My parents got divorced when I was in sixth grade. This was obviously an impactful event in my childhood, but as the years have gone by, I’ve simply lived life in my new normal and found a cadence in my family. As I begin my freshman year in college, though, whenever I make new friends, my life story spills the beans and I relive the details.
Being (mostly) raised by a single mom has become a very fascinating form of feminism in my life, reinstated constantly by her positive influence and emotional strength. When I was a kid, I didn’t think heartbreak happened to my mom. Most seem to put up an exterior of Momma Warrior whose tagline is “no one can hurt me.”
But people hurt her, and people hurt me and womanhood became reshaped in our pain and redefined in our healing. But my mom, Grace, is bright, bold, unafraid, smart and compassionate. She has had to zigzag through the waves of depression and stay upright for my sister and I. She didn’t sleep the day away, she didn’t fall by the wayside, and she certainly didn’t leave. But she didn’t want to, either. My mom fought through the peaks and valleys of her marriage and her life after it to support her children and carve a fresh start out of something that, after all the weird Christmases and custody agreements, never seemed to end.
My mother inspires me to succeed in college (and in general), emotionally and spiritually. She is a teacher with a knack for sass and history, a dog-lover, a spunky Italian, an informational pamphlet on kindness and my Wonder Woman.
In the transition of freshman year, I have met other courageous young women who see their mothers in the same light. My friend, Okina Tran, spoke with me about her mother, Staiy. The Tran women are first and second generation immigrants, as Staiy was born in Southeast Asia and moved to the Midwest at a young age. She became pregnant with Okina her senior year of high school and remodeled her entire life. This wasn’t Staiy’s first brush with the term “life-changing.” She knew from the time she was 5 that she wanted to be a hair stylist.
“She has always wanted to make people feel beautiful inside and out,” Okina said. “She came from a family that unfortunately was not able to attend college, so she wanted to do more.”
Staiy brought baby Okina to all of her college classes and succeeded in the unconventional way that speaks to her personality and kindness. Perhaps it is this experience that allowed for she and Okina to fall into their Gilmore Girls relationship.
“I can talk to her about anything—even my weird Tinder stories,” Okina said. “She’s really my only parental figure, so being a single mom only made that bond stronger for us. She treats all of her clients with love and connects with each one on an emotional level, too.”
Staiy opened her own salon a year ago this month and celebrates a double-booked, family and friend-operated business. Okina is studying public relations and hopes to break barriers in race representation in the entertainment industry, all of course, guided by the prowess of her mother.
“My mom always pushes me to work harder than I want to, but she’s always there to sit down and create solutions,” Okina said. She works incredibly hard but always makes time for family. She is helping my find myself.”
Okina and Staiy are only one example of the strength celebrated in single moms. Alexa Leroux spoke with me about her mother, Jahna, who freed herself out of an abusive marriage and father-child dynamic and came out more radiant on the other side.
“My mom was always there to pick me up and hold me and be my ‘dad,’” Alexa said. “She taught me that grilling, mowing, and many other “manly” skills could be done by anyone.”
Jahna went back to school to get her Master’s in Special Education during her divorce and now raises four teenagers on a single mother/teacher’s salary.
“She never complains,” Alexa said. “The only thing she’s ever wanted is all of us to be together and happy. When she graduated last year, I cried like a baby. She drove me to fight for myself and women like us.”
Though I identify with every daughter and single mother duo I’ve spoken with, I find