Like my mom, I have two willful, spirited daughters. Unlike Mom, I’m raising them alongside a hands-on spouse. My playful, loving husband lives for our girls. He sings off-key at top volume in their music classes, arranges trips to the fire station so the girls can see the engines up close and wakes early on Sundays to make alphabet blueberry pancakes.
My dad loved my sister and me fiercely too, but from afar. After my parents separated, he had to move abroad to find work. While we always felt his affection for us through letters, phone calls and tape recordings, all of the day-to-day parenting fell to my mother.
I don’t want to downplay how hard single-motherhood can be. I’m sure there were many days Mom felt lonely and overwhelmed. At the same time, I count myself extraordinarily lucky to have had these three things:
1. A Kick-Ass Female Role Model
Mom put herself through undergraduate studies and law school while my sister and I were both in elementary school. Every day we saw her working hard toward something she valued: immersion in a world of learning and the ability to support the three of us financially.
Just as important, we lived in a home without division of labor based on gender. Mom paid the bills, changed the oil, haggled with the car salesman and mowed the lawn (at least until we were old enough to inherit the chore). If she decided not to do something—camping, for example, was never on her list of fun family-trip ideas—we sensed it had less to do with her being female and more to do with her just being Mom.
2. A Single Judge and Jury
Before my husband and I had kids, we compared notes about what we thought worked best in our respective upbringings. He remembers his parents always—and I repeat it because I find it so amazing, always—being on the same page in front of him and his brothers. From everything I know about two-parent families, including my own current experience, this is as rare as a blue-footed booby sighting.
My sister and I didn’t have the chance to play our parents off of each other, which led to absolute clarity. We knew what Mom says goes, and while we constantly practiced our negotiating skills on her, it gave us a certain amount of security to know exactly where the boundaries were. From Mom’s perspective, she raised us as she saw fit, without any tension, argument or resentment from a differing spouse.
3. An Expectation of Real Partnership
Both my sister and I married Renaissance men: They take pride in knowing how to do things, whether it’s oaring a two-ton raft, framing out a new bathroom, concocting the perfect gluten-free pizza dough or expertly ironing one of their wife’s dresses. We didn’t choose these guys by accident. Given life with our mom, we’d never have ended up with Mad Men kinds of husbands. While it would be untrue to say that our marriages are completely devoid of gender struggles, we muddle through them, attempting to be as honest as we can with one another.
Every day I’m grateful to be parenting with a man I love. I’m with him because I want to be and choose to be—not because I’m afraid of what it would be like to raise our girls on my own. Thanks to my mom’s example, I know it’s possible to be a solo parent and still be happy, complete and fulfilled despite the difficulties. Without a doubt, that’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given as a mother—and the best part about growing up as the daughter of an independent, resilient single mom.