There’s no way to beat around the bush. When my beautiful children were the ages of three and five, their father left us. I found myself facing all the responsibility, all the frustration and terror, and all the pain and sleeplessness of raising two amazing little beings on my own. On good days, I surprised myself with the confidence that I could do whatever it took to make it through the challenges. As the kids and I moved through the years together, I often wondered how they were perceiving the conflict and challenges of our lives.Their understanding of events and circumstances changed during their growing-up stages. I tried to respond to their questions in age-appropriate ways with just enough information to satisfy them at that stage of their lives. It was like feeding them the story little bits at a time, in the hope that it would someday all come together for them.
Now that they are grown up, I want to formally bring all those pieces together. I want my kids to know (with clear adult minds) what it was like for me to be a single mom and how special it was to me, in spite of all the challenges. One more time, in a comprehensive all-ages way, I want to shed light on these things so we can blast away any cobwebs left. I want them to be able to settle into themselves and march forward with peace into their lives.
I hope these 10 things I have said to my kids will help other single moms talk with their kids about this, too.
To all my raised-by-a-single-mom kids out there…
1. You need to know: Being a single mom was about you, not me.
I admit, sometimes it felt like this single-mom-thing was happening to me. I felt sorry for myself and wondered if I could do it. I sometimes shrunk from the heaviness of my responsibility. However, in the end, my focus always came back to you and what I needed to do for you — and that was my saving grace. Once I got over my pity party and moved past my sorrow and questioning, I found strength in my role as the mom who would help you find your own strength. Yes, I took time to care for myself. I learned to take time away to be with friends and pursue my passions, but at the center of my life was you, and I liked it that way.
2. You need to know: It was hard to be a single mom, but not too hard.
As an adult, you might be tempted to feel sorry for me when you realize how difficult it was for me to be a single mom. It’s important for you to know that I always bounced back from difficulties. I found my dance and came up with ways to deal with seemingly impossible things. It turns out raising you alone wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. In fact, I ended up feeling proud of what we accomplished together. We were also very lucky to have the love and support of family members and friends. In a way, your father’s absence was made up by the presence of many others in our lives. You need to know this today, so you can have confidence that you were raised the right way. Knowing that will make you strong. You will face hard things in your life. However, they won’t be too hard. You will have the power to overcome, just as I did.
3. You need to know: You made me laugh and brought me joy.
The seriousness of some of the situations we were in might weigh on you as you continue to grow and change. Don’t let it! The bad stuff is not at the heart of what we were as a family back then. The great power behind us was (and has always been) love and fun, and laughter and joy. We knew how to do silly dances in the living room when we couldn’t sleep. We knew how to ignore housework and let loose with the bubble guns. We knew how to fun-erize anything that was slightly annoying or boring. We could also quietly analyze life’s problems together and come up with brilliant solutions. We also made jokes or made music to take away the stress. Take no ownership of the heaviness, which I know children of divorce sometimes are wont to do. Without you, my life would have been much less bright. Take those jester’s skills into your future.
4. You need to remember: “Take the good and leave the bad.”
You know this saying well. We used it all the time. Whether it was you-know-who being a little crazy-headed, your friends when they were overbearing, teachers when they just didn’t get it, or anyone or anything else in life, this motto carried us through. It carried us through with each other sometimes, too (wink). It can still carry you through anything life throws your way. Don’t dwell on the bad. Doing that gives energy to the wrong thing, and the bad usually doesn’t truly belong to you. You have a birthright to take the good to heart, embrace it, and make it grow. If you learned anything from this journey at all, I hope it’s that you have a choice in the way every moment of every day of the rest of your life will go. You can make it go well, simply by choosing the good and letting the bad lie.
5. You need to know: Single moms don’t know anything.
Some people would like you to believe I didn’t know how to take care of you the way you needed to be taken care of. On the surface, maybe you realize now this is not true. However, you will be tempted throughout your life to question it, because it’s a channel cut when you were young. Remember that now you know I am an intelligent and capable person and parent. Even if I didn’t know what I was doing sometimes, I figured it out, just as if I had still been with your dad. I don’t urge you to do this for my sake, but for your own. You need to feel the confidence of having been raised by a parent who WAS capable of taking care of you, come hell or high water. You need to know that you don’t know anything either. When you admit this, you will be able to figure things out and take care of yourself.
