A week or two ago, my thirteen-year-old daughter was talking to me about love.
At one point in the midst of the philosophical discussion she paused, glanced at me carefully with a flash of her blue eyes and said of my current relationship, “You are totally and completely yourself with him—whether good or bad—and he loves you. All of you.” I nodded, feeling like she was talking about more than just my partner and me. “I want that for myself someday,” she said, “That’s the kind of thing I’m going to have.”
And, in that moment, I knew I was finally—after so many twists and turns—on the right path in love.
That path as a single mother, as with everyone else, demands a unique blend of heartache, learning, and magic. But our path is traveled even more intently with our children bearing witness to our faults and successes, taking it all in, seeing their future selves in our process. Magic, yes. But, a magic heavy with responsibility, which is something I haven’t always fully realized.
The Magician is the card of beginnings—appropriately enough for mothers who, whether by choice or circumstance, find themselves raising their children without partners. In traditional Rider-Waite-Smith decks, the Magician stands in a rich red cloak, all of the tools of his trade laid out before him, flowers blooming wild above his head and below his feet. His arm is raised, calling in power and mystery. The elemental suits of the tarot are all within his grasp—the sword, the wand, the pentacle, the cup. All that he needs to create the next phase of life is present, if he reaches out for it.
The power of the Magician is one of the greatest spiritual lessons of the major arcana. Through his gifts and resources, he calls in what he needs and deserves with confidence and grace. The Magician, for me, has been only the most recent chapter of my single motherhood journey. It will soon be eight years since my children’s father and I split up, but my own confidence, power, and magic have taken many years to learn—especially when it has come to moving into new relationships post-divorce.
In love, until recent years, I was the Magician Reversed, acting without skill, being unclear, and lacking self-esteem while trying to project a desirable illusion. My marriage ending hurt. The choices my ex made hurt. So, in the aftermath of it all, I continued in the well-worn course of pain and suffering because I thought it was what love looked like. After all, I watched my parents’ marriage splinter and then my own. Another child bearing witness.
This phase of my experience as a single mother can most clearly be depicted by the Devil card. My descent was complete—was absolute. I became addicted to suffering, never pausing to think that my children were watching wounds pass over me like weather. When I wasn’t well—when I was lost in the ache over a love treating me poorly or a situation that didn’t serve me—so were they. I was creating a dark myth for them about what relationships looked like.
The Devil showed up frequently for me in those days when I would read cards for myself, but I always found a way to explain it away as meaning something else. I didn’t want to see that the claws were in me. I didn’t want to look at the chains I’d carefully crafted to be bound to people who were just using me or to ones who were so lost in their own darkness they could only feed into my pain and insecurity with their own. The Devil card is one no one likes seeing in their readings, so we often try to blunt its message. But, when we don’t back away from it, the lessons of overcoming our addiction to negativity, strife, and hopelessness can radically transform our lives.
The Devil is a wake-up call about unhealthy attachments. I walked through its fires for years after my marriage ended. At first, I simply couldn’t accept that my marriage was over. I tried for far too long to hold onto it—to fight to save it—to dispute the reality that we were irrevocably broken. My children, unfortunately, were spectators to our blistering failure. They learned that one parent can destroy another. They learned that your value is completely tied in to your partner. They learned that solitude is painful and to be avoided at all costs. My regret over teaching them this in those years is infinite.
I wish I could say that I learned my lessons of the Devil card with just my marriage’s failure, but that would be a lie. I had never been alone in my entire adult life, so I fought fiercely against solitude. The Devil is about losing control and about being unwilling to free ourselves from negative people and situations we know are causing harm. More than once, I found myself here—actively allowing new patterns of mistreatment similar to the ones I’d tolerated at the end of my marriage and using my pain to wound others as well.
While no partnership can assure perfect tranquility for the children at all times, the darkness my children observed by just watching their mother undergo these things is something that cannot be undone. Being a single mother means that each personal struggle is distilled and filtered along to the children, no matter how hard one tries to spare them from private miseries. I was alone, trying to learn my way through all of this without the benefit of another person present to dilute it. What I hope they get from memories of this time is the message that this kind of negative cycling can be broken.
The Chariot is just this kind of change maker. In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, the Chariot shows a person with a wand like that of the Magician’s—a person standing above two figures just as the Devil stands above two naked people, chained to his side. The figures in the Chariot don’t appear to be chained, however; it is the mastery of self-control and focus that keep them connected. So, too, can the power of determination and willpower carry the individual over the entrapment of negative patterns and destructive relationships. There was no secret to my process of releasing the things and situations that no longer served me. It was a deliberate series of choices that moved me forward.
It started with saying no. No to people who weren’t free to be my partner—no to my own fixations and desires—no to offers of love or sex or infatuation from those who didn’t have my well-being in mind. Some of these no’s rolled easily off my tongue, rapid-fire, powerful, certain. Others were agonizing and damn near impossible, even as they whispered from my lips into life. Before long, I’d made enough forward progress with the Chariot’s steady momentum that I began to see boundaries of where I ended and those around me began. I began seeing solitude as a gift rather than a punishment. Not everyone around me was able to see my progress, but I grew increasingly confident in holding the reins and maintaining control over my wayward, wounded heart.
The story, for me, of the Magician, the Devil, and the Chariot is the story of a woman returning to her own sovereignty before entering into any new relationships—the story of a woman reaching out for all that is offered to her with confidence in her own inner magic. She has stepped from the shadows of her stubborn heartache and moved forward into the light. If, like me, she also happens to be a mother on her own trying to navigate all of this, she has children who are paying attention. If she is lucky, one day, one of her children will claim a love for herself based on her mother’s example—and that example will be a healthy and powerful one.