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Being a single mom on Father’s Day is the pits

On a recent morning, I woke up on the couch instead of in bed, holding my almost 2-year-old, who wore only a diaper. I’d placed towels all around and under us. There was dried puke on the shoulder of my T-shirt. I’d been awake with her until 3 in the morning.

Several minutes later, I stood in the kitchen with the toddler on my hip, waiting for the coffee pot to stop spurting so I could pour a cup. I’d put bacon in a pan to cook and had prepared some pancake mix. It wasn’t even 8 a.m. yet, and I was cooking a full breakfast, considering sprinkling frozen berries and chocolate chips on the pancakes to make them extra special for my older daughter who was asking about when her birthday party should be.

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“What about Sunday?” she said.

“We can’t that day. It’s Father’s Day,” I said.

“So why does that matter?” she said.

“Because people will be spending the day with their fathers,” I said.

We don’t exactly celebrate Father’s Day in my house. Fathers haven’t played a big role in our lives lately. I haven’t spoken to my dad in several years, and my older daughter lives 500 miles away from hers.

Usually I make a point to say “Happy Father’s Day” to my single mom friends. Many of my single mom friends do the job of both parents. We are the head of the household and look to only ourselves for support. We check the oil, carry in heavy bags and swing kids around or wrestle. We have to “man-up” and kill the spider or scare away imaginary monsters. We stay up all night mothering a sick child and get up the next morning to fry bacon. I looked down at my coffee cup and thought about getting myself a “World’s Best Dad” mug for the holiday.

Only 46 percent of children in the U.S. live in a home with two married, heterosexual parents who are still in their first marriage according to a Pew Research Center report in 2014. According to another report from in that same year, 24 percent of children lived in single-mother households.

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I don’t usually try to make a big deal out of Mother’s Day. I feel pouty doing so. Mothering is not about demanding my hard work is recognized in the form of being pampered. But Father’s Day has always been a moment for me to pat myself on the back. In my role as a single mother, it’s the fathering that is often the most challenging for me.

One year I took my daughter rock climbing, and we went out to eat at her favorite restaurant. Others my daughter’s birthday has fallen on that day, so we celebrated her instead. My younger daughter’s due date was coincidentally on Father’s Day two years ago, but she came a few hours late. Between the two of them, I think we’ll always have a contest with birthdays and Father’s Day, so maybe it won’t be as much pressure to set aside a day to celebrate it.

“I gave them the choice about how to spend Father’s Day,” another single mom — whose children are 11 and 8 — told me recently. “They’ve decided to use the day to celebrate their relationship with each other. They usually make each other a card and we do something fun together, even if it’s an afternoon at the park. That way, they celebrate what they have instead of feeling left out for what they don’t.”

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For some reason, this idea resonates, especially with so much celebration in our house already happening because of birthdays. We can carve out some sort of a “Family Appreciation Day” instead and focus on each other, on what we have.

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