Modern Life: A Single Mom Shares Her Story
Kelly Flynn on becoming a single mom, by choice, at 42.
Kelly Flynn, 49, senior executive producer, CNN, and Ivy, 7. Brooklyn, New York.
Kelly Flynn wasn't one of those young women who fantasized about wedding dresses, or doodled her first name with the last names of potential husbands on her binder. But she did know for sure that she wanted to be a mother. Like so many, she spent her 20s and 30s focusing on her career, and although she'd been in some wonderful relationships, they were with men who weren't ready to settle down and have a family. "When I found myself single at 38, I thought, 'Huh, maybe I better get on this being a mom thing on my own,'" says Kelly. "I didn't want to force relationships to get the baby."
Her solid career gave her the stability and confidence to believe she could pull off being a single mom. However, finding a sperm donor proved daunting. "Online dating was torturous enough, but this was the highest-stakes online shopping imaginable!" says Kelly. "Thankfully, a very wise friend said to me, 'All the things that seem so hard now—none of them will matter when you hold that baby in your arms.' He was right. I had Ivy just before I turned 43. It took me five years to get there, but I feel so lucky. Like all parents, I can't imagine my life without her. Being a mother has made me much more forgiving of my flaws. Perfection is an unachievable goal when you're a parent. It's a lesson I wish I had learned much earlier in life!"
Kelly has always been candid with Ivy, telling her the story about her donor since she was an infant. "I would do it while she was nursing, or while I was rocking her to sleep. I wanted to practice to be sure I was totally comfortable with my choice of words by the time she was old enough to understand them." What Ivy knows is that "a nice man, called a donor, gave the doctor a seed to help you grow in my tummy." Kelly says that there are all different kinds of families. "Some are headed by a grandma, an uncle, two moms or two dads. Ours just happens to be a family with one mom and no dad."
She has made sure there are supportive men in Ivy's life. Kelly's always been the girl with tons of guy friends, and it was a no-brainer to enlist "the uncles" to play an informal, yet official, part in her life. "I wanted them to imprint some positive messages on her. I want Ivy to know that she has other people to turn to who aren't me, who love and care for her—many of whom are men," says Kelly. "She just beams when any of them are around. It's a different wavelength for her, and she loves it."
The professed "city mice" love to take advantage of what the town has to offer, or just hit the park. "Maybe it was overcompensation for not having a dad around, but I made sure Ivy was riding a bike before she turned 5, and that she could throw a Frisbee, hit a baseball and feel confident playing all sorts of sports." However, Kelly's most treasured moments come when things settle down. "Those 10 minutes right before bed are just delicious—when the checklists are done, and there's space and the quiet for Ivy to share whatever may be worrying her or what's made her happy. Even though she's nearly as tall as I am, she'll still sometimes climb up on my lap and let me rock her to sleep. That is my nirvana."
How has becoming a single mom changed you?
It's forced me to do something I was terrible at before, and that is to live in the moment, maybe even more so because it's just the two of us. Since Ivy was born, there's really been no room for anything else to occupy my brain space when I'm with her. It can be frustrating when there are other things to be done or work emails to be answered or adult conversations to be had, but an hour and a half with her can feel like the best yoga class—my mind gets cleared, and my perspective gets realigned.
Which qualities do you love most in Ivy?
Lately, I've been in love with Ivy's contradictions. She is strong and bold and self-assured, yet she has a super-sensitive little heart. She's a girlie girl who wants to make sure every dress twirls and every bow in her hair is just right, yet her hands are covered in calluses and the knees on all her tights are filthy. As women, I feel like we so often lose the freedom to embody all the disparate parts of ourselves, and I really hope I can help her hold on to that.
What other activities do you two like to do together?
We are both native New Yorkers, but we love a touristy moment in the city—a boat cruise around Manhattan or a double-decker bus ride. There's never a lack of observations to be made or things to talk about in this crazy town. As Ivy would say, "We're city mice."
What's the homework/dinner/bath/bedtime dance like in your house?
We get home together after six, so it's fast and no-nonsense. I call what I do "assembling," rather than cooking. I have a few dishes I can throw together in 20 minutes, but I don't let myself feel guilty for leaning on some delicious and healthy ready-made meals. There are so many great options now that I feel like it would be a crime to not take advantage of them. I just can't spend my Sundays cooking for the week.
Thankfully, the baths have become showers, and she can finally do them (mostly) herself. I give her baths as a weekend luxury, but I would be totally a-okay if I never had to do another one again. Seven years of bathing another person—no matter how cute—every night is a looooong time.
She's going to a wonderful school, where she still doesn't have homework, but when she does, I will count on the smart after-school teachers to get that done with her. Frankly, I don't even understand the new math concepts, so she'll probably be better off.
Reading never gets short shrift, and sometimes it means less sleep, but I've given up trying to get Ivy what I think is the 12 hours a night that she'd probably like. Sadly, it's more like 10.5 on weeknights. It's just not mathematically possible, with our lives, to get to 12.
For more on Kelly and Ivy, listen to them share on StoryKeep.