On a bright spring day nine years ago, I went shopping at a popular store in my small hometown. It was a chore I’d completed hundreds of times before, but this trip was special: it was the first time I took my baby daughter with me.
Kendall was a preemie who, despite being three months old, looked like a newborn. Still, she was alert and active. As happens with babies, alert and active quickly became bored and restless. I picked her up, began the swaying motion every mom knows will calm a fussy infant, and continued shopping.
An older woman stopped and remarked on what a pretty baby Kendall was. She stroked the soft cheek resting on my shoulder and smiled when Kendall snuffled out a tiny snore. As I turned to settle my sleeping daughter back into her carrier, the woman said, “Poor dear, are your hands still too swollen for your wedding band?”
“I’m not married, ma’am,” I replied with the respect I was raised to offer my elders.
“Well! You certainly don’t look like that kind of girl.”
I looked at her over my shoulder, not entirely certain she was serious, only to see her stomp off with an air of righteous indignation. I glanced down at my child, feeling a messy tangle of emotions: surprise, hurt, anger, and, though I hate to admit it, a stab of embarrassment. Until that moment, the idea of anyone assuming that “single mother” and “good mother” were mutually exclusive terms had never occurred to me. As I finished shopping, the woman’s words echoed in my mind.
“You certainly don’t look like that kind of girl.”
As I thought about it, though, I decided to spin her statement in a positive way. Yes, I was a single mother. I was also a good mother. The negative emotions pulling at me began to fade away.
Raising a child alone is as rewarding as it is terrifying, and while I admit it might not be an ideal situation for anyone, it’s also not the worst circumstance one can be in. I left an unhealthy relationship when I learned I was pregnant. I would never subject my child to the pain that relationship brought me. I made a conscious decision to be a single mother. It was the right decision, even if some people don’t agree with it.
I believe single parents have to be strong, determined, and able to depend on themselves. We must be both mother and father, and undertake both roles with equal commitment. I am now married to a man who is a wonderful father to Kendall, but I wouldn’t change the early years when it was just my daughter and me, because I know wedding bands and marriage vows are no guarantee a woman will be a good mother, just as the lack of them is no sign she isn’t.
I believe in the power of parenthood—even when the power comes from a solitary source.
Andrea Coleman teaches language arts at Johnson County Middle School in Paintsville, Kentucky. She also writes fiction for young adults and is pursuing her MFA in creative writing. Her greatest accomplishment in life, Kendall James, is the inspiration for everything she does.
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