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No man required: Single moms share how they’re braver than they imagined

The first time I sat down to work as a case manager with a single mother, I was filled with awe and fear.

How does she do it? I thought.

Then, just a moment later, my mind turned to the next thought that inevitably occurs when one looks grit right in the eyes. Oh dear Lord, I hope her story is never my own.

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She told me stories I couldn’t imagine. The father of her children left, but instead of disappearing into a shell of grief, she woke up early each morning to prepare her kids and herself for school and work — seldom pausing to slow down, and all for the sake of love and determination. Although I saw it clearly, she could not put words to the wild love that drove her to sacrifice in ways many cannot imagine. To her, it was the lot life had handed to her. To me, married and without children, it was bravery that had put on skin.

I’m a single mom now. I don’t know if I’m as brave as that first client I served. Late at night, when the house is quiet, I find myself hoping that I am. I whisper little mantras in the still silence that surrounds me in the bed I share with my daughter. The silence never answers back.

Does my bravery matter? Am I actually brave at all?

You are. We are. I hear the stories of our bravery every day. Your bravery may not feel very brave, but it most certainly is. As proof, we offer stories of everyday bravery from moms in the trenches:

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  • The father of Julie L.’s son begged her to get an abortion when she told him she was pregnant. “He was on his knees, and said I was ruining his life.” She told him he could pack his bags, moved back in with her parents and went through her pregnancy, labor and her son’s infancy on her own. Recently, her son’s father has started visiting their child and trying to be a part of his life. “I’d like to think me being brave and making sacrifices for our son is making his dad brave,” Julie said.
  • Katie M. realized her bravery for the first time when she learned that her son was on the autism spectrum. “It was on me to get him the services he needed,” she said. “I thought I could never manage with a special-needs child, but here I am doing it as a single mom — and he’s a beautiful little boy.”

More: No man required: How single parenting made me more ambitious

  • “There was never really a singular moment when I realized I was braver than I imagined,” said mom Maria M. She had never planned to be a single parent, so when reality hit she just kept on doing what she had to do to make it. She successfully handled health emergencies, vacations, career juggling and day-to-day responsibilities all on her own. “Now, a few years into single parenting, I can look back on my accomplishments with a clear head,” she said. “I was brave all along.”
  • It was the week before Christmas when Morgan B.’s partner left her with their baby, and she had to entirely fend for herself. For seven months, Morgan had to spend most of her paycheck on childcare, and she didn’t know how she was going to make it. “I lost 40 pounds because the only time I ate was my shift meal at the restaurant,” she said. But after seven months of scraping together a living, she looked up from her daily grind and recognized a new landscape. “I was on my feet. I paid all my bills and on time,” she said.
  • Single mom Alyssa W. realizes her strength on a regular basis. Her bravery hits her like a wave of gratitude when the little things — that are really big things — take care of themselves under her watchful gaze. “When the kids are happy and fed, bills are paid, house is clean enough, I have those ‘ahh’ moments when I know I have got this,” Alyssa said. “I am strong enough and smart enough and capable enough to take on the world.”

What about you, single moms? When did you realize that you were braver than you imagined?

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