Raising a Man: A Single Mom’s Story.
Here goes nothing. This is for every single mom either by choice or circumstance, and for anyone who has ever judged us or pitied our children.
Come closer, and clear a wide, beautiful space for what I am about to share.
A few weeks ago, I sat in a room with bright, loving, caring, smart professionals. All from a different culture from my own, all sharing a different native tongue from mine, mostly parents, all from dynamic, strong and complicated families. As our discussions dipped deeper, tougher topics emerged, on children, gender roles, adolescent development, sex and relationships.
Big, tough, and tender men described the values that felt important to them, what family should look like, what conversations and duties their wives have, like periods and cooking, and that they believed wholeheartedly it takes a mom and a dad to raise children.
There was lively debate and funny moments too, when one suggested “Sex ed was just like driver’s ed, you just need to sign them up for it.” This opinion was formed after his oldest had an unplanned pregnancy.
I took many deep breaths and leaned in, intent on staying rooted in the love we hold for our children and our families, to give them all we can, and to equip them with what we think they will be need in this big, wondrous world. This we all have in common. There were some other single moms in the room, all of us hastily preparing our well-versed arguments.
I left the conversation in deep thought and reflection about my own parenting, my own children, a boy (man, 19) and my girl (14).
Me, a single mom, who works full-time, whose life includes carpools with her children and their friends who are privy to conference calls on reproductive health in Texas, peppered with salty words being blasted through our Bose sound system. It includes the washer getting run more than once because I fail to make a timely transfer to the dryer.
It includes last-minute requests to run across town in my p.j.’s to get supplies for a school project that I was alerted to in the final hours. It includes me striving to hold it all together. Sometimes I do this with a grateful heart, and other moments, I am so tired and beaten down, I light a candle and pray for the grace of another day.
I thought of my son’s brown, dimpled, kind face and his large hands folded together, insisting a boy needs a father to teach him how to be a man. I buckled myself in the plane seat and looked out the window and thought about the following carefully.
Had I taught my son to be a man? Had I given him all that a father could have? Ear buds tucked in tightly, the plane ascending through the clouds and the sun streaming through the windows, I let my life unravel around that question. What had I taught him? What had I modeled? What had I failed at?
Warm, tingly emotions shot through my chest. I began to answer those questions so tenderly that warm tears, one after the other, glided down my freckled cheek.
I taught him to always, no matter what the cost, speak for those who had no voice. When he felt resistance or fear, I taught him to get curious and lean in. Live every moment, dare, leap, dive and live. Always move toward what brings him joy and keep his word, even when he didn’t want to. Read, listen and look at art, to keep his mind wide open.
I taught him to share whatever he has. An open heart will never be left empty. People are people. Period.
I asked him to learn to cook or starve. His worth will never come from the outside of the chambers of his own heart.
And since dreams are our life’s blood, I instructed him to follow them, relentlessly, as they will take him places he’d never imagined.
I thought about how all of this looked in our home. Sometimes it looks traditional, us gathered at the dinner table, with our phones stacked in the middle, unloading groceries from the car, cleaning rooms, me barking about homework or how they might miss the bus.
Other times, it looks like my daughter and I having dinner at Amy’s Ice Cream, late-night text messages from college telling me about the latest chisme or pondering the state of our country and world. It also looks like me, alone at every school function, awards ceremony and graduation, standing firm and proud for these two humans that God trusted me to raise, swelling with pride for the people they have become.
It’s my firm recommendation that they share their Christmas money with our garbage collector, and with every single mom in grocery stores trying to stretch her paycheck to feed her kids. They will know her by her cart, there will be bread and cereal and milk and maybe fruit, and if they have money to spare, they will quietly pay for her groceries and then leave quickly, without waiting for the shame of her Thank you.
It is also music blasting loudly and unapologetically in our car of some 90’s rap that brings me joy. Mostly though, it’s just me reminding them to tune it all out and to listen to their gut, they have everything they need right in the middle of them.
“What does this have to do with being a man?” I ask myself.
Then clearly at 30,000 ft, I say out loud, “Nothing. I didn’t raise a man, I raised a human.”
I am good with that, no pity needed.
Bernadette Ebanks is an island girl. She grew up in the Puget Sound, and spent the last many years on an island in Central America. She is a midwife, a mother of two incredible teenagers, and loves the written word. She recently moved to Austin, Texas to champion for reproductive rights, and works with other passionate women to ensure that all women have autonomy over their bodies. She dances in the kitchen, likes to drive fast, and has been known to cackle. She can be contacted via Twitter or email.