Mixed Motherhood: Silent Sacrifices of a Single Mom
She had choices...and she chose me.
As Mother’s Day approaches, I wanted to take this week to honor my mom and the sacrifices she made to raise me during a time when being a single mom was taboo…but being a single mom with a biracial baby was even worse.
The following is an excerpt from my upcoming memoir.
As I continue sifting through photos, I realize a face missing from the box. I flip through birthday parties, vacations, and school days. I put the stack down, grab another set, and repeat the process, setting aside the rare frames that hold moments of me and my mom together. There are three. In a box of over two hundred snapshots, these three images give the false narrative that Mom had been as absent from my childhood as my dad had been.
But she hadn’t.
Her presence has been as constant as my own heartbeat.
Mom had choices. In late October 1977 Mom didn’t have to allow a short-term relationship with a man she’d met while on vacation in Puerto Rico to change the trajectory of her life. Broken by the death of her dad a few months before, she could have decided this news was too much to bear. Four years earlier, Roe vs. Wade had given women the right to choose. My mom had the right to choose. She could have taken secret action and no one - not her family, not her coworkers, not her church, not her small town - no one would have known.
Years after I became a mother myself, Mom shared the brief conversation she had with my dad after learning of her pregnancy. He had suggested she follow through with this new option, even offering to pay for it, which ironically would be the only time he offered to pay for anything for me. Maybe it was her upbringing. Maybe it was her faith. Maybe it was guilt. Mom wasn’t sure herself, but she told me she knew she couldn’t go through with it.
“I didn’t know what the future held,” she said one afternoon while sitting on the sofa in my living room with the weight of our conversation hanging heavy in the air. “But I knew God had given me this baby and I was going to be the best mom I could be.”
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It’s a strange thing to sit as grown women, both mothers, both knowing the fear, and uncertainty that accompanies pregnancy and realizing the power of a moment, of a decision, of a life. To look across time and space with the realization that her life could have looked very different and mine might never have existed. I look around the room at photos of my husband and children and realize the reality that might never have been.
Even now, a storm of gratitude and grief swirls inside my soul.
Culture and circumstance robbed her of the joyful anticipation that impending motherhood often brings. Instead, I learned that her experience was foreign to my own. While I’d shared every moment with the man I love, she’d faced every moment scared and alone. My heart broke for the unimaginable tension she managed during those nine months, wondering what single motherhood would be like and learning the reality was unlike anything she could have imagined.
Mom’s near absence from our neatly organized photo box might have led others to assume she played a minor role in my life. But she was always there, in the background, behind the lens allowing the spotlight to shine on her only child.
She never missed a play, recital, game, or chance to cheer me on or vocalize her unending pride. Setting her dreams aside, she sacrificed her desires to ensure she could provide the best life for me. She never married or even dated. She never went on a night out with her friends. She didn’t take the time to invest in deep friendships. She never made herself a priority. Teaching her high school students and caring for me and my grandma consumed her. I became her identity, her way of escape from the pain brought on by her past.
As a child, my eyes were blind to the price Mom paid to be a mother, to be my mother. Her choices led to a life of comfort and privilege for me that included the latest toys, name-brand clothes, private school education, various sports and music lessons, summer vacation, and many things which I surely took for granted and have long forgotten. But for her - a White, Christian single mom living in the Midwest raising her brown biracial baby girl - her decision led down a lonely road where responsibility, debt, isolation, and self-preservation became her closest companions.
I stare at the four images laid out in front of me and my heart breaks because, for the first time, I see the despair hidden behind her forced smile. It breaks when I see family vacations to Florida, Washington D.C., and Hilton Head realizing the financial responsibility she carried to provide these memories for me. It breaks as I tally the immeasurable amount of time she invested in my hobbies and dreams while abandoning her own.
Sometimes I would see a glimmer of the woman she must have been before I was born, like on Saturday nights when we’d play cards with extended family. In those rare moments, I’d see her give herself permission to smile and laugh. I loved those moments.
Parenthood is hard. It’s hard as a partnership. But it’s even harder as a single parent, especially when the other parent chooses to walk away abandoning all responsibility. It creates a suffocating burden, one which Mom carried with such amazing grace that I’d been completely naive to its weight until now.
Using the back of my free hand, I wipe tears from my chin, catching them before they drip onto sacred images of a childhood woven with love and grace, and pain. With a heart overwhelmed by mixed emotions, I return my treasures to the photo box, replace the lid, set it back on the closet shelf, turned off the light, and shut the door as my heart and mind began to simultaneously open up to the fact that this journey to discover who God created me to be was going to be far more emotionally complex than I could have ever dreamed.
Mother’s Day comes with a range of emotions.
Wherever you find yourself this year, know that you are seen and you are loved.
If you need space to grieve…
If you need space to celebrate…
If you need space to forgive….
If you need space to process…
If you need space to wait…
Whatever you need, know that God will meet you there.
I’m cheering for you!
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A Little Something Extra…
Each week, I like to share a little something extra, something I’ve found fun or helpful. It might be a post, book, podcast, tv show, movie, song, Bible verse…or something else I think you’ll enjoy.
I have the opportunity to write for Grit & Grace Life, an uplifting online women’s publication. In celebration of Mother’s Day, we made a little video reminding all of you mom’s out there, that even if…you’re still a good mom!
Mixed.ology is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.