For years it was just me and my mom. Yes, my dad was around but it was really my mom who did the heavy lifting of parenting. My parents divorced when I was 7. Because my next oldest sibling, my big brother, is seven years older than me, I was often mistaken for an only child. My mom and I were a dynamic duo, a team. She had a supportive mother and we had a loving church family who helped create a safety net and a strong sense of community in my little Southern hometown.
Like many moms this Mother’s Day, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg finds herself raising children on her own this year. She became a widow last year when her husband, Dave Goldberg, died unexpectedly while on family vacation.
On Mother’s Day we celebrate all moms and Sandberg’s recent thoughts on Mother’s Day on being a single parent have been shared by thousands and remind me of the sacrifices that single mothers around the world make each and every day. I have walked the streets of Kibera, one of the world’s largest slums in Nairobi, Kenya, where there is an overwhelming number of single mothers raising children in deplorable conditions. Still, they have hopes and dreams for their children that rise above living conditions that many of us cannot fathom enduring for even an hour.
On Mother’s Day, let’s remember all mothers who work hard to provide a loving, stable home despite obstacles. Let’s lend a helping hand and create a supportive safety net in our own neighborhoods and schools and communities when we can.
Here are a few excerpts from Sandberg, author of Lean In, about Mother’s Day and the importance of lifting each other up and creating that safety net:
On Mother’s Day, we celebrate all moms. This year I am thinking especially of the many mothers across the country and the world who are raising children on their own.
People become single parents for many reasons: loss of a partner, breakdown of a relationship, by choice. One year and five days ago I joined them.
For me, this is still a new and unfamiliar world. Before, I did not quite get it. I did not really get how hard it is to succeed at work when you are overwhelmed at home. I did not understand how often I would look at my son’s or daughter’s crying face and not know how to stop the tears. How often situations would come up that Dave and I had never talked about and that I did not know how to handle on my own. What would Dave do if he were here?
I never understood how often the world would remind my children and me of what we don’t have—from father-daughter dances to Parent Night at school. Until we lost Dave, my brother said that he too did not realize how many “father” events there were at their public school in Houston and how hard they must be for the many children without fathers.
For many single mothers, this is the only world they know. Each and every day they make sacrifices, push through barriers, and nurture beautiful families despite the demands on their time and energy.
I realize how extremely fortunate I am not to face the financial burdens so many single mothers and widows face. Poverty is one of the hidden and devastating aftereffects of loss for women. By the time they are sixty-five, about one in five widows in the United States lives in poverty. Cohabitating and many same-sex couples who lose partners are particularly vulnerable as they are often not afforded the same rights of survivorship that married heterosexual couples have.
I am also lucky that I have close family and friends who have done so much to support me and my children. I could not be more grateful for all the time and love that they’ve given us. Still, Dave’s absence is part of our daily lives and, for me, has redefined what it is to be a mother. Before Dave died, I had a partner who shared both the joys and responsibilities of parenting. Then, without any warning, I was on my own.
For many single parents, there is no safety net. Thirty-five percent of single mothers experience food insecurity, and many single mothers have more than one job—and that does not count the job of taking care of their children. A missed paycheck or an illness can present impossible choices. A single mother living in San Jose said that each month she has to choose between putting food on the table and paying her cell phone bill. When she does not pay her phone bill, she spends her night shift—her second job of the day—worried that her son did not make it home from school through their unsafe neighborhood because he is unable to call her.
Being a mother is the most important—and most humbling—job I’ve ever had. As we rightly celebrate motherhood, we should give special thanks to the women who are raising children on their own. And let’s vow to do more to support them, every day.
Jamie Reeves is a Nashville-based writer, editor, and lover of all things social media. She and her husband Alan have two daughters, two dogs, and too much laundry. This busy soccer mom can typically be found cheering from the sidelines or in her car on the way to school or sports practices. She loves traveling with her family and exploring fun things to do in Middle Tennessee. Jamie has been pontificating about poop and pinot noir at Blonde Mom Blog, since 2005.