You’ve seen her while out shopping this holiday season. She looks worried, hurried and a little tense. Definitely tired.
Maybe she’s keeping one baby happy in the stroller while the three-year-old walks alongside. She smiles, but she’s really just keeping up appearances for everyone—mostly her children—but for the public, too.
Inside she is overwhelmed. It’s so hard for her to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s been a few months or maybe it’s been a few years or more as a single parent. She feels so alone.
Maybe you know her—or him.
She’s a friend, maybe a neighbor, or perhaps the mom of your son’s best friend and you met when your kids started first grade. She’s a single parent trying to make a go of it on one little salary. She may be running low on energy and is unsure how she will make her rent next month and pay for the diapers and medicine for her youngest. When fees are collected for sports teams and teacher presents she may say she has to send it later because she actually has just $10 in her checking account until her next paycheck, and she needs it to buy toilet paper, milk and bread for her family.
Presents under the tree this year? She tries every year. She makes things, collects things throughout the year from rummage sales and has a few friends who supply her with hand-me-downs. She just wants to give her kids wonderful Christmas memories and every year figures out a way to make it work, though she knows it looks nothing like her children’s friends’ Christmas, as they call or text each other Christmas day to talk about the new iPhones, bedroom sets, cars or trips they got.
Sometimes she really wonders if she’s doing okay, by her children, by herself.
It does get to her. It takes so much trying to be a great mom and dad, when the ex has no interest or presence. She is scared of the big decisions that she sees other couple friends do together: Is little Mandy ready for junior kindergarten, and what about vaccine choices? Should we or shouldn’t we? Are those allergies forming or is it a cold? With her son, is she doing Billy an injustice by telling him to always walk away from the bullies at school, or would a father fix it all by telling him to throw a punch so they’ll leave him alone? When the fathers are all hovered around the coach at Little League baseball practice, making sure their kid gets to start, is she failing her son for not jumping in there too, advocating for him?
By the time her kids reach the end of elementary school, she realizes from looking around at the holiday concert crowd, she is again one of a handful of single moms sitting in a sea of bonded moms and dads, giggling and laughing and sharing in the joy of watching their children together. She is there, with a camera, trying not to cry when the 1st graders start singing Silent Night, Holy Night because when the night does fall that Christmas Eve, she knows she will be alone and for some reason, this makes her shed some tears—every year. She has a wish each Christmas Eve, that she can be the mom her children need her to be and that it will be enough, without a dad there to help.
But she also knows it would be nice to find someone.
She might date once in awhile but doesn’t want to open up to be hurt again or worse, to someone who will hurt her children. She can’t afford a babysitter to go out and doesn’t want to bring anyone she isn’t really serious with home to meet her kids. Thus, she remains the single mom.
No one to review the day with, share the baby’s latest milestones with or to tell that funny story from work. No one to snuggle with and no one to share in that intimacy so critical to our sense of belonging and happiness.
A body pillow is what she hugs at night, falling asleep on yet another dream filled with hope that things get better. She realizes as the years go on, more and more, that there is a void, that there is no one there to tell her she’s doing a great job and that she’s an awesome mom. No one is there to tell her she is beautiful and special and the best mom in the world to these children. She’s learned to live without that, but yet, oddly, still wants to hear it.
This Christmas, do something for your single parent friend or that stranger in the store that will cost you nothing.
Tell him or her how incredible they are. Let them know how strong you think they are and that her kids are so blessed to have her as a mom, and that you don’t know how she does it but that you think she’s fantastic.
Be that friend. Be that boyfriend. Be that husband or ex. Be that friendly stranger. Let her know.
I remember. I remember how much it meant when one of my friends or a complete stranger would stop me and tell me I’m a great mom and what wonderful children I have. You have no idea what music that was to my ears. A symphony actually, of affirmation. We don’t seek out affirmation much as we get older for much of anything, but for some reason, these words remain so powerful, especially when one doesn’t hear them at all.
If you are a friend of that young mom, give her something that doesn’t cost you a dime—acknowledge her awesomeness. You can also throw in things that don’t cost you a dime—like giving her a day off. Babysit for her for an afternoon so she can go shopping or work out, or take the kids overnight so she can visit a friend or get that secret gift wrapping done.
It really doesn’t cost anything to help someone really feel valued. Just words and a little bit of time.
And we can all spare just a little of that this season and throughout the year, right?
Peace to you all this holiday season and my love to all the single parents out there struggling to make your holiday memories special for the little ones. Know that by being there, by caring, by involving yourself and guiding, disciplining and teaching them, and laughing as often as you can with them, you already are giving your children the best gift ever and you are wonderful.
Feel free to share this with the awesome single parents in your life.
5 Essentials to Thriving as a Single Parent.
Author: Janice Burch
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Author’s Own
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