM on February 2, 2021

You’ve gotten a lot of good answers here and they are all very grounded and rational and yet the emotions are just so awful aren’t they?

The book attached Is great for understanding how humans bond and how we can get stuck in worry loops and how to work with them so we’re not in heightened states of anxiety all the damn time.

The other thing is - like this new relationship thing might work out! Or it might not. Accept that in your heart. You’re clearly a very OK and functional adult already so YOU ARE OK REGARDLESS! You can handle so much and you can take what life throws at you. Take that ease off and just try to watch it unfold rather than worry about the ending (or non ending). 💗
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:24 PM on February 2, 2021

Lots of good thought and advice here. I wanted to just add this thought: you are enough.

You are enough.

You are enough for your daughter. You are enough for you and you are enough to find love. You are worthy of love. Your first priority is your daughter. Your second is you. And you are enough. You are worthy. You can share your dark thoughts with this man and he can tell you his thoughts and worries (and you both should) but none of that takes away from the fact that you ARE enough.
posted by amanda at 6:47 PM on February 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

I am in my 50s. I am dating a woman who is also... well...celebrating the 23rd anniversary of her 30th birthday. She has never been married and has no children of her own. As a father of 3 who were close in age, I actually see her not ever being married and not having kids as a negative. Sometimes she just doesn't get it.

You do have a lot in common with this man. He DOES get it. I would have had no issues if I was younger meeting a single mother raising a young child. Yes, it can be inconvenient, but KIDS! He knows what he is getting into.

Whatever happens, let it happen naturally. He hasn't run yet. He ain't running bc of your daughter or your situation.

You're a good mom. That is clear in your question. That could well be one reason he is into you. He sees you are a good person, trustworthy, responsible and reasonable. Many people look for those qualities in a life partner. Seeing you raise your daughter is a great way to see that in you.
posted by AugustWest at 7:19 PM on February 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

I’m a single woman in my 30s who loves kids and would happily date a woman with a kid. I don’t see it as a burden. I have my own things that I sometimes think are burdens but so does basically everyone else.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:29 AM on February 3, 2021 [6 favorites]

Trauma-informed or trauma-centered therapy is helpful for this, which sounds like either a disorganized or avoidant attachment style. This can't be approached with a logical or cognitive perspective. Telling yourself or having people tell you "you're not a burden" or "you are enough," even though those statements are lovely and true, won't help. It's not about the way you think; it's about how you feel. Your body is trying to keep you safe by warning you not to trust this person even though they're trustworthy, because you've been hurt before. So now your body is reacting because you also don't trust yourself.

This is a thing that happens; it happened to me. Instead of trying to push those thoughts away or dismiss them, it helps me to listen to them and validate them: "Of course I feel afraid. Of course I'm saying these things to myself. I want to be safe and I'm trying to protect myself." I didn't start making good headway on my own disorganized attachment until I started really feeling those feelings, learning why they were there and validating them, and then redirecting them towards caring behaviors (rather than listening to them and running away from good people). Working through your feelings with a good therapist who understands trauma, either with a therapist who does something like Emotion Focused Therapy, or maybe EMDR, will help you to work through this. Best of luck and take care.
posted by k8lin at 6:08 AM on February 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Also your child is 6 now, but won't be soon. In just a few years they will be a pre-teen, and then a teen, and then out of the house. And at each of those steps she will assert a new level of independence and autonomous identity.

And then she is going to want you to have your own life, interests, relationships, because that's what she will be seeking at those points in her life. So instead of framing this as to what your sounds-like-a-good-guy boyfriend wants/needs, think about what you want and need first and foremost.
posted by RajahKing at 9:12 AM on February 3, 2021

1. Plenty of single moms/dads get married/remarried all the time and find someone.

2. Everyone has something. You think you have baggage because you have a kid, but everyone's got something: horrible family members, chronic illness, super picky eater, whatever.

3. If someone loves/cares about you enough, that stuff is not going to dissuade them from being with you.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:30 PM on February 3, 2021

Your daughter is a gift, and not a burden. He must be grateful that you are willing to share her with him.

Quoting this beautiful comment from amtho above, and following it up with two examples for you:

- A friend of mine has a daughter from a previous relationship. He met a woman who was in the middle of a diagnosis that would mean infertility. For various reasons they can't adopt, so she was overjoyed at the chance to be a stepmum, and making a really good one the years I've known her.

- Another friend went through early menopause and was devastated to lose her chance at kids. She was worried it would also make it a lot harder to meet someone. She ended up meeting a man with four daughters, and absolutely revelled in getting to know them. She even said (not to me but so I'm told) that she didn't even really want to do the baby stage anyway, just the raising kids part.

So, you never know who you'll meet, you never know what their priorities might be, and if they don't match up to yours (your daughter) then never mind! There will be someone out there for whom she is, just as amtho says, part of the gift of knowing you.
posted by greenish at 3:17 AM on February 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

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