As a single mother by choice, leaning in means leaning on friends, family, and colleagues.
I was 36 and had ended yet another failing relationship. My struggle to find a life partner stood in stark contrast to a long list of accolades at work. Of all the things I had achieved, motherhood remained out of my grasp. For as a long as I can remember, it is the thing I wanted most.
One by one, I had attended my friends’ weddings, baby showers, and hospital rooms. I thought about having a baby on my own, but I wondered if people would feel sorry for me. Being single had always made me feel vaguely pathetic, like something was wrong with me. Then, in February 2011, my grandmother died. For reasons I don’t quite understand, I suddenly knew that being single didn’t mean something was wrong with me at all – and that if I continued to think that way, I might end up alone forever.
By April, I had chosen an anonymous donor. By August, I was pregnant. In April 2012, I gave birth to a daughter. It has been an experience that is as joyful as it is exhausting. When I reach the top of the stairs with my daughter in my arms and realize that I have forgotten the milk, there is no one to yell down to and ask to bring it to me. When she cries in the night and I don’t know why, there is no one to ask what to do. And when she doesn’t start using words when she should, there is no one quite as worried as I am.
Yet my heart feels like it will burst out of my chest when I feel her tiny 18-month-old hands pat my back as she hugs me, when she puts two words together and says, “Mama…hi!” and when she learns to splash in the tub and laughs so hard that she hiccups.
Now, as a single mother by choice, leaning in means leaning on: friends, family and colleagues. Like many women, I struggle to ask for help. It can make me feel unbearably needy, selfish and demanding. I also hate to be late – to a meeting or with a project. I never want to put anyone out. But letting someone do my dishes or hang out with my daughter while I go for a run is what helps me be healthy and happy as a mom. Asking a colleague to Skype instead of meet in person, or telling a client I need a few more days to deliver a project, is what I need to be a good parent and move the ball forward in my career on my own terms.
I can’t do this alone. But I am determined to challenge my persistent need to “do it all myself.” Asking for help is a powerful act of self-respect. When we ask for what we need, we imply that we are worthy of it. And when we reject perfectionism in favor of an authentic, balanced self, we create a better world for the girls who are watching us. Like my daughter.
Rachel Simmons is the author of the New York Times bestseller Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls.