The gift of your time is the most valuable thing you can give your children
I recently have found myself a single parent with three small children. I am not yet thirty years of age and now regret that I did not finish my education. I am very worried about the long road ahead, ensuring that my children have what they need to grow into healthy, happy, independent adults. I have my parents living in town but expect little support from the children's father. What ideas do you have to assist me going forward?
Yours truly, Dealt a bad hand and feel like I'm folding
Dear Dealt a bad hand and feel like I'm folding,
You have a difficult hand to play, but not impossible. Many a child has been raised by a single parent and done well in life. The rules, however will need some tweaking, and I will try to give you a few ideas through the story of Candace to help you. Take from it what you wish.
One of the strongest parents I know is a single mom to not one child but five. She is a fantastic parent and her progeny are doing exceedingly well. I will refer to her as Candace to keep her identity private.
Candace was the third child herself, with professional parents, many gifts in her DNA, and every possible advantage provided to her as a child by most people’s standards. However, she got badly off the rails as a young teenager and made a litany of poor choices. These catapulted her, by the time her brain was finished developing, into a group of women who are characterized by poverty, lower education, diminished opportunities for employment, huge responsibilities, and single-parent motherhood to four biracial little ones.
Almost a quarter-century has passed since the eldest boy was born, and this mother has defied all the odds. In my opinion, she is the all-time superstar. I have seen her and her children from time to time over the years and have been kept informed of her situation through her parents. I recently had the chance to ask Candace about her secret for raising five outstanding children whom any one of us would be proud to call our son or daughter.
Candace made one decision about her situation in life that made the difference between her children emerging from childhood with a ton of social problems and the heartwarming stunning success stories they are. She decided to make motherhood her primary and most important endeavour in life. She focussed her complete energy and all resources on being the ever-present, consistent, unconditional guiding light in their lives.
She was a shining example to her disadvantaged brood that money does not create great people or amazing families. She taught them that strong positive humanitarian values, determination and hard work in all pursuits, respect for others, love of self, and an appreciation of each person’s uniqueness, and that using one’s time purposefully was expected and the route to a happy fulfilled life. She demonstrated that a stable, competent, committed, honest, and loving adult is at the core of creating healthy, successful adults.
You might be wondering what that looked like in practical, pragmatic terms. Well, Candace made motherhood her full-time job, and she performed at an extremely high level. Absolutely gifted, I would say!
Obviously, that created a financial problem you are thinking. This was her solution, and it was the right one in her situation, judging by the outcomes.
Candace qualified for social assistance and moved her family into a modest subsidized three-bedroom house up the street from a bustling community recreation centre. Everyone shared a room, and everyone shared the responsibility of running the household from a very young age. Furnishings were basic, and amenities were few. The children had a limited number of toys and clothes. As the children got older, each sibling looked out for the younger ones, and they all carried a full complement of responsibility at the earliest possible age that Candace thought reasonable. She adopted a vegetarian diet and insisted on daily quality nourishing meals. She was into exercise and team sports herself and had her youngsters playing basketball and soccer from the time they were preschoolers. I rather suspect her children, and she virtually never missed a practice or a game. She allowed no television in her home, and the children got a cell phone only at age 13. She also ensured that they knew how to use a library card.
Candace subsidized her budget with work opportunities where she could bring the family, such as running a small store on the weekends while one baby was strapped to her back and the others played happily nearby under her watchful eye. She sought out part-time work opportunities with bosses who were understanding and flexible in their demands on her, given her parenting responsibilities. Once her eldest was into adolescence and could provide childcare at night, she took a part-time job hauling luggage at the local airport from 10 pm to 2 am. Gifts from friends and family were always practical, such as beds or bedding, needed footwear and clothing, or lessons to develop the children’s talents. She was also able to arrange a bit of child support from the youngsters’ father, which assisted.
Candace’s parents and huge circle of real value friends, some single mothers themselves, supported her efforts to raise her children well in many ways, including such things as babysitting the smaller children when Candace worked or was needed to accompany another child to a competition or conference. I believe her parents funded a basic second-hand van which afforded Candace the chance to transport the children to their activities. This solid and loyal support system hosted innumerable birthday parties, graduations, and Sunday dinners which helped Candace and her family immensely. While Candace was a tower of strength as a single mom, her parents and quality friends exemplified the saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’
Candace was the leader in her family, and the children knew it. And what an astounding leader she was! She finished a degree in Geography herself while parenting her first three boys and pregnant with her fourth child. She encouraged all her children to study to the best of their ability and helped them understand that a good education with top grades would open many doors for them in life.
Candace was a steadfast presence in her children’s lives. She walked beside them every step of the way, but never cleared their path or carried them. She was warm, communicative, calm, consistent and authoritative. She set the rules and was there to enforce them. I was told by the grandparents that all the children were polite, well mannered and welcomed everywhere, The grandparents never heard one of the children back talk their mother or show one iota of disrespect to her. It has been said that ‘they worship the ground she walks on’.
Candace was honest and transparent with her children about the impact of her own adolescent mistakes and told them not to do what she had done. Not one of them ever smoked, drank alcohol, tried drugs, got involved with the criminal justice system or were prematurely sexually active. She supported with a vengeance their biracial, and bicultural heritage and created blossoming young adults with high self esteem who are ready, willing and able to set the world on fire.
With only one darling pre-adolescent daughter left at home, Candace now works full time, plays women’s sports and has a bit of time for herself and friends. Somewhere in the middle of her life work she expressed a desire to be a teacher. Later she thought maybe she could become a doctor. I am not sure what Candace will do when her mothering responsibilities are no longer her primary chosen profession but whatever she aspires to, I am confident she will accomplish it, if anyone possibly can. Perhaps she will write a book about how to raise amazing kids on a shoestring as a single parent. It should be a bestseller!
So dear reader, you ask for my thoughts about the challenge which lies before you as a single mother?
Much of the answer lies in the story of Candace and the incredible mother she was and continues to be. Take a page out of her notebook. Better yet, take her whole playbook and you will not go far wrong. This job will demand the best of you in honesty, self discipline and self sacrifice, but can be done.
You may find it helpful to consult with one of the top notch counsellors available at centres like the Jewish Family Services of Ottawa, a registered charity and non sectarian resource, where free walk-in counselling is available at various times, including weekend afternoons. Everyone takes their turn in life to need a little help so do not be shy. The professionals there deal with adults from homeless newcomers to dentists and teachers and do an excellent job. They work as a team and can help you sort out the issues in your situation and connect you to a myriad of programs, groups and services which you might want to access in our city.
Always remember that the gifts of you yourself, your wisdom, your modelling and your time are the most valuable things you can give your children. May you be guided by that and the thoughts of C.S. Lewis who once wrote, ‘Children are not a distraction from work. They are the most important work’.
I'm looking forward to your questions! Email me at email@example.com and please put Heart to Heart in the subject line. Note that all columns will remain anonymous.
Photo: Blanka Šejdová, Pixabay