Single File: Chairman of the Board
Agreed, the month of May is the usual time for tributes to moms' indispensable role. But mine is a slightly early paean to those women who -- by some inscrutable twist of fate -- find themselves Chairman of the Board, responsible for every decision in their husbandless household. Why now, and why them? Because while motherhood is sacred in America, its reverence rarely includes the single mom. I know.
My son Scott is independent now, but I remember both the agony and the ecstasy of being an unattached parent with a very young child in tow. I remember the awful loneliness of coming back to a home with no adult to speak with, no partner to share the zillions of decisions that come up in parenting and in life in general. I vividly remember the expression on the faces of men when I disclosed my motherhood. I was well aware of the change, and I told myself that Scott and I were a package deal, and that any man who didn't appreciate the worth of the package wasn't for us. Period. Game over.
But the agonies were outweighed by the singular delight of direct, undiluted communication with this rare person I was raising. When discipline was necessary, I was the one to administer it. And when laughter was on the menu, it was to be another link in the bond being forged between me and this small person who was my sacred trust. I remember clearly his calling out to me from his bedroom, "Is he M?" asking whether the man of the moment was marriage material. He was that young roommate of mine who kept me on the path, focused on the goal we both wanted: marriage to a good man. His sensitive antenna knew I could stray into relationships that were going nowhere. In his inherent wisdom, this 10-year-old wise man knew I was the one out in the marketplace, the one to attract the man who would be good for both of us, and he didn't want me to waste time on a detour. (Our sitter called him "an old man cut short," a perfect description of Scott at 10 -- and 40.)
Being Chairman of the Board, the single mom is an unsung heroine, buffer between the children in her care and the world beyond. She gets the credit and the demerits for all that occurs in her little family. She must walk the tightrope between parental duties and womanly needs. She must choose between the two. She must realize that parenting always comes first. Nowhere is that more crucial than in the subject of sleepover lovers. (I myself learned that the hard way, a tale for another time and place. But the experience enabled me to give clear and heartfelt advice to readers.)
Good judgement is the bulwark of single parenting. Those tigers that come in the night with fears and doubts and regrets are more easily routed when Mom is sure of her choices. She needs to realize she is doing (more than) double duty as sole head of household: She is doing her best for her family while being their model for adulthood. There are no second chances, no do-overs for parenting. The role comes without formal title or status, but it is a rare opportunity to come close to and guide the small people sharing their home. The single parent is the live-in model for their future personhood, given a rare chance to shape personhood. A toast, then, to the Chairman of the Board.
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