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Whispers in a Hurricane: Raising a Son as a Single Mother
Mother and Son
Origins of a Single Mom
According to an article on singlemotherguide.com titled Single Mother Statistics, "1 in 3 children" in the United States "are being raised without a father." That's almost 15 million children. "Nearly half live below the poverty line." 55% of single mothers "are either divorced, separated or widowed."
We could spend days, weeks, or months discussing the social causes and there impact on society. Instead, I'd like to listen to the voice of a child, through the fingertips of an adult, that lived through the struggles of a very strong and compassionate single mother. It wasn't perfect. How could it be? And not everything went the way you would hope, but that is how we learn; by weathering the storm and waking up the next morning, after you quit the night before. Only to head out into the same hurricane again, and again, and again.
So brace yourself...here we go.
When I was 9, we had a sofa in the living room that unfolded into a bed. I lay there in my mother's arms, while my younger sister lay asleep next to me. Normally we would sleep in our rooms, but tonight she wanted us together. I like to think she held us a little tighter that night, but I really don't remember. things moved pretty fast that night.
My father had been coming home late a lot lately. He would get home and an argument would start. Normally I was in my room where I would listen through the walls, but this time I lay right next to my mom. The sound of his Harley roared into the trailer park. I realized it was happening again, and had I been just a little older, I would have known why we were sleeping in the living room that night. My heart began to race, my eyes watered. He would walk in drunk. I already knew what I would do. I thought I was prepared to defend her.
Only, when he stumbled into the room, I froze. He was drunk, and the fight erupted as soon as my mother caught her breath. I don't remember what the argument was about. I don't remember hearing anything at all that night. All that comes to me now is silence; silence and fear.
As he neared the bed, my mother pulled me closer. I looked up at the strange man's eyes. Those weren't the eyes of the man I had idolized. the man I thought had all the answers. No, he was different. The drink made him different. As he hovered over my mother, everything slowed down. He raised his fist and took a swing at my mother, but missed. His clenched fist hit me in the side of the face.
I don't remember any pain. I don't remember how hard he hit me. I remember crying and I remember him apologizing to me as my mother pulled me and my sister out of bed and to the car where I watched him yelling as we pulled out of the trailer park. That was the last time we lived as a family, and the night my mom became a single mother of two children.
Tell Him it is Not His Fault
I saw my father off and on for the next couple of years, and then not at all until I graduated high school at the age of 18. The heaviest burden of my childhood was the blame I had assumed. The guilt of destroying my family. All the bad days were, in my mind, my fault. And, there were plenty of bad days. We lived in the least expensive apartments, in the worst neighborhoods. My mother worked all the time. When my mother scrambled to find a babysitter, only to leave her 10 year old son to baby sit her 6 year old daughter, my sister faced repeating the first grade, or I had to, inventively, put everything in the fridge together and call it dinner (I still enjoy a Miracle Whipped-bologna wrapped in a corn tortilla) I was convinced, had I only done something; not cried, listened to my dad, not caused any trouble, or stopped the fighting, things might have been different. My dad would have still been there. My mother would not have had to raise us alone. She wouldn't have had to work so hard or so much. If only I had been better.
It wasn't until I was 26 years old and my first son was born, that I understood it wasn't my fault. None of it was. The first time I held him, I couldn't fathom how a father could abandon his son, if just for one day. Much less 7 years. I felt such joy for the birth of my son, and unexpectedly, so much relief. I carried the burden without understanding what it was. I or where it came from. Suddenly, I was happy.
As a single mother you have so many responsibilities. They all revolve around taking care of your children. You have so much to worry about, it isn't fair to lay this on you too. But, you are the adult, and we are talking about your son. He does not understand, and isn't ready for any of this, so If you haven't already, be sure to convince him it was not his fault. Saying it, will not be enough, you have to convince him. I cannot find the words that express how communication between my mother and me kept us together, even when she couldn't be there. Use the topic of fault to build a conversation, that will hopefully lead to more conversations.
Show you Care
I learned at a very young age, not to depend on anyone. My father taught me that. I learned there is no such thing as unconditional love. I learned the harsh reality of a world filled with people that were just looking out for themselves. I learned that if I didn't take care of myself, no one else would. Sounds a bit morbid for a 10 year old, but as I look back, I still struggle with some of those feelings now.
The first time my father had agreed to pick me up during the separation, was to spend the weekend with him. I packed for the weekend. Then my sister and I sat in the living room ready to be picked up. We waited. The time he had agreed to pick us up, had come and gone, and we continued to wait. We waited most of the day. We even turned down a trip to McDonald's as the sun went down, because I was sure he would show up, and was afraid to miss him.
