Expecting judgment from others only adds to the burdens single mothers face on a regular basis that are exacerbated during this time.
As we head into Mother’s Day weekend, single mothers like Resendez are facing even more stress during a pandemic. Many single moms are the only people who can ensure their children are fed, educated, comforted, disciplined and safe, without the in-person support of friends or family members. These responsibilities are in addition to the mothers’ own work and other struggles.
Here are some of their stories.
In need of allies
Resendez, a 41-year-old tattoo artist from McAllen, Texas, has been divorced for about 10 years. She has four older children who live on their own, but she raises her young daughter by herself.
Resendez made a living as the owner of a tattoo shop in McAllen, but it closed along with other businesses for safety precautions. Texas has started to reopen, but an issue with the electric company that powers her shop and the exclusion of tattoo parlors on the list of businesses allowed to reopen leave her future uncertain.
“It’s just very stressful. … I have to figure out how to get back on my feet somehow.”
One of the current challenges of single motherhood is that there’s only one income. These mothers often don’t have a partner to help out if the pandemic robs them of their jobs and paychecks.
“It’s not that we’re complaining about being single, I mean, we manage,” Resendez said. “[But] we carry a lot more weight on our shoulders. We have to pay the bills, we have to worry about everything. There’s no one to depend on.”
Being a parent in general is hard, of course, but being a single parent is a little harder, especially in quarantine, Resendez said.
“We don’t get a break as a single parent. Because if I quarantine with a 5-year-old, I can’t take a nap if she won’t take a nap. And convincing a 5-year-old to take a nap is impossible almost.”
“I’m the nurturer, kissing the boo boos, playing with her and spoiling her, so it’s hard when I actually try to reprimand her and put more structure on her,” Resendez said.
Creating memories in consideration of loss
In the late evening, Crystal King puts her 3-year-old son to bed before resigning herself to a chair to administer her own dialysis for the next 12 hours.
Her kidneys are now functioning at only 6%, and she’s been looking for a donor since her son was born. Given the current restrictions on so-called elective surgeries, she’s uncertain if receiving a kidney will be possible in the near future.
But she hasn’t let her condition stop her from nurturing her son.
“I need there to be proof that I was here, proof that I was in your life,” King said. “I want you to have memories with me whether it’s from [looking at a photograph or videos].
“I document our lives so that if anything does ever happen with my kidney disease, he’ll have all this stuff to look back on.”
Though King has found ways to keep life bright, worries and strains pull at her still.
A “nightmare” is how King describes dialysis. “To be reliant on a machine to be alive is like the scariest thing, especially in a pandemic … I have electricity to run my machine but if something happens and we have to evacuate, what are we going to do?”
Survival parenting during the coronavirus era
Jessica El Aboudi, a health communications specialist for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, knows “survival parenting” all too well.
Luckily, the younger boys’ teachers have offered extra help until El Aboudi can do more.
Though she has a master’s degree and works at the CDC, El Aboudi worries she’s failing her kids since she has trouble teaching them mathematics.
“They know how to read, and they know how to vacuum really well now,” El Aboudi said. “My 11-year-old knows how to make hash brown casserole, so we’ll call those wins, I guess?”
El Aboudi has been a single mother for seven years now, and it’s been four years since her ex-husband has seen his children. Despite the years-long “hustle,” she loves her boys, and they’re faring well.
“I’m so lucky that we have this tribe of people that love me and love my kids, but when it comes to making those decisions and trying to prioritize values and all those lessons, I don’t have anybody to bounce those off of,” El Aboudi said. “And the weight of what the decisions cost my kids, it’s just on me.
“Am I doing right by these boys with every decision that I’m making for them? And then just second-guessing like all the time.”
The crisis makes their lives hectic, but leaning on her support system, having more downtime to appreciate her kids and no longer having to commute to obligations make life a little easier and a “blessing.” “I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” she said.
Supporting single parents
But the high levels of stress, shaming and stigma they face are the result of a massive disconnect between the way people live their lives and the policies that the US lacks to support them, Schulte said.
“So much of that stigma or cultural shame comes from this very deeply embedded notion that the best families, the ‘right families,’ are not only heterosexual and cisgender but are leaning toward breadwinner, homemaker families, if not outright,” Schulte said.
“Our public policies assume that there’s always somebody at home that can take care of children or all the caregiving or take care of everything at home so that one person can go out to work and support the family.”
“Frankly, no one is hurt more by that than single parents,” she added. “We really put the onus on the backs of families and told them, you have to figure this out on your own.”
They can’t arrange for someone to watch their child, and when they do have to take them on errands, it’s a fraught experience. Single parents have to be nurturers and disciplinarians (and now teachers), which is a heavy emotional and mental burden. There are financial and time strains. And overall, the guilt that they’re not doing it “right.”
“Just continue to kiss them and smell the tops of their heads and hug them,” King said. “Love on them as much as you can because you don’t know your lifespan; life is short [and] you don’t know how long you’re going to be here, disease or not. Anything could happen.”
The current challenges of single parenthood are “more than just a passing phenomenon,” said Schulte. “We need to start asking questions that no longer [punish or stigmatize] single parents or think of the circumstances as wanting or less.” Support family-friendly public policies and stop judging single parents for their circumstances and decisions, she added.
And for those who want to support a single parent, they could have dinner sent over, offer financial support or virtually check in with them to offer emotional comfort.
Ultimately, children of single parents will appreciate their hard work, Resendez consoled.
“I just would like to say no matter how bad of a job you think you’re doing — which, I believe every day that I’m failing — your children don’t see that. They think you’re some superhero,” Resendez said. “It’s hard for us to see ourselves from their eyes, but I think we need to realize that we’re doing the best we can, and even though we don’t think it’s enough, it’s more than enough.
“You’re doing a great job. Every mother deserves a pat on the back. Single mothers, I know it’s so much more difficult, but you’re doing good. Keep going.”