Op-Ed: To the single mother on Mother’s Day

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Happy Mother's Day to you, Mom. Thanks for all you have always done. - Gauge Day

I write this as a man who was raised by a single mother during the most transformative years of my life. It’s hard to express in words the depth of my gratitude for all the trials she faced to enable me to pursue the life I have now. On this Mother’s Day, my thoughts go to her and all the single mothers out there, who may often feel unseen and underappreciated.

Growing up, I saw how the world often looked down on single mothers. There were judgmental glances directed at a mother simply doing her best under difficult circumstances. I saw the ways societal pressures and personal challenges could drain a mother’s spirit, stripping away her self-love.

Yet amidst this, I witnessed the incredible resilience that adversity can breed. I saw my mother, and many like her, rise to places they never imagined possible because they had no choice but to keep moving forward. To do all they could to survive.

Motherhood is universally challenging, but single motherhood introduces a unique set of trials. I remember watching my mother’s journey with young eyes, misunderstanding all that she was going through. From dealing with the death of my biological father to the divorce with my stepdad that would once again thrust her into single motherhood and relearning how to navigate life with two teenagers who now depended only on her – I remember it all.

Life began for my sister and me with a father who was never fully present, which meant my mom would have to rely on anyone she could around her to take care of us. We lived in Gary, Indiana, at the time, a place that didn’t offer a stable environment to be raised in to begin with.

As we moved to Alabama and my mother remarried, the pattern of poor father figures persisted. From a biological father who called just a few times a year, to a stepfather who showed me everything not to be, our closest male role models were deeply flawed. Then chaos would ensue, and I would lose my biological father and witness my mother’s inevitable divorce all in the same week. I saw our world crumble away. We stood to lose everything, and suddenly, we had nothing.

Single motherhood had once again found my mother, just with two teenagers this time. We were left with nothing after the divorce. No place to live, no money and nothing to my mother’s name. Everything seemed lost. My sister and I would spend many nights couch surfing with friends who would have us. It was here my mother would be faced with the choice of picking up the pieces and starting over again.

The reality of our situation was grim. My mother would dive back into the dating scene, where abusive and toxic relationships would become the norm in my mother’s life. No matter how many times I told my mom that a relationship was bad, or that a person was taking advantage of her, it never changed anything. My mother was in a never-ending loop of self-defeat. And it was there that I had to watch her fall each time.

My frustration with my mom grew over time. I was upset by the seemingly endless cycle she was trapped in, feeling that she wasn’t trying hard enough. I was frustrated over the loss of material comforts we once had. I was frustrated that she attempted to shield us from these realities as if we couldn’t see what was happening. Yet, children, teenagers especially, perceive and understand much more than we as adults give them credit for.

Despite the endless poor relationships, my mom’s resolve finally began to strengthen. Determined to provide what she could, she got a job, applied for food stamps, something she judged herself way too harshly for, and was able to get us an apartment. I contributed too, working during high school and taking on three jobs during my college years. We did what anyone else would do in that situation – we survived.

Yet throughout all of this, I failed to see the bigger picture. My mom was lonely. And it was the predator of loneliness that drove my mother to make consistently poor decisions for herself. It was in her loneliness and failed relationships that she lost sight of who she was. Her life’s goal became singularly focused on us, her children; we were her pillar of purpose.

It wasn’t until later in adulthood that I truly began to understand everything she went through. It was through forgiveness that I could begin to make sense of it all. Forgiving her for her perceived mistakes and forgiving myself for failing to see her struggles through a lens of compassion and empathy. It was at this crossroads, a juncture of forgiveness and finding my self-worth, that her story and all she had been through unraveled for me.

I realized that she had been the father I needed when I had none, my unwavering encourager when I felt lonely or lost. She had to persevere even when life pushed her to quit. She worked endlessly so my sister and I could participate in sports and clubs. She placed her trust in people she normally wouldn’t, all to ensure we had a place to stay. My mother would give the only love she had remaining in her to us and leave none for herself.  

A single mother carries more than her own weight; she often becomes the sole lifeline for her dependents, just like my mother did. While all mothers face immense responsibilities, single mothers frequently have fewer choices. For many, the luxury of a quick break simply doesn’t exist. In a typical family, a mother might ask the father or grandparents to watch the children for a while. But for single mothers without this support network, there are no such moments of rest.

My mother understood the challenges before her, yet she pressed on regardless. She began to accept the hand that was hers as she began to heal and empowered herself to do it on her own.

This past year, my mom celebrated her 50th birthday. As I reflected on her journey and her impact on my life, I see her as more than just my mother; she embodies the enduring strength of all single mothers. Since embarking on her path as a single mother, she has worked tirelessly to piece her life back together. She climbed the ranks in the retail job market, becoming a store manager at multiple locations, from Alabama to Mississippi and now Pensacola, Florida. She could finally afford her own place, where she could host all her grandchildren. She even makes it a point to buy Christmas for us “old” children, her way of wanting to make up for the Christmases we didn’t get as much because of the circumstances, even though we never wanted it.

She accomplished all of this on her own, as a single mother. She managed to pull herself through decades of hardship, to a place where she can now enjoy more things in her life, without having to rely on someone else. She is learning to love herself again and has found worth in her abilities and accomplishments. The grandkids flood her with calls for Mimi, a testament to the love she so deserves. The long-sown fruits of her efforts are finally appearing.

So, to every single mother reading this – you are important. When you feel like you are not seen, your little ones see you. Your teen sees you. Your grown son or daughter sees you. They see the love you pour into your role, the hard decisions you make and the burdens you bear. It may take them time, as it did for me, to truly appreciate the magnitude of your strength and the depth of your love, but know that you are seen, you are important and you are valued.

You deserve to love yourself and to know that your journey, although not an easy one, is filled with worth. You are the superheroes in our lives, often carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, and yet, you still provide, you care and you love deeply as only a mother could. Lean on your children, fight to love yourself no matter how long that journey takes, and never forget that you are worth every effort and every moment of happiness.

You are worth it, single mom. Happy Mother’s Day to you.