Every couple of weeks I see Alicia, a cousin of mine who planned on becoming a mother the way a lot of teenagers do. In other words, she didn't. I guess her boyfriend must not have given a lot of thought to being a parent, either. I used to see him all the time at family functions with Alicia. Now I never do. Alicia is raising her 6-month-old son, Logan, on her own.
This sounds like a sad story, but in many ways it isn't. A little over a year ago, Alicia, now 20, looked like she was preparing for a role on the reality show Cops -- and not as one of the cops. She was hanging out with the wrong crowd, experimenting with things she shouldn't experiment with, and everyone in my family was doubtful that she would even finish high school. But something wonderful happened the moment she became pregnant. She grew up.
An unplanned pregnancy can really test a person. Too many fathers disappear, not wanting to change diapers, alter their lifestyle, or send child support. Too many mothers look at their baby as a burden and pawn the child off to as many relatives as they can find. But fortunately, many more single parents summon an inner strength that they probably never knew they had.
Alicia not only graduated from high school, she takes Logan almost everywhere she goes, is studying business in college, and is getting better grades than I did when all I had were a few unfortunate houseplants depending on me (not to mention the fact that I majored in screenwriting, which meant that I got to watch a lot of movies for college credit). Frankly, I'm beginning to think Alicia's a bit of a show-off.
But she -- and every other single mother in the world who has cared for and loved and sacrificed for her child -- is an inspiration to me, and I think she should be to all of us. Because during the first week after my elder daughter, Isabelle, arrived -- and ever since -- in the midst of the feedings and crying and diapers, Susan and I regularly traded desperate glances and asked each other, "How do single moms do this?" Really, neither of us gets it. We've often felt completely overwhelmed, and we were two grown-ups versus one baby (and now, a preschooler and another baby). But one thing I do get is that I need to appreciate my wife more, and, yes, she needs to appreciate me more. (You hear that, honey?)
Understanding a single mother
In fact, if you're reading this right now, go find your parenting partner -- okay, not now, wait until you finish reading this -- look him or her squarely in the eye, and say, with all the heartfelt sincerity you can muster, these two important words: "Thank you." For good measure, you could add, "And if you ever leave us, we will hunt you down like a rabid dog." (I'll never forget the magical moment when Susan uttered those words to me.)
Over the years, I've thought a lot about what it must be like to be a single parent, in part because when I was still searching for Miss Right, I would occasionally meet single moms. I admit I was petrified at first by the concept of dating someone with children, since that might lead to marriage and becoming a stepfather and numerous other responsibilities that my early-twenties brain couldn't handle. When a date once mentioned that she was divorced, I kept saying, "So you're divorced? Divorced? Really? Wow." I thought I was so grown-up discussing this woman's previous marriage, but now I realize why she ignored all of my calls after our date: I must have sounded like I had a learning disability. "You say you're divorced? Divorced?"
By my late twenties, though, I was way past the divorce thing and went out with a few unmarried moms without any trepidation. In fact, I fell hard for one single mother, a schoolteacher with a 2-year-old son. I know a lot of single guys buy track shoes just for occasions like this, but for me, part of what made this woman attractive was what a good mom she was. Someone who reads bedtime stories and sings lullabies to her child is the type of person who will treat you well.
The relationship didn't work out, but afterward I was always open to dating single mothers. In fact, I'm not sure why more single men don't consider single moms as relationship material -- they're usually full of character, strength, and kindness. But Alicia and the millions of other single moms don't go unappreciated by everybody. I'm sure that long after Logan has mumbled his first words, perhaps when he is a parent himself, he, like the kids of single women everywhere, will think of all the time and effort his mother expended in seeing that he had a happy, fulfilling childhood. Then I imagine that Logan and all of his peers will look their mothers squarely in the eye and say, with all the heartfelt sincerity they can muster, two important words: "Thank you."
Geoff Williams is a Babytalk contributing editor and freelance writer in Loveland, Ohio.