I was a single mom for most of my son’s childhood, and I have to confess to you as hokey and shameful as this is — every Mother’s Day I coveted one of those orchid wrist corsages like you get at prom. I wanted to be Matriarch for a day, surrounded by my well-dressed family at an ostentatious, over-priced Sunday brunch. But what I really wanted most of all was what most mothers want on Mother’s Day — recognition for a job well done.
Single mothers don’t get much of that. Putting aside how vilified single mothers can be in the culture, when your kids are young, they tend to be short on perspective. You’re only as good as your last mac n’ cheese dinner. If it weren’t for the prompting of teachers crafting Mother’s Day cards, the day would go by unnoticed for many of us.
My son would make me a card at school each year and I treasured and kept every single one. Every gift — the button and pipecleaner bracelet, the photograph of a horse (I like horses, he always remembers), the mosaic trivet he made in art class. He’s a super kid. But for most of his life there was no man around honoring his mom on Mother’s Day. I divorced his dad when he was four (and we never celebrated the holiday much when we were together; my ex neither honored his mother or myself).
But kind of like Valentine’s Day can remind single people how single they are, Mother’s Day has a way of making single moms feel quite alone. It’s often seen as a celebration of the traditional nuclear family. Of the legacy that comes from being partnered, of having a spouse say, “Wow, I’m so happy we made these kids together.”
When I was a child, Mother’s Day was always spent with four generations of women — my great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and aunt, at an after-church luncheon at the Village Women’s Club outside Detroit. The men would be in suits, my grandfather would hold court (he loved nothing more than to be surrounded by his family suffering the discomforts of formal dress attire). From my child’s perspective it was interminable. Adults having cocktails. Children staving off their hunger with dry breadsticks. Fidgeting. Reprimands. At last dining. And then, if you were lucky, breaking free to run across the daffodil gardens outside, where May is still early spring in Michigan.
It was conveyed to me was that this was a day of importance. It was an occasion to honor your mother, that had the gravitas of formality, of obligation and ritual.
Fast forward 25 years to being a single mother in my mid-30s. I would’ve settled for a flipped pancake and a hug.
Single mothers work so damn hard, they deserve all the honor we can give them. I know single dads work hard too — but today I’m talking to the single moms out there — you rock. I admire you immensely.
I blog about infidelity, and every day, women write to me who were cheated on while pregnant, whose husbands walked out on them with infants, small children, walked out on their teenage kids and never called again, stay-at-home moms who find themselves trying to find work again with less than baseline child support and big gap in their resumes — heart breaking stories. And yet, they get up every day and do the hard work of raising kids on their own. Either entirely by themselves, or carrying the majority of the parenting weight. (And before the father’s rights people comment — they don’t do this by choice — but because men still exist who abandon their families.)
Single moms are mighty — and they deserve more than a bouquet of flowers and a nice breakfast — they deserve our respect. If you know a single mom, take a moment to tell her how much you admire the hard work she’s doing. Babysit her kids for an hour or two. Cook a dinner. Fete her with brunch. Sit with her children help them make her card. Do not let this day go unnoticed. This is a day of importance. It is an occasion.
It’s over a decade since I was that single mom with a preschooler. I’m remarried now. I don’t have children with my husband — we have a blended family of three young men. The first Mother’s Day we were together, my husband got me flowers. He wrapped lovely, thoughtful presents. He brought me coffee in bed.
Later that day, he put on a pressed shirt (he hates all things dry-clean), he made my son put on a pressed shirt, and my step-son put on a pressed shirt — and then three handsome men took me out to brunch.
This column ran over at Huffington Post in 2012. I’m still in awe of single moms. Let me tell you how I’m spending the day Sunday — with my son who is home from college. And with my other mother, who I’ve mentioned here before. She’s 80 and once financed the liberation campaign of my escape from my cheating ex. She’s also sat with me through every custody trial through the years. When I first divorced my son’s dad, she took me out to dinner with another Ivy League faculty wife she knew (she had been one once, they were both abandoned for younger models), and who reinvented their lives for the better. She gave me a very 70s book called “Creative Divorce.” She also found love again later in life — in her 70s — and was widowed. On the table are some tulips that arrived yesterday from a dear friend who took me out to brunch on Mother’s Day when my son was 4. It was my first Mother’s Day single. She still remembers! I was so knocked out to get flowers from her. I know this is a very hard day for many of you, those who are missing their moms, those who have barbed-wire monkey moms, those who go unrecognized like wallflowers, those who are slogging through their first divorce. It gets better. Meanwhile, if you must, flip your own pancake, hug those kids, and remain the sane parent. Sending you big (((HUGS))) of support.