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.