Linda (not her real name) became a single mother the way many do. Her husband decided the responsibility of a family was more than he could handle, so he left. Troubled times led up to that moment, but his face was set in that direction, and he was gone.
Linda pondered her situation, squared her shoulders and made a list of rules for herself and her four children. It outlined steps they would take to make sure they would 1) stay together, 2) stay aligned with their values and 3) lift them all to a better place. And then she went to work. Literally.
To do more than just survive, Linda needed a job. But first she needed a degree. So she found a college with a program that provided free tuition to single parents, enrolled and took on a manual labor job to get through. The kids also went to work, shouldering household duties and taking care of each other as best they could.
One of Linda’s ironclad rules was to be with her children during the hours they were home from school until bedtime. She went to school when they went to school and was home when they came home. With her perpetually upbeat, we-can-do-this attitude, she made those hours of homework, dinner and dishes golden for them. Once they were in bed, she turned to her own homework and employment: She laundered bed and bathroom linens for a local hotel.
Linda memorized equations and literature pieces while she sorted laundry. Through the night, she studied algebra and science and history between loads of sheets, pillowcases and towels. She tested herself on flashcards while she folded still-warm loads of dried laundry, stacking them into neat bundles. Before her children arose in the early morning, she handed the freshly laundered loads back to a hotel employee at the door.
Linda’s story astonished me when I first heard it as I interviewed her for a news article. The story itself was remarkable. But so was her quiet, calm, confident attitude. I detected no bitterness as she related her husband’s departure. I detected no regret for her decision to march on in the way she chose. I saw only one of the most resolute women I’ve ever met tell her story in a simple, steady way, with no self pity — and a touch of pride when she shared that her children were growing into good people who knew right from wrong, served people beyond themselves and possessed the same determination she did.
I had to ask the obvious question, “Linda, do you ever sleep?”
Her answer, after a pause, “Well, no, not now. But eventually I will.”
Eventually she did. She graduated victorious with her children there at the ceremony to cheer for their brave mother, for the end of a long struggle, and the beginning of a new day for them all. They were jubilant, so proud of her. This was their day as much as hers.
Linda landed an excellent job with good hours and pay. And she finally got to sleep.
A 2018 Pew Research study on single parents reports that one in four parents in the U.S. are single and, of those, 88% are moms. One in five U.S. children live with a single mom.
Those women’s stories are as individual as they are. Collectively, they are the keepers of a significant portion of our next generation. The single parents I know — all moms — are conquerors. Their lives are far from perfect, yet they show more courage, determination and grit than most of us, borne from facing and slaying so many dragons in a world that seems determined to tear families apart. To their children, and the rest of us, they are warrior women.
So consider this: Each single mom deserves some love on Mother’s Day — someone to acknowledge her efforts to fulfill her most important role, praise her sacrifice, give her a hug and urge her to keep on keeping on. Because in the big picture, she is our world’s No. 1 heroine.