Surviving and Thriving as a Single Mother
I'm proud to say I am a single mother. We're a minority group, but that's ok. I have been on this journey for the past 13 years, on and off. Since my marriage dissolved 13 years ago, the road has been both arduous and smooth, more so the arduous part. I don't consider my children or myself victims, but a genuine example of determination and endurance.
What is it like being a single mother?
It ain't easy. Some days I feel like Atlas, carrying the celestial vault on my shoulders. On other days, I believe if I can get through this, I can achieve anything. I'm the mother of two girls, five years apart. Initially, my goal was to just keep them alive until they can survive on their own, but I've realized that it's not my only job. My job is not only to supply a food, clothing, and shelter - the basics, but to make sure they grow up to lead fulfilling lives on their own and become productive members of society.
Single Motherhood is like a daily spin of the wheel of fortune. There are days when things go as planned, but you don't really have time to plan, only to react to the unexpected, which occurs frequently. You expect the unexpected to happen, but you secretly hope it doesn't and you know you're not that lucky. Occasionally the wheel of fortune is in your favor and things are going your way. Your daily routine starts off without a hitch and you drop them off to daycare or school at 8:00 am on the dot. You know that if you arrive at the daycare at exactly 8:00 am and not a minute later, you're guaranteed to arrive at work at least 20 minutes early. However, you have more than a few days in succession when the wheel of fortune spins in the other direction. Because of circumstances beyond your control, you end up dropping them off 8:05 am which guarantees that you'll be at least 10-15 minutes late for work. To make matters worse, you opted not to stop for gas on the previous day when you noticed the gas needle was showing only a 1/4 tank left. You convinced yourself it can wait until tomorrow because you vowed to leave at least 10 minutes earlier. You can't afford to stop as you're already running late for pick-ups from the daycare and they charge by the minute for late pick-ups.
You know the wheel of fortune has not spun in your favor when your child walks into the room before you've acknowledged a new day has begun, to say they have a stomachache. Your heart sinks because now you have to decide which is more important-'my job' or 'my child'. Countless times, I've had to make this choice. Whenever I get sick, my choice has always been work. My fear of being obsolete has always superseded my sickness. I've gone to work feeling weak and dizzy and even drove in this condition. However, my child is a different story. How could I send her to school while she wasn't feeling well? I had to make a choice, fast: (A)stay at home with her and risk being viewed as unreliable; (B) send her to school and let the school nurse call me to pick her up and still being viewed as unreliable; (C) call her dad and let him plan with his mother. "C" was my preferred choice. I didn't want to risk staying home or have to leave work early for an emergency which in my case occurred at least twice a month.
According to the United States Census Bureau, single parent (mother) households have been on the rise since the beginning of the 1950s. As of 2018, the percentage of children living with their mother alone averages to around 30 percent across the main demographics of whites, Hispanics and blacks. Minority households are disproportionately high in comparison to white households.
It's widely known that children raised in single-parent households are more at risk compared to children raised in two-parent households because of socioeconomic disadvantages. Depending on their age, they're well aware of the limited opportunities available to them. The benchmark of a solid foundation in life begins with: living in a good school district; Taking part in extra-curricular activities and even the ability to afford hobbies that would contribute to their cognitive development. Sadly, they may not have access to nutritious foods. These experiences can have lasting psychological effects that extends into adulthood. Their future may go one of two ways. It may either trigger in them an insatiable drive to succeed or stagnate their ambitions due to low self-esteem.
The Ultimate Challenge
Although being a single mother is difficult, it's not an excuse for neglect. One of my biggest challenges as a working mother, is being present. Not only physically present, but mentally present. The stress of being the only parent or even adult in the home is overwhelming. Children continue to need nurturing and consistent attention to satisfy their emotional needs. This part of parenting is not exclusive to single mother homes, but is potentially more pervasive if the mother needs to work outside of the home. It leaves children to look out for themselves after school. I relied heavily on my oldest daughter, at 12 years of age, to assume the role of caretaker and surrogate parent while I was at work. The cellphone was our mode of communication during the journey from school to home. I used to drop them off in the mornings, then it became necessary for them to go to school on their own, both ways. I instructed my oldest to call me immediately after being dismissed from school, right before they were ready to walk home. I stayed on the phone with them until they were safely inside. It wasn't always smooth sailing.
There were days when the phone is dying, they lingered behind to chat with friends or didn't call me at 3:00 pm exactly. On one occasion, they nearly burned the house down from misuse of the microwave and black smoke was pouring out of the house. My anxiety level would rise at the same time everyday around 3:00 pm, then come back down a little once I received their phone call. On returning home from work, I often found them either fast asleep in the living room or in my oldest daughter's bedroom. If I had been lucky, my job would've been close enough to allow for me to drop them off and pick them up each day. Job flexibility is a privilege, not a right. My anxiety was in full effect for the hours after school until arrived I home from work. Also, my stress level and patience were incessantly high.
As much discipline as you try to instill in your children, you can't catch everything. When the cats away, the mice will always play. Reportedly, they brought friends in the house, made mischief, forgot to do their homework and ate junk for dinner or didn't eat at all, etc. Since I was often too tired to follow-up on anything, if it wasn't serious, I usually let it slide. This came back haunting me later, see Mental Health Issues and Single Parenting. More often than not, they were asleep by the time I returned home from work. I didn't have the time or energy to make them a nutritious meal. Usually, I would grab a quick bite from the kitchen, then head off to bed. I Wake up the next day and repeat.
Perseverance Is Key
We need to keep in mind that the casualties of a broken home are the children. They need constant care and are probably the most fragile in the situation. As we're nursing our wounds and feverishly trying to keep the raft afloat, occasionally, we need to take a pause. We should spend time just talking to them, even about mundane things. Talk to them about their interests, friends or even heavier topics that're possibly on their mind. This role is rough and sometimes it feels like we can't see beyond the clouds, but we must remain optimistic. Even in times of stress, failures, and setbacks, we've had plenty of moments of happiness too. Every challenged faced, passes and the by-product is resilience. As a single mother of 13 years now, I can say with confidence that it's not a life sentence, and it gets easier, with time. You find that as they get older; They have more independence, but it doesn't mean they no longer need you. It only means their needs have changed and you may need to make a few minor adjustments.