How I Learned To Be An Adult From My Single Mom
When my single mother died in 2017 of dementia, I had the sober privilege of speaking at her funeral. When I shared my tribute with a friend who had never gotten the blessing of meeting my mom, she offered five beautiful words:
“You remind me of her.”
Those words brought me tears of sadness for my loss but triumph that who my mother was had significantly rubbed off on me.
Five Beautiful Words: “You Remind Me of Her”
My mom’s influence on my life is unmistakable, and I am forever grateful. How did she do it?
Inscribed on my mother’s gravestone are the words “Pioneer Woman”. She chose the title long before Ree Drummond launched her foodie TV show with the same name. No one who knew my mom doubted that the title was true. Was she from the 1800s in the midwestern United States? No, she came of age in a rural area of Pennsylvania, in the middle of the twentieth century.
What made her a Pioneer Woman, you may ask.
She chose a path of determination, courage, creativity, and joy following her divorce after twenty years of marriage. I was ten at the time, and so I lived most of my life with a single, determined, courageous, creative, and joyful mom.
How Can A Single Mom Live?
Her determination took the form of choosing not to be bitter. She received counsel early on that bitterness is a sin, and in the end, would only hurt her. So, she decided to let it go.
She determined never to speak an unkind or complaining word about my father in front of her children.
Her courage took the form of waking up each day and accepting its challenges and limitations. Her daily mantra became “we will rise above”; and by “we”, she meant her own soul with the help of God’s Holy Spirit.
She read her Bible, prayed, and became full of God’s wisdom and strength for her daily life.
She created new networks of friends, adapted holiday traditions, and became unafraid of solving problems around the house. She read maps, manuals, and recipes. Once her children left the house for college and career, she opened her doors to other young people to share stories, food, music, and, of course, laughter.
She beat back loneliness with generous hospitality.
My mom laughed a lot—loudly, frequently, embarrassingly, and predictably. She chose to let things be funny and wonderful. Did she cry? Heavens, yes, especially in the first few years after the divorce. But at some point she turned a corner, and because of friends and incredibly funny kids, she learned to laugh.
She worked hard at developing these skills and they arrived with fits and starts, in between bouts of despair, discouragement, hopelessness, and just plain sadness. Over time, she enjoyed fewer and less intense negative moments and more and more strength and positivity.
How I Learned to be an Adult
The benefit to me as a young child during the darkest season of my mom’s post-divorce life was that she and my older brothers shielded me from much of the difficulty. I blithely accepted the “new normal” and did my best to cooperate with the increased responsibility in our new family system and not to complain.
However, as I matured, I started to notice more of my mother’s struggle and began to identify my own sadness and sense of loss.
“It’s Okay to Not Be Okay”
My own crisis came early in college, eight or nine years post-divorce, with my older brother gently and honestly telling me, “It’s okay to not be okay.” I finally felt the freedom to be sad, angry, and frustrated at the struggle my mom endured to keep the family close and functioning. I spent a few years processing my emotions and relying on God to help me have a proper view of suffering and loss.
At the same time, however, my respect and affection for my mother grew. She modeled healthy adult behaviors of accepting responsibility, offering forgiveness, and being real with emotions and hurts, but choosing to see those difficulties through the lens of God’s support and companionship.
You Can Do This!
Undoubtedly, single mothers feel an incredible weight of keeping not only their own lives together but also the lives of their children. The pressure can feel unbearable. However, as you strive to develop healthy relationships with other adults, take advantage of support groups and friendships, and, yes, sacrifice at times so your children can thrive, you are teaching them life lessons about overcoming adversity and hardship.
Young children don’t always see and know everything you are doing to “keep it all together”, but as they grow, they will have a greater capacity for understanding and empathy. They may also begin to express their own disappointment and grief. Now decades past my parent’s divorce, I have certainly not forgotten nor have dismissed all the effects of growing up in a single parent family. However, I have learned to accept that it’s “okay not to be okay” and that I am who I am because of a courageous woman’s influence.
I am proud to be like her and pray that you, as a single mom, develop determination, courage, innovation, and joy as you walk your road. You are not alone.
About the Author: Becky Cook loves reading and her family, likes running and cooking, and puts up with her daughter’s pet bird. She lives in upstate New York and has served alongside her husband in Young Life for 22 years. Together with their three children they enjoy hospitality, the beach, and watching Survivor. Her mom’s Tupperware and stacks of photo books make frequent appearances in her home.