He’s an adorable nine year old boy. He’s very smart and incredibly well mannered. He looks me straight in the eye and says, “You’re nice but I’m not going to talk about anything important with you because you’re a man.” I ask him what it is about men that he doesn’t like. He looks sad. “Well, what men do is they leave. Women don’t do that.” I recognize and celebrate that there are good single dads in this world. Today I’m talking about the moms who stayed after their child’s/children’s father went away.
There are very few things that I claim are Absolute Truths. Here is one of mine: nobody works harder than good single mothers. No Bod E. I’d be happy to debate that with you right after you spend a week in their shoes. I respect resilience and determination more than most qualities and the folks I most thoroughly find that in are single mothers. They are also the hardest working, most loyal, and most generous people you could ever hope to meet.
For as much as I admire and respect single moms I have a tendency to make them extremely angry. I point out that what they’re doing is an unattainable set up and it won’t work. There are no exceptions to my second absolute truth: No one, no matter how good they are, can be two people. The best single mothers I know are trying to be both a great mom and a great dad. I’m on a roll today with Absolute Truths: The world needs a lot more good dads and a lot fewer sperm donors.
One of my all time favorite single mothers left me one day to head to the library. I encouraged her to pick up an enjoyable read – maybe a romance novel. She shook her head at me and explained she was picking up a how to book for plumbing because she had a burst pipe. Necessity may be the mother of invention but she could write a book on Necessities because she is a working single mother of three.
I was jokingly asked once what I would need to take over the world. Without hesitation I said that if I could do it by coordinating 10 single mothers provided I could promise them that their babies got to grow up, be ok, go to college and have good jobs. Single mothers get shit done.
I have a clear memory of graduating college as a nontraditional student. I attended an awards ceremony we celebrated those who finished with the highest grades. What we failed to celebrate were the women who worked, raised children, managed a household, and went to college. Don’t get in the way of a woman with this kind of guts. She will run over you.
Ask her why she does what she does and she’ll tell you about her kids. Ask her what she needs and she will tell you what her children need. Ask her what she wants and she might say, “a nap” but then she’ll go back to talking about her kids. Ask her about the deadbeat father of her children and she’ll tell you she doesn’t have time to worry about him.
I meet single mothers because their children are hurting. They most often read me like a book and proceed to grill me just to be on the safe side. They’re scared but they’re going to stuff that and make sure that I know what I’m doing and that I can solve the mysteries of why their teenagers are acting out. The simple truth that their kids needs a dad doesn’t work for single moms because there is no “daddy store” and the truth is they while they wear themselves out trying to be a mom and a dad it doesn’t quite work.
After a while, I give them the good news that their kid is a great kid, they’re just hurting. I always find that these kids have enormous respect for their moms even if they don’t always show it. They will often tell me that their mom is a control freak (translation: overwhelmed woman who leaves nothing to chance). Finally, they will tell me that they worry about their moms because, “She puts everybody else first. She never does anything for herself and she never even gets a day off.” (I’ve heard a hundred variations of that one).
The thing that I do that makes single moms the most angry is I often have to explain that if they get healthier (mild depression, anxiety, stress management), their kids will get better. They will reflexively explain that there is no time for worrying about their needs. I ask them if they would find an extra ten hours a week if their children needed it? They look at me like I’m the dumbest man who ever lived and say, “Of course!” I’ll then tell them that if they can pull off one hour a week for themselves it’ll help their kids. I hate stereotyping but what I know from experience is that while these women are moving mountains day in and day out, they are often hurting/scared/and stressed as hell on the inside. And who could blame them?
Imagine embracing a mindset that everything will be alright if you just do absolutely everything right. Now expand that by applying it to doing right by everyone you love. Now expand that mindset to be daily reality. Now imagine doing that for ten or twenty years. Yeah, it’s like that for a lot of these amazing women.
One of the people I most admire in this world confided in me that she didn’t “know how to stop being a single mother.” She had met a Good Man and they decided to share a life together. This changed everything. She found it difficult to let herself depend on him. She found herself doing everything and asking for nothing. Truth: when you live your life striving for impossible ideals (perfectionism comes in many shapes and sizes), it’s really, really hard to stop doing that. I told her that she needed to learn how to relax. She laughed. I threw in the added incentive that she’d have better sex if she learned to do this. Women who live with significant levels of anxiety and stress tend to have lousy sex lives. Emotional, physical, and sexual release are all connected.
She had a long head start on the Good Man. He was new to being a step dad and later, a dad. He did not understand her sense of urgency about things Getting Done. He was not used to living with a Control Freak (Single Mother On Top of Shit). He marveled at her parenting and feared he would never live up to her example. He feared Disappointing her and their children. Even good men get crippled in that manner. She was patient and clear with her expectations and boundaries. It always takes longer than it should but he Got It and when a good man Gets It he makes the wait worthwhile.
While I know they will live in their own little version of Happily Ever After, I know this will not be the case for a lot of Good Single Mothers. They might tell you that when the kids are older they’ll see about a man. Quite often, they fear that they’ll choose another bad one like the one who deserted their children. Good Single Mothers hurt for their children and strive to give them everything. In a more perfect world, we would all love our children with such tireless love and devotion. The best lessons in life come from unlikely teachers. If you are fortunate enough to meet one of these women, befriend her. Recognize that she is busier than most people on the planet, but also know that she can teach you how to Wrestle with Life and Win.