I remember those afternoons when my mother would come home, bone-tired, from work. She would greet us after school, throw a quick dinner together, and then retreat into her bedroom for a nap. Usually she would wake up in time to feed us the dinner; other times, we had to help ourselves to it.
Same went for homework. She always made sure we did it, but there wasn’t much help or hovering. She expected us to be independent at early ages. I began making my lunch when I was in second grade, washed dishes and kept house around that time too. I babysat my younger brother often. It was just how it was, and I accepted that.
But I also resented it too—deeply at times. I compared my mother to other mothers. Mothers who laid out cookies and snacks when their children got home from school. Mothers with immaculate houses they cleaned themselves. Mothers who came to school events, were members of the PTA, and were bright and cheerful all the time (or so I imagined).
My mother was a special education teacher, dealing with emotionally challenged children all day—sometimes getting hit or bitten by them. I knew how hard she worked. I knew how extraordinarily tired she was.
And I knew we had everything we needed. My mother was working her butt off to provide for us. And although there were times of financial strain and worry, our needs were always, always met—all of this despite the fact that my mother received very little in terms of financial support from my father.
My mother showed up for us emotionally as well. Voices were raised at times, and fights were fought, but our home was a safe place where we could be ourselves, where our feelings were valuable and accepted, and where we were loved unconditionally.
Yet I couldn’t help myself from wanting something different—even wanting someone different. At times, I was angry with my mother. Vehemently. Couldn’t she muster up a little more energy for us? Couldn’t she participate in our lives a little more fervently? Couldn’t she be like all the spunky, fun mothers I envied from afar?
And why did I have to do so much to keep our lives afloat? I knew from an early age that I was growing up faster than other girls my age. There was a deep responsibility I felt at an early age, like I was bearing the weight of the world on my shoulders—and everybody in it.
It has taken me almost 30 years to see that my anger and resentment toward my mother was misguided and misdirected. And it’s not just the fact that I am a mother now too, and I know how incredibly exhausting it is to be a parent—and a working parent at that.
The fact is, although I am a worn out, hard-working mother myself, I have a partner in all this, who shares the burden of our lives. I can’t know what it must have been like for my mother, because I am not a single parent myself.
But now I know something else. I still feel the heartbreak and sadness of that little girl who wanted so much more from her mother, but I no longer blame my mother for our lack.
I blame a culture that perpetuated the myth that it was OK for fathers to leave their families. I blame a court system that allowed a married man and his wealthy wife to pay a measly $200 a month to support two young children. I blame a government that had very few effective programs in place to help struggling single parents financially.
I blame all of those things—and I am pissed.
My mother worked hard, so hard. She did her damn best. And she was a good mother. But she was held back from being the mother she truly wanted to be because she did not receive the support that she should have.
Even now, she tells me that she truly wished she’d had the energy to do more—to be the mom she sees me being when I go to a PTA event at my kids’ school, or as I cheerfully sit down with one of my kids to do homework (believe me, this doesn’t happen every day, but I try).
I know single moms do not need our pity. They each have their own struggles and triumphs—and many look different than my own mother’s. But this is what I want single moms out there to know.
Just show up. Do your best. Love your children to pieces. Provide your kids with emotional safety and unconditional love—that matters more than anything else. And remember that it’s impossible for you to be more than one person. Oh, and take care of your own needs, because no parent can pour from an empty cup.
My mother wasn’t a perfect mother, but no mother is. I see now that she was an incredible woman, who built a good life for her children despite some bad cards she was dealt, and some serious bullshit she was up against. And that strength and perseverance rubbed off on me.
I am the child of one badass single mom, and I am sorry I ever thought otherwise.