A few months ago, I was having a conversation with a friend who is single handedly raising four kids on her own. She lives paycheck-to-paycheck and often wonders if her kids will resent their situation as adults. I assured her they would come out stronger and some day they would appreciate everything their mom did for them and more. It made me sad that she carries some shame in thinking that you have to be a certain economic status to be a great mom. My sister and I were raised by a single mom and I truly believe we learned some valuable life lessons because of it.
Memories of a Childhood
Several years ago I went back to the area I grew up in. My daughter had an appointment and I had some time to kill. We happened to be near the neighborhood I grew up in, so I thought it would be fun to show our kids the home I had spent most of my childhood in. I never expected it to bring back such a flood of memories. The homes around it had all changed color, and yet ours looked the same. I sat for a moment and reminded myself of the things our family overcame. The sacrifices my mom made for us girls still blows me away. It was just the three of us back then–my sister, my mom, and I–and my mom was the only parent I ever knew. While she worked hard to provide for us, we had many moments of financial uncertainty. Not knowing where your next meal would come from, or if you would lose your home because you’re unable to pay rent, is a scary world for a child. My sister and I didn’t have a plush bedroom. There were no beautifully painted walls, perfectly placed artwork, or expensive looking light fixtures. We slept together on a pull out sofa for years, and then upgraded to a mattress that sat on the floor, in the basement, surrounded by cement block walls. Cobwebs hung from the unfinished ceilings and we were within arm’s length from both the washer/dryer and garage door. We mixed boxes of powdered milk and ate whatever meals we could afford. I vividly recall times we were unsure if we had money for the next meal and then family friends would magically show up at the front door with a box of food.
Determination and Sacrifice
My mom worked harder than any other women I knew. Working a full-time job, and balancing all the things that motherhood demands is not a easy task for any mom – let alone if you’re doing it alone. She was a modern day superwoman. When we needed new clothes and couldn’t afford to buy them, my mom would figure out a way to make it happen. If I close my eyes I can still see her hunched over the dining table working diligently until all hours of the night sewing us new clothes – only to sleep a few hours and do it all over again the next day. If something was broken, she would figure out a way to fix it instead of paying a handyman to do it for her. She made sure we went on family vacations – taking us on annual visits up the North Shore every summer. We would ride home in the backseat of her little Pontiac Sunbird, the wind blowing through our campfire-filled hair and watching the big lake disappear in the rear view mirror. She introduced us to community plays, making sure we were educated in the arts.
Together, as a family, we learned the importance of hard work, dreaming big, community, and thinking outside the box. I didn’t know it then, but the lessons we learned shaped my sister and I into the strong, independent women that we are today. We weren’t handed anything on a silver platter and we were forced to think outside the box. A love for thrifting and repurposing things around the house are woven into my story. Compassion and helping others are non-negotiable. You just help out when you can.
Be the Example
I know my mom never dreamt of being a single mom, but she was determined to provide for us and are so grateful she did, Through those years, we learned valuable lessons from both my mom and the friends who took us in and helped provide for our needs. Lessons that I may have not learned had I not seen first hand what it meant to work hard and serve others. There are certain things you can’t teach your kids and I believe this is one of them. If you want kids to model this behavior, let them see it from you firsthand.
The sacrifice our mom made to work full time jobs, provide dinners for us, and stay up till the wee hours of the night to make us clothes we could never afford to buy taught us strong work ethics. I can’t imagine how exhausted she must have been. The selflessness that people showed us when they invited us into their home to share meals with their family, brought us food when we needed it, and stepped up to help with house projects we couldn’t otherwise afford taught us that community matters. Invest in another’s life today and show your kids the importance of helping others. I promise you, it matters!