Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Secret, Secret…I’ve Got a Secret


I have a secret life.

By day, I am my children's mother. I cuddle with them under blankets and read stories, I insist they wear warm hats and zip up their coats in winter, I tell them "less TV, more fruit." I love and protect my children, volunteer at their schools, and teach them how to make scrambled eggs.

But by some nights and on alternate weekends, I am a single woman. In a fairly short time, I've dated enough men to make up for all the dating I didn't do in my 20s and early 30s, when I dated the same man all through college and married him a year after graduation. In the past two years, I've dated an Army captain, an actor, a lawyer, an ex-bounty hunter, a police officer, an accountant, a librarian, and too many IT guys to count.

And I've never breathed a word about any of them to my children. Of course, my daughters know that Mommy has male friends and female friends, but the idea of Mommy having a boyfriend has only been discussed hypothetically with eight-year-old Taylor who asked if she would have to call some theoretical future stepfather "Daddy." (She will not.)

I've not mentioned my dating life to my children because it seems like yet another change at a time when they are still recovering from the biggest change of their young lives: divorce. And I suspect my dating will represent one more nail in the coffin of Taylor's hopes that her father and I will get back together. I don't relish driving that nail in. Plus, I don't want guys floating in and out of my children's lives. I decided from the very beginning of my secret dating career that I wouldn't introduce my girls to anyone unless he was The One.

But how can I know for sure if The One is really The One? After all, my unsuccessful marriage serves as Exhibit A that my judgment about The One is at least slightly off.

So I've felt like there are only two choices: subject my kids to the revolving door of my dating adventures, or keep living a secret life.

Of course there's nothing wrong with parents keeping some aspects of their lives secret from their kids. Good parents--married or singled--don't share their sex lives with their kids, so a case can be made for secrecy in other private areas as well. However, most kids are aware of (if not also outright revolted by) the fact that their parents have sex, even if they don't know the intimate details. Encouraged by this line of reasoning, I imagine that soon I will start to tell my kids that I am going on a date--and do away with the vague "going out with friends" line I usually feed them.

Soon...but when?

Until now, none of the guys I've dated ever made it to the "When the Time is Right, I Want You to Meet My Kids" stage. That stage existed on the outer banks of Getting to Know You and was always a possibility, but never a reality for one reason or another (incompatibility, or my refusal to settle, or his refusal to be emotionally available). But now I've met someone who I look forward to introducing to my kids someday. Someone whose kids think he's working when he's with me.

Neither of us makes it a habit to lie to our kids about anything--except one of the sweetest parts of our lives. Something about that just doesn't feel right. I can't tell my kids, who are the absolute joys of my life, about someone else who also brings me joy, makes me laugh, makes me think, and treats me like royalty. My kids--who see me frowning at my laptop screen, hear me fussing about their messy room, and watch me weep when I miss my mother, still--don't get to see me dressed to the nines doing the Electric Slide on a ballroom floor, or watch me try to follow a football game and ask intelligent questions, or hear me giggle. I don't think my kids have ever heard me giggle. This is the irony of my double life, my Secret Agent Mommy life.

Of course, my kids saw me happy and fulfilled before I met my fellow secret agent. It just seems strange not to share all my happiness with them. I suppose it's like my writing. Taylor is very interested in my writing, and she knows how much I love to write, so she wants to read everything I write. But everything I write isn't appropriate for her to read. "Later," I tell her.

"When?" she asks. "How old do I have to be?"

"It's not an age," I say. "When the time is right, we'll know."

And when the time is right--time to come clean and merge my Mommy life with my secret one--I'll know.

Deesha Philyaw’s writing on race, parenting, gender, and culture has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, Brevity, TueNight and elsewhere. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, her collection of short stories about Black women, sex, and the Black church, is forthcoming from West Virginia University Press in fall 2020.

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I always wait for Philyaw's stuff because I need her odd, perfectly-shared combo of being A Mother Even My Mother Would Approve Of at the same time she expresses her...separate-from-motherhood self. She helps me recognize and walk my own demarcations.
Of course I’ve read this article fifty times all the while debating on whether or not to comment. So, if you are reading this you know what I decided to do. I guess the cat out of the bag now! Your written words have taken me through a variety of emotions, in particular anxiousness and elation. If I haven’t told you lately, “I appreciate you and the special friendship that we share with one another”. I’m always looking for a “first” with us and I don’t think that there could be a greater compliment than the consideration of possibly being “the one”….
I so respect this in you, this keeping it apart from your kids. I have seen so many single mothers bring men into their children's lives before it's time. Bravo for you, for your patience, your instincts, your love. And bravo to Secret Agent Man for being there.
There is only so much a parent can do to try and make a child understand where you are coming from. Thats why I put this site together - a way of letting them see what it is we go on about and see why it means so much to us as parents to ensure that we retain some element of organisation in our lives It is hard work but it is not without reason. Good luck and if my sites helps in any way then it has done the job it is intended for. Best wishes Andy
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