1 in 3 kids are now living with an unmarried parent. Most of these are single parents.
March 21st used to be just another day on the calendar to me.
But now, in my 30s and a single mother, I celebrate the day in a big way by setting aside time that I usually would give to my children, for myself. That’s because March 21st is National Single Parent Day — a day created in 1984 to honor the sacrifices and diligent work of single parents across our country.
The day is more important than ever — and not just for me. There are more single parents now than ever. Indeed, more than one in three (34%) children today are living with an unmarried parent—up from just 9% in 1960, and 19% in 1980; in most cases, these unmarried parents are single, according to data from the Pew Research Center.
For me personally, this day is important to celebrate because, as the daughter of a single parent, and now the single mother of three children under the age of 6, I fully understand the challenges of parenting solo. While in a two-parent household, parents may be able to swap off taking off work to attend a soccer game or play when the other parent has to work, that isn’t an option for me. As a working single-parent, I am ambitious about developing myself as a businesswoman, refining my skills, and creating wealth for my family now and in the future. This often means long hours at work, missed school events, and sometimes limited mommy-and-me time with my kids. The “mommy-guilt” can be incredibly real at times.
I work tirelessly to manage my guilt, knowing that the sacrifices I make today are the seeds of the rewards my children will reap in the years to come. To help with that, I make a habit of including my children as much as I can in my career. When asked to ring the Nasdaq opening bell in 2017, as part of my job at Dow Jones, my then 5-year-old was able to tag along. She was delighted to see “mommy the career-woman,” and the experience ignited such passion within her.
One of the biggest challenges I face, in the limited time I have, is giving each one of my kids individual attention, and making sure that attention isn’t only given during a meltdown or after bad day at school. When you have to wear all of the different hats (good cop and bad cop), you have to let yourself off the hook at times, but also make sure your children understand the difference.
I’m learning that motherhood isn’t a competition. That we’re not here to see whose child is the smartest, who has the cleanest house or the healthiest dinners, but we’re here to instill values into our children. To help mold and shape them into their purpose. It’s tricky when you’re already spread pretty thin, but once you learn the curve of your child rather than forcing them into something you want them to do, you’ll have a better understanding of who they are and what their needs are.
Recently I tried karate with my son Sebastian, because that’s what most 4-year-old boys were doing. Quickly, I realized karate was not for him. He does better with his hands, a builder of sorts, so I got him started with Legos. He’s graduated to the more difficult Lego sets, such as building cars and dream worlds. It keeps him quiet and focused, which is heaven-sent in my household. My youngest, Brielle, 3, loves to draw, sing, dance, and get into everything she’s not supposed to. And my oldest, Peighton, 6, is full of compassion for others. She’s my helper, and at times, I feel like she sees the pressure I’m under and takes it on as her own. I’m living this journey with my children and yes, it’s difficult, but I have the power to change the stigma of single parenting.
Like most kids, my children all have different likes and dislikes. This becomes difficult when dinner decisions are made. Peighton loves seafood, Sebastian loves all bread and Brielle is in a strawberry oatmeal stage. If it were up to her, she would have strawberry oatmeal for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But all three love my baked ziti, so that is a weekly dinner dish.
By raising three children myself, I’ve learned that a “good” parent is a parent who has not lost herself in an effort to raise someone else. And it’s a parent who is always trying to better herself. So my kids look on and cheer as I go to my Financial Peace class, where I learn to manage my money. They watch as I take conference calls after work as a committee chair for an Entrepreneurship Conference on Long Island. They giggle as I mentor other children, and look over my shoulder as I work as a consultant for a resume-building website.
So, as I celebrate this March 21st, I encourage all of you — single parents or not — to do it, too. Give yourselves a pat on the back. Celebrate the endless sacrifices of time, sleep, social life, money — and for overstepping societal prejudices about single parents to raise impressive children.
Ciara Pettaway is the Executive Business Manager for Dow Jones Media Group.
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