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Mothering on Your Own


By Janette M. Ayd, Psy.D., LP, Ayd & Cavanagh Psychological Services, Minneapolis

The first single mother I knew was my grandmother. In 1932, when my father was 10 years old, his father, a fireman, went out on a call one day and never returned home. The pressure of a water hose went astray and my grandfather was hit in the head. He was lost to a traumatic brain injury and his life became a blur. He lived the next 40 years in an institution with no memory of his previous life, his wife, or children. In an instant my grandmother joined the ranks of single motherhood; and from that moment on it was her sole responsibility to raise their five children.

My father rarely talked about the painful experience of losing his father, but he often spoke of my grandmother. Without a man to earn a living in the 1930s, my father's family went from being solidly middle class to welfare recipients overnight. My grandmother sewed, took in laundry, and watched other people's children to make money. Still, the remembrances and stories of her life focused on her loving nature, her generous spirit, and the extremes she went to when it came to her family, friends and relatives. Naturally, I grew up admiring single mothers.

Cleopatra, Abigail Adams (wife of President John Adams and mother of President John Quincy), Susan Sontag, Murphy Brown (the TV character whom then Vice-President Dan Quayle maligned for promoting single parenting), Mia Farrow, and the Goddess Isis are a few illustrations of single motherhood throughout our history. In the 1960s the country saw three phenomenal women become widowed and single mothers after their husbands were assassinated. Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Ethel Kennedy, and Coretta Scott King all went on to successfully raise their children as the world watched and critiqued. Hours after President Kennedy was buried, Jackie Kennedy was upstairs in the White House hosting a party for John Jr.'s birthday, which happened to fall on the day of her husband's funeral. When it comes to their children, most mothers will go to great lengths to protect and care for them.

Membership in the single motherhood society has swelled from 3 million to 10 million between 1970 and 2000, according the U. S. Bureau of Census. Differing circumstances lead women to the role of single mother with unplanned pregnancy being a chief cause. However, there are women who consciously choose to parent singly and make this happen by way of adoption, insemination, or surrogacy; yet more frequently it happens due to divorce, death, severe disability, and separation. Single fathers (and other relatives) increasingly take on the solo caregiver role as life becomes more complex. Still, women outnumber men five to one as single parents.

As a psychologist, I am consistently blown away by what single mothers do for their children, families, and the community. Where would we be if women just gave up and abdicated responsibility for their children when it became hard? They are often required to do more in a day than I choose to do in a week. Suffice it to say single mothers are expected to play many roles: provider, administrator, chef, chauffeur, counselor, maid, teacher, coach, business manager, social secretary, doctor, nurse, shopper, launderer, volunteer, and the list goes on.

The negatives and the deficits associated with single mothers are often brought to our collective attention in the media, but rarely are the successes highlighted. Of course, not all single mothers are saints; and no one denies the problems inherent in being a parent without being properly prepared emotionally, financially, and psychologically. However, the majority of single mothers are average people who try to do the right thing, care for their families, and raise their children to be respectful, caring and productive members of society. Being a member of the single mothers' club is not for the faint of heart, but for all of you out there who are doing it on your own, remember this: although you may have to look around, you are not truly alone.

It's been well established that raising children takes a village; so seek out family, neighbors and friends, even if it's just to talk or get a little reprieve. Within reason, ask for accommodation at your workplace. A flexible work schedule can mean the difference between sanity and going over the edge. Seek out assistance from church and community groups. Take care of yourself because it's the only way you can persevere over the long haul. Look for programs tailored to help single parents. In addition, there is a myriad of support systems out there if you go online. A few are listed below. Finally, if the pressure is too much, consider professional counseling for yourself and/or your family. You might be surprised how much better you feel by having someone listen and provide support and guidance.

Solo parenthood is demanding and stressful. But when it comes to the end of the day, you single mothers can be proud of what you accomplish, no matter how small it may seem. You have affected the life of the most important people in the world, your children and family, and our society's future. For the rest of us, give a single mother a break. Take one to lunch. Better yet, babysit for one so she can have a couple hours to herself.


United Way 211 Volunteers are available 24-hours-a-day to provide information and resources on all types of family services. You may dial 211 or 651-291-0211 in the Twin Cities or 1-800-543-7709 in Greater Minnesota area.

Networks :
Single Mother Resources
Single Parents Network

Support groups :
Moms Meetup
Twin Cities PWP

Online forums:

Scholarship programs :

Categories: Advice, Ideas & Stories, Feature Stories, MomShare,

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