6. You need to know: Single moms sometimes make mistakes.
So… having urged you to remember how capable I was, I need to now urge you to remember that I was (and still am) only human, and so are you. Mistakes are in our DNA. If you can forgive me for the mistakes I made as a single mom, you will be able to forgive yourself for the mistakes you will most certainly make throughout your life. We are so much more than the circumstances that surround us. We can claw our way up any hill we fall down. We can figure out how to not fall down again, because we don’t like it at the bottom. Take pleasure in the FACT that you, as a human, with the muscle behind you of things greater than yourselves, have the ability to overcome anything.
7. You need to remember: Mama-Bear power is real.
If you remember, when something threatened you, or when I thought it was threatening you, my single-mom Mama-Bear persona took over, like The Hulk takes over the professor. Sometimes it was the threat of you not doing your homework and ending up living on the streets. Sometimes it was the threat of someone older taking advantage of you, or a friend leading you to trouble. The mama bear in me rose up because my life experiences gave me the ability to see the potential consequences of those situations. First, I want you to understand this because I hope you will love me for it instead of resenting it. Second, I want you to know you have that kind of power in you too. Decide what you care about, then allow your own bear-sized power to rise up and protect it.
8. You need to know: I don’t think your dad is the devil.
Okay, I admit sometimes I used to think he was. He did, after all, leave me to deal with my own little hell of a financial ruin, broken love, logistic catastrophes, social desolation, and a blitzed future. You should probably hear this as adults, so you know it was real. It’s natural that people feel these things, under the circumstances. You’re old enough now to know that I was devastated. And, yes, I blamed him. But you also know I got past it. You also know, without a doubt. that you were not a part of that little hell, in the least. In fact, right smack in the middle of hell, I found heaven: You — and your cute faces, bad puns, and tender little hugs. I figured out how to earn a living, navigate the challenges, find new loves, and create my own bright future. I don’t know your dad well after all these years, but I am absolutely convinced that he loves you and has always loved you, just for you, in the way he knows best. You need to know, I think it’s okay for you to like him, to love him, and to be loved by him. It’s even okay to tell me what you love about him. I know now that he is not the devil.
9. You need to know: It’s okay to love and get married.
You’ll hear me say, I probably won’t ever fall in love or get married again. But that’s just me. And that’s just now. I’m smart enough to know some relationships work out well, and that’s what I want you to remember. It’s okay to fall in love and get married. It’s one of the great and glorious adventures of life. Just because love brings challenges, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t grab it and live it with gusto. Go all the way! Just remember to consider your choices carefully. Listen — truly listen — to your heart before you leap. Give your head enough time to weigh the pros and cons honestly. Then, if it makes sense, jump. Make sure you are treated as well as the other person in the relationship. And be sure you both have the right weapons to fight the battle. Then fight like mad to keep it. If it really is not going to work out, you will recover, as I did. When love appears in your lives, go for it with your whole heart and be happy.
10. You need to remember: I am still here. Being a single mom to you didn’t wear me out.
It’s natural to believe single moms sing the halleluiah chorus when the kids leave home, because they are worn out from years of solo parenting. I admit, I like having my own space now after living toe-to-toe and feeling the weight of responsibility for so many years. But I think you feel the same way, right? You were ready to be on your own when you left home. And so was I. On the other hand, do not ever think I became so worn out being a single mom that I don’t want to be your mom anymore. In fact, being your mom is what I’m most proud of. Being your mom gives me the most energy and joy in my life — still, to this very day. This is a cliché for a reason. Moms feel this way, for truth. So, I’m counting on you to call me when you need a ride to the all-night pharmacy or when you don’t quite have enough money to fix your bike. Text me when you need to brag about your latest creative genius or you just remembered a funny grandpa-joke we used to tell at the dinner table. I’m still here to share life with you through happiness, sadness, frustration, and any kind of hell.
Featured photo credit: Girl Looking at the Sun at Sunrise/Ed Gregory via stokpic.com