2011-MAR 19 by Lisa John Rogers
While I was a kid growing up, my mother worked. I didn’t see her as much as I would have liked, but that built an early understanding of responsibility — surely a lesson I could not have learned had she stayed at home my entire childhood.
As a kid I remember thinking my mom was some kind of goddess: strong, confident, independent, intelligent, kind, funny — like magic she could accomplish anything, nothing could stand in her way, nothing would bring her down.
Have I mentioned yet that I was raised by a single mom? My mother has been single since she was four months pregnant with me. My father died in an accident, so he didn’t leave us by choice, but he still wasn’t there, and my mother never re-married.
In light of the recent statistics put out by the Pew Research Center — which reveal that one-third of Americans think single moms are “bad for society” — I am writing in defense of single mothers and their kids. All of us.
Let me start by saying this: Single mothers can raise kids just as well, if not better than, two parents. According to these statistics, people are more accepting of alternative families including same-sex couples and unmarried couples, but not single mothers. Not even single mothers are sure if they’re accepting of themselves! I am here to say that single mothers rock, and to explain why.
The biggest epiphany I’ve ever had in life was about my mother: I was 17 years old and had just gotten home from a party where my friend had been drinking too much. This friend of mine didn’t want to go home because she was afraid of what her parents might think of her, so she insisted on going to my house. When we got to my house, my mother tried talking to my friend about why she didn’t want to go home and told her she was going to have to call her parents to come pick her up. It was at that moment I realized I could trust my mother with anything. I could really rely on her at an age when most of my friends felt they couldn’t even rely on either of their parents.
Instead of studying the way my parents interacted with each other, I saw the way my mother interacted with the world. Single mothers have to be strong, they don’t have anyone else to go to for help or parenting advice, they have to be quick on their feet. In my opinion that kind of motherly sure-footedness goes hand-in-hand with tolerance and compassion.
Had I grown up with both my parents I would be a totally different person, definitely more naïve and sheltered. It’s hard not to be aware of how difficult adult life is when you have one parent pulling all the weight. My mother took on a mortgage that she and my father were supposed to pay off together. She worked her way up in her career so she could have that mortgage paid off by the time I was 11.
Single mothers don’t usually spoil their kids because, financially, they are on their own. I was always aware that if I wanted something nice my mother was going to save up for it. I cannot imagine having been one of those kids that would cry in the grocery store causing a scene for a toy — no meant no. The strong understanding I have of the word “no” has really helped me out in life. I know that I have to work for what I want, good things do not come to those who expect hand-outs, especially when it comes to money, people are more than likely to say no.
Also: You can’t get anything past a single mother. When you spend one-on-one time with someone for 19 years, you learn their patterns and moods. As a result of this, my mother and I are very close and know each other scarily well. At times it has been annoying how well she knows my every motive, mood, and means of denial, but, in the end, it has saved me a lot of heartache and trivial personal trouble. Our bond cannot be broken for anything. Even though I live hundreds of miles away from her today, I still feel her emotional security. I feel closer to her than I actually am.
Someone once told me that my mother and I have our own language. We goof around a lot and talk to each other in ridiculous voices. There are some days where we will just talk to each other in a high-pitched Julia Childs voice for absolutely no reason: “Oh hellewww to you!” “Oh hellewww to you my darlink!” Those small moments are when I feel like our little family is bigger than it looks. I get a glimpse of how my mother has been able to juggle … everything.
The way I feel toward my little family also explains why I like guys who respect their mothers. I actually prefer to date guys who were raised by a single mom. It’s not because they understand the relationship I have with my mother but because of the way, on the whole, they view women.
These guys tend to respect my need for independence and know how to be supportive and listen. They understand financial responsibility, knowing that you have to work hard for anything good, and that goes for a relationship, not just a career. They’re not jaded by failed marriages that are still perpetuating in fights. There is an understanding of how special a relationship is because successful ones don’t come around often.
My boyfriend and his twin were raised by their mother, and he says he’s glad his dad never stayed in his life. Having his mom was more than enough for him and his brother. When he tells me stories about his mom, his face lights up. He talks about her as if she’s a war hero and every time he tells a story about her he is awarding her a Purple Heart. The unconditional respect he has for her has reaffirmed my belief that single mothers can and do raise good kids.
Of course, it wasn’t always easy to have “just a mom.” As a kid, I felt left out, but who’s to say that’s a bad thing? In a lot of ways my feelings of being an outsider made me hyper-observant about other kinds of alienation by race, religion, gender, weight — kids can be brutal. With these observations I developed an understanding and acceptance of differences.
I can’t deny that as a kid, I wanted a dad. I wanted a dad who would coach my softball team and play catch with me in the backyard and teach my how to fix up the house. Looking back, my mom did all those things. While she couldn’t coach my team, she did make it to almost every game, we would play catch in the backyard, and my mom was always showing me how to fix up things in our house.
I think having two parents is mostly nice for the mother, so she doesn’t have to do it alone. I am writing this to say that, from a kid’s point of view, all that really matters is that there is someone who cares. For anyone out there who might doubt the power of a single mother, I want them to know the amount of energy that goes into their every day makes them a great parent, by default. The fact that they are showing up and doing their best is enough.
To all the single mothers out there who may doubt how well they are raising their kids, you should know, they will be fine. Money problems, the lack of a father figure, conflicting schedules, all of these things diminish with love. My mother has shown me so much love and support I wouldn’t trade her for five fathers or “normal” parents. She has taught me the importance of strength, confidence, independence, intelligence, kindness, humor and most of all, responsibility and I thank her for giving me the tools to live a life I love every day.
Lisa John Rogers attends Eugene Lang College at The New School and is an editorial intern at Whole Living Magazine