I didn't really get that there was a stigma about being a single mom until I worked in corporate America. When it finally hit me that some people viewed single mothers through a different lens, I had been raising my daughter alone for about seven years.
Growing up in the inner city of Philadelphia, being raised in a single parent home didn't make you stand out. In fact, before my parents divorced, I was an anomaly among my friends: their fathers didn't live at home with them. Living with just your mom or being raised by your grandmother was common. And it was normal that your father lived somewhere else or just simply wasn't around.
In thinking about this, I did a little research to see if my experience was as common as I believed. In 1965, about seven years before I was born, 24 percent of black infants and 3.1 percent of white infants were born to single mothers. And by 1990, about five years before I graduated college, 64 percent of black infants were born to single mothers compared to just 18 percent of white infants.
Bringing this closer to home, my mother never knew her father. In fact, of my mother and her five sisters, only one of them has never been a single parent. There was never any shame about it. But there was also never any real talk about it either. It was just simply the structure of our family. It was the structure of lots of families I knew. Whether by death, divorce, unplanned pregnancy, poor choice, or abuse -- single mothers were a prevalent part of my community. They were in my family, in my neighborhood, and in my church. And when I turned 30, "they" turned into we.
I'm not one of those brave women who decided to have a child on her own because she could. My daughter was unplanned and unexpected but 100 percent welcomed and wanted. I also didn't plan on remaining a single parent. Her father, whose parents had been married for over 30 years, and I intended to get married. Things didn't quite work out that way and our relationship ended when my daughter was just two months old.
I don't remember being scared about raising my daughter on my own. I'd seen it done time and time again. Besides that I was 30 (not 16), with a college degree, a good job, decent credit, and an amazing amount of resilience that I had been tapping into my entire life.
Don't get me wrong, it was hard. There were times I cried. Times I was lonely, angry, uncertain, and worried about being a good mother. And I spent a lot of time concerned about what it would mean for my daughter if her father never decided to be a consistent part of her life. Whether you have $5 in your pocket, or $50,000 in the bank, the emotional stress and pain of being a single mom can be overwhelming. But there are also lessons. Lessons that I am grateful for because they have shaped my purpose and the woman I have become.
Lesson #1: We are masters at doing more with less.
I know the numbers are bleak. A recent article stated that 4.1 million single-mother families are living in poverty. But that doesn't mean that all single mothers are struggling. Single mothers are some of the most resourceful and innovative people on the planet. And many of us are fierce when it comes to sacrificing material things to ensure that our children have access to opportunities, experiences, and education that enables them to succeed. Not only do we survive the challenges of being single parents, but we model resiliency, creativity, and strength for our children.
Lesson #2: We are the original "No Limit" soldiers.
Despite the images of single mothers we see that are have limited skills or work low-paying jobs, we have plenty of successful single-mom role models who have thrived as entrepreneurs, entertainers and in corporate careers.
- Toni Morrison: Author
- Angela Benton, founder and CEO of NewME.
- Iyanla Vanzant: Author, Speaker, Talk Show Host
- Susan L. Taylor: Former Editor-In-Chief of Essence Magazine
- Maya Angelou: Singer, author, poet
- Aretha Frankiln: The Queen of Soul
- Catherine Hughes: Founder of Radio One
- Miko: Co-founder of Miss Jessie's hair care products
- Maria Montessori: Founder of the Montessouri education method
Being a single mother does not mean you have to give up on your dreams or postpone your purpose. When we refuse to see ourselves as limited, we open the door for ourselves and other women who come after us.
Lesson #3: Our history, does not define our legacy.
After the relationship with my daughter's father deteriorated, I lost faith in the idea that I could have a healthy and whole relationship. I would date on and off, but it was clear that I had no idea how to choose a better partner. I had worked so hard to avoid a stereotypical path of an inner city brown girl from a broken home with a family history of dysfunction and self-medication. But I struggled to break the pattern of attracting and attaching to men who were unable to love themselves or anyone else.
One of my favorite quotes comes from the brilliant Maya Angelou who said, "When we know better, we do better." When I began to examine the relationship model I was creating for my daughter, if I wanted her to have a different path, I needed to do better. First I needed to make a choice. I could choose to buy into the lie that "girls like me" don't get married, and settle for dysfunctional relationships. Or I could work to heal the pain of my past so I give my daughter a different legacy to base her relationships on. The work has been hard but the choice was so easy.
Whether we remain single, get married, or create a life with a partner -- as mothers we are obligated to do better. And we can only do better when we know better. My knowing better came from seeking the wisdom and friendship of other wise women. Some had travelled a similar journey, some had completely different paths. For all that have sown into me, I am so grateful for their willingness to share the lessons they lived. And I am grateful that I can share the lessons I lived as encouragement to former, current, and future single mothers. Mothers who refuse to be seen as a statistic or viewed as a burden on society because of their marital status.
By the way, I am now happily married. This June my husband and I will celebrate our third anniversary. As my husband and I grow together, my daughter is experiencing a different model than I grew up with. Having been able to be a model for her as a strong single mother and strong wife, is one more thing on my gratitude list.