Below is an essay I published in the book, the Global Orphan Crisis. It was about single motherhood. I haven't read it in a while, and thought I would share it with you! The photo is circa the early 70s with my sweet momma in PA.
The year was 1971, a fifteen-year-old girl dressed in a cream-colored dress with three gold buttons down the middle, sat nervously in a doctor’s office tucked away in a little town in Pennsylvania, with her mother at her side. The doctor entered with a grim look on his face and placed a handful of papers in front of the young girl. They were adoption papers…she was pregnant. The doctor handed her the pen to sign away the growing baby in her belly to another family. The girl’s mother didn’t urge her to sign the papers instead she told her that it was her baby and her choice. Much to the doctor’s chagrin, the girl never signed the papers. Instead, she and her mother marched out of that office and into an ice cream parlor at a popular department store and shared a banana split. I’m so glad that young girl pushed those papers aside because she was my mother. On April 17th, 1972 I was born to an unwed fifteen-year-old girl and into a family that embraced and surrounded me with an extraordinary amount of love. On all accounts, my childhood was a very happy one. I was blissfully unaware of all the struggles my mother endured. She shielded me from the ugliness of people who looked down on her because of her age, marital status, and not to mention that she was Caucasian and had me to an African American man. I was oblivious to her money woes, her heartbreak over my biological father’s lack of participation and support, and the stress she must have suffered raising a child when she was only a child herself. What I did see was a mother who worked hard, held her head up high, strived to do better, and was fiercely protective over me. My mother was and is my hero. I didn’t care that she was a single mom…she was my mom, my anchor, and the love of my life.
Fast forward to February 16th, 2006, a beautiful baby girl with a headful of hair is born at George Washington Hospital, in Washington, DC. I gave birth, and my mother was right there with me along with the next most significant person in my life, my grandmother. The same woman who stood by that young girl thirty-four years ago was now standing beside my hospital bed as I experienced my own miracle of life, my daughter. I had great expectations for my baby girl, none of which included me being a single mom. But, on a sunny crisp day in November 2007, I found myself unloading a U-Haul and moving into a two-bedroom apartment with my twenty-month-old daughter in tow. That year wasn’t my finest. I separated from my daughter’s father, lost my beloved grandmother to Alzheimer’s the day after Christmas, and was an emotional disaster. I had become what I dreaded, a statistic… a single mom. I wasn’t fifteen, I was thirty-four, but I was still scared out of my wits! This wasn’t how I envisioned starting off motherhood!
In hindsight, it isn’t a big surprise that the relationship with my daughter’s father failed. We fell in love at bolt lightning speed and neglected to nurture our relationship or give it the time it required to evolve into a mature and stable partnership. We went from enjoying a carefree relationship to acquiring a family with absolutely no preparation and an idealized perception of parenthood. Yet, foolishly, I still didn’t anticipate I’d be a single mom. During, my first year of single motherhood I faced a number of challenges that rocked me to my core. The hopelessness and isolation I felt were paralyzing. I was four hours away from my family and had very few friends. One day, as I was awaiting the return of my daughter, and having an emotional breakdown, I glanced over at my coffee table and noticed my grandmother’s bible sitting there. My grandmother was a Christian soldier. I never met anyone with the faith or love for Christ that she embodied. Her bible was a part of who she was, and I desperately needed a part of her at that moment, so I opened the bible and began to read through the tears.
The floodgates broke open as I read the scriptures. As I knelt on my knees in prayer I was hit with the realization that I wasn’t merely a statistic, I was a child of God! My partner had never forsaken me. His arms were open the whole time I just had to run into them. God was my partner. The days following my new founded revelation were lighter, not easier, but lighter. I was thirsty for God’s teaching and began to pray and feast on the word. I became God reliant instead of self-reliant. I viewed motherhood in terms of what being a mother meant to me and not in terms of my marital status. I rested in the joy my daughter gave me each time I looked at her. If I hoped to reap the rewards of being a mother I had to consciously change my perception of single motherhood. Although, not an ideal situation, I viewed my circumstances as an opportunity to strengthen my relationship with my daughter, God, and eventually to reach out to other single parents.
The past four years have been an incredible growing experience. Each day, month, and year has brought its own challenges. Through those uncertain times, I gradually learned how to reach outside of myself for the support I needed. The biggest mistake I made when I first entered single motherhood was intentionally isolating myself from others. I was so preoccupied with just surviving through the day that I didn’t see a need for connections. I didn’t grasp how vital it is to be supported and to support other single mothers. I didn’t believe I had anything left to give. What did I know? I could barely support myself. Then I went to a trusted source, my mother. Although my mother had been married for over twenty years to a wonderful man who I’m proud to call dad, I knew she could empathize with what I was experiencing. My mom offered me the same advice her mother gave her and that was to put her complete trust in God. She told me to be confident and know God would pull me through. She encouraged me to enjoy my daughter and not dwell on what I thought was missing, but to focus on the abundance of blessings in my life. She reminded me that I deserved to be happy, to have a life, to let down my guard, and to allow people into my world.
It’s quite common for single Christian mothers to harbor feelings of shame and guilt because they don’t live the traditional Christian family lifestyle. Single parenting may not be idyllic, but for a number of single Christian mothers, it is their reality. Unfortunately, many women are hesitant to reach out to the church and others for support for fear of judgment. The church has a responsibility to embrace single mothers and their children without ostracizing them. I encourage single moms in the church to be proactive and form a single-parent ministry. Building a spiritual foundation for their family is top priority for a single mom. The spiritual legacy my grandmother handed down to me and my mother was the most valuable gift we could ever receive.
The plight of the single mother isn’t for the faint-hearted. It takes incredible strength, courage, and perseverance to raise a child. But, I don’t believe God ever intended for children to be raised by one person alone. The old adage, that it takes a village to raise a child rings true even today in every culture and society. Single moms can be empowered not simply through independence, but through the support, love, and guidance that they provide one another. When I reflect upon the friendships I’ve developed over the past couple of years, I’m deeply appreciative of the relationships we formed as women, mothers, and friends. Their friendship makes the custody and child support cases a little easier and the alternate weekends when my daughter is visiting her dad a bit more bearable. It’s important to have several partners in parenting regardless of the form they arrive in.
Single moms can emerge from brokenness and merge into wholeness if their faith is rooted in the Lord. When the bills are overdue, the child support check isn’t coming in, and the walls are crumbling down around you, know that God is going to take your hand and lead you through the storms. The most important commandment in the bible is to love one another. When you reach out and build a village you are honoring this commandment. In 1971 that fifteen-year-old girl was taken in by a village, she flourished because of it, and my daughter and I will be forever grateful.