He never did.
We rescheduled several times, and each time we ended up disappointed. I was certain he would arrive for every date he scheduled, but he never did. Finally, my mom stopped trying to get him to come by. To this day I wait for him, and to this day he still manages to disappoint me.
I am sure you let your children know how you feel daily. Again, I don't think these are circumstances in which just saying you care is enough. You need to demonstrate it. Give reason to believe that not everyone will fail him. Show that you care. The few good memories I have of that time are centered around days my mother would keep me out of school so she could take me to work with her. It didn't happen often, but when it did it mattered. It was our chance to be alone together. These moments gave me hope. It was here I learned how hard she was working to keep us together. It brought us together. And its not like I didn't mind skipping school.
I struggled with school. No real reason, other than I didn't really care. I had no interest, and why should I have had. No one else seemed to care. I don't even remember my mom finding out I was struggling until I was forced to attend summer school after my fifth grade year.
None of this was her fault. She was barely keeping us in an apartment, and putting food on the table. I'm sure she cared, but she rarely had time to ask about school, so I really didn't have time to talk about it. All I worried about was at whose house I was to be picked up when my mother got out of work.
I understand there aren't many options, but please choose the people you leave your children with carefully. I had a choice, because both my aunt and my grandmother lived on the same street. Unfortunately, neither of them showed much interest in having me around. Think of the message you are sending to your child when all the adults he spends time with are annoyed he is even there.
I feel horrible asking this of you. As a single mother, I understand you already have a lot to deal with. I would simply like to believe, that had my mother known this, my faith in people would be in a different place. Wouldn't you want your son to understand what you are going through, and wouldn't you want him to know how much you care?
Just The Two of You
Who is Your Role Model?
Who was the most influential person in your childhood?
Added Responsibilities = Early Maturity
I was fortunate enough to see my mom remarried when I was 14 years old. She married a great man, unfortunately for all of us, I didn't realize just how great until I was out of the house and had my own family.
You see, like many movies, the oldest son and the stepfather did not get along. Not only did we not get along, but I made him miserable. I'm sure I also broke my mother's heart in the process.
Not only does the son of a single mother pretty much lose his childhood, but the added responsibilities around the household, force him to grow up faster, mentally, than he normally would have otherwise. Feeding and dressing a younger sibling. Babysitting, when an older babysitter wasn't available, and of course, dealing with some very grown-up marital issues.
My mother taught me to not open the door unless it was the police. And if it was the police, to lie about my age for fear I might be taken from her. Apparently the neighbors would call to let the police know there were children alone in the apartment. Fortunately, I was a tall 10-year old.
These responsibilities force the child to mature at an accelerated rate, leading to issues once a new person is introduced. This person will immediately began taking over responsibilities, that the child had previously owned. All I can suggest is understanding. I remember taking all the blame, and although it was probably mine to shoulder, it drove me from the rest of my family.
Understanding and communication
Growing up a little faster
Your Actions will Shape His Character
When I was 11, I was allowed to join an intermediate football team. I would walk to my grandmother's house after school. There I would change into my pads and practice uniform. About an hour before practice, I would begin the two mile walk through neighborhoods to Phoenix Park for football practice. After practice, I would unhook my shoulder pads, slip my helmet underneath my jersey and begin the trek back to grandma's house.
A couple months into the season, my father called and invited me over for the weekend. He promised to pick me up from practice. Like every other time, I could barely contain the excitement. He was actually coming for me this time. Then, just as practice was about to start, it began to rain. Coach cancelled practice, and everybody left. Everyone that is, but me. I couldn't leave, he was coming for me. I threw my shoulder pads and helmet on and sat on the bleachers, in the rain, to wait, still excited, but a little nervous, and very wet. I waited until the sun went down and the rain stopped. I waited until my mother pulled into the parking lot to pick me up.
I didn't see my father again for 7 years, but he played just as big a part in crafting the man I am today as my mother did, good or bad. Remember why you are fighting. Remember, he will assume it is all his fault; the separation, the divorce, and the pain. You will have to convince him. Show him that you care. With what little time you have, make time for him, and remember when all is said and done, and the dust has settled, he will forever be older than his years.
I didn't write this to discuss the statistics. I hope I shed a little light on that voice. The voice of the child that overcame the struggles with his single mother. It will never be perfect. It will not go the way you hope, but you will learn. You will learn by weathering the storm. So brace yourself, here you go...