I grew up with a single mom. Lot’s of people have. And lots of people have a common story in which they learned strength, perseverance, and resolve from that kind of role model. This is not that story.
My relationship with my mom has always been a rollercoaster. And it’s not even a great rollercoaster. It’s been more or less a back and forth with being ok and comfortable around each other too well, now. Not really speaking and a persistent “Everything is fine,” viewpoint from my mother, despite a large body of evidence to the contrary.
But I’m not here to slam my mom. It’s not something I’m really fond of doing. Familial relationships can be messy. Really messy.
What I do want to talk about is the impact on worldview growing up with a single mom. At 31, I’ve got a solid, objective respect for any single mom. Period. The amount of effort, money, time, emotional energy and resolve that a woman has to have to raise kids alone in the U.S. is Sisyphean. The stigma, the side eyes, and the disrespect towards my mother I saw growing up infuriated me. Mainly because there was nothing I could do about it. I always wanted my mom to find a partner, not because I wanted a dad, but because I didn’t want her to have to continually to deal with all of the bullshit that society, and especially West Texas, heaps on single moms.
I didn’t really know how to deal with all of this as a teenager, but at the time, a small seed of empathy was planted without my realizing it. As I got older, I started to see some of the themes my mom had to deal with play out in a variety of ways. Sexism, misogyny, man-splaining, emotional abuse, and all-around excessive amounts of bullshit. It wasn’t always a single mom, sometimes it was a girl who raised her hand in class, sometimes it was a server in a restaurant dealing with a drunk (or not drunk) customer, sometimes it was a friend, or sometimes it was a random woman on the street. And in each one of these instances, I saw my mom. The more I saw, the angrier I became. Those abuses were everywhere, both large and small.
Not to be trite, but I remember when I first stumbled upon Mahatma Gandhi's words:
“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.”
As it would turn out, that anger came from knowing that I had contributed to this world where women, and especially single moms, dealt with misogynistic scenarios on the daily. No, I didn’t DO anything to women, I tried my hardest to respect them as much as I could and in a way that would make my grandfather proud. But that wasn’t enough. The phrase “silence is complicity” began to resonate louder and louder. I had to do more. No, I wasn't going to change the world or save all the women, but I would be damned if I wasn’t going to do something about it.
I thought I should be out in the streets yelling down d-bags who were catcalling women, or better yet, making a very public show of my support to all of them women around me. But really, those displays of support were more about showing others that I was a defender of women and frankly, the women in my life didn’t need defending, they just deserved my support and empathy. After having a particularly insightful conversation with a (female) mentor of mine, I came to a bit of a revelation. I could do far more for the women in my life, and in the world at large, by removing the obstacles in their way or opening doors that society had put in place. Whether that’s referring my female friends to jobs with a strong recommendation, or letting my wife explore her ideas, thoughts and feelings without giving my two cents on each, or just listening when the women in my life need to vent about whatever they may be dealing with. As a man, shutting your mouth at the right time can be just as powerful as the most public show of support.
I have a lot to be thankful for really, but perhaps most of all, it’s the fact that I was raised by a single mom. My worldview that has evolved from that experience has undeniably made me a better, stronger man. No, you don’t have to be raised by a single mom to feel the same way, but that experiences has given me an unshakeable moral compass when it comes to how women should be treated. And really all that means, is that they should be given the same respect and opportunities that I’ve had. It’s that simple.