Every woman who loves a child wants to meet that child’s every need. To keep them safe, that’s our calling. To be enough for them, that’s our yearning. We hope for a generous appraisal, and not just from our beloved children. No role endures more public scrutiny than motherhood.
When I became a single mother, I developed a radar for the lowered expectations of others. Most of you single mothers know what I mean. These critics have their doubts about us, and they never hide them as well as they think they do. Even their compliments can sting.
How many times in my decade as a solo mom did someone praise my ability to be cheerful “despite everything”? As if my biggest accomplishment was to go on living after I no longer had a husband. As if nothing could be as bad as becoming uncoupled.
My closest friends, most of them women, never saw me as fragile or diminished by divorce. I was still Connie, full of flaws and occasional promise in every endeavor, including as mom to Cait and Andy. Those friends are my friends, still, because I am loyal that way and they are generous beyond measure.
A single mom on Mother’s Day
I haven’t been a single mom for nearly two decades, but I will always be a single mom. No matter how many ways your life changes – and mine has endured multiple lucky earthquakes – some small, deep part of you never stops being that mother who used to pace the floor at midnight like a ghost in your own home.
That’s the part so often missing in those rags-to-riches fairy tales: the fears that never let go, the worries that change your beliefs about the world and your place in it. I know how lucky I am because I can never forget how it felt when I wasn’t. Some might be tempted to call that sad. I call it gratitude.
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Nearly two decades have passed, and yet here I am, mulling over that time in my life when I was always trying to prove, as much to myself as anyone else, that I could rebuild a family from scratch. The timing is predictable.
Mother’s Day is coming, and it’s a fraught day for so many, including single mothers. Single mothers of young children, I mean. I am advocating for those children, and their mothers who will inevitably take on their kids’ embarrassment or heartbreak. When you’re a little kid, you don’t want to be empty-handed on Mother’s Day.
I speak from uneasy experience, after I had once failed to anticipate this for my young daughter. No amount of reassurance could comfort her. It doesn’t matter if you don’t care about gifts on Mother’s Day. At the youngest of ages, on TVs and in day cares and schools across America, children learn they are supposed to show they care on Mother’s Day. Is this an unfair burden for a child? Yes, always and forever. But here we are.
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Amicable divorces are too rare, and children often end up in the crosshairs of revenge parenting. I’ve written before about how important it is to prioritize what kids need during holidays, and I’ll keep writing about this every fall for as long as I have a column.
Special days tied to parental roles merit similar consideration. Again, it’s all about the children.
‘All those happy memories’
After that early blunder on my part, my friend Nancy offered to help my daughter come up with Mother’s Day gifts. Nancy was also a single mother, so I did the same for her. For years, it was our tradition. The first time is the one I remember best because of the look of joy on my daughter’s face. She came home after an outing with Nancy and dashed into her bedroom to hide her homemade card and the little ceramic vase that I use to this day.
Children are born generous, but they are dependent on the adults in their lives to help them unlock the magic. If you are lucky enough to know a single mother with young children, please think about reaching out to her. Ask if she knows her kids’ plans for Mother’s Day. You could be that friend that Nancy was to me, and to my daughter.
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Now, a word of hope for all of you single mothers who may be reading this. A couple of years ago during a visit here, my grown daughter – a mother of two, married to a man who adores her – mentioned something about driving past our old house.
“All those happy memories,” she said, as she helped me unpack groceries.
It was the way she said it. So matter of factly, almost as an aside. As if I already knew that was how she remembered life with her single mother.
I had to leave the room, for just a moment.
You know why.
USA TODAY columnist Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize winner whose novel, “The Daughters of Erietown,” is a New York Times bestseller. You can reach her at CSchultz@usatoday.com or on Twitter: @ConnieSchultz
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mother’s Day: Let’s talk about the single moms raising their children