When I think about what it must have been like for my mother to do this as the weeks turned into months and years, the scope of her accomplishment is astounding. All four of her children have completed high school. Three of us graduated from college. Two became doctors. We are, like all families, imperfect, but we are here to bear witness to what is possible.
By the time my college degree arrived, I had planned to skip the ceremony. I wanted to get my diploma in the mail and move on, but she insisted on attending. I realize now that it was not my degree – it was his, the fruit of his sacrifice. My mother’s joy at the achievements of her children was both pride and justification, a sign that her work was not in vain.
My mom’s exceptionalism can create a false narrative that if we work hard enough, everything will be fine. But it shouldn’t be that difficult for single parents.
I wish my mother had had the support network that I had. What would it look like for faith communities, employers and others to help the 23% of American parents who are raising their children on their own? It seems they are not alone, in fact. This would imply that they receive what I have received, the support and understanding of a community that recognizes that I am doing something important. If this is true for me, it is even more so for lone parents whose sacrifices continue.
Governments can also help. President Biden has proposed an extension of the child tax credit. Utah Senator Mitt Romney has a plan to replace credit with monthly cash payments to parents of children. These programs are not designed just for single parents, but since lone parent households overall are more likely to be impoverished, they will be useful. This question deserves sustained public debate.
Every year when my mom calls me on my birthday, she talks about how she can still feel the pain of giving birth. She used to ask, “Did you know I was in labor with you for a whole day?” In recent years, the duration of his work has increased, up to seven somewhat unbelievable days.
I used to push back on his comedic styles by saying, “Mom, it wasn’t that long.” But there is a truth hidden in his humor. Her children are not the work of sweat and pain in a hospital. We are the work of a lifetime. All the children of lonely parents, who contribute so much to the American project, are proof that their work has not been wasted.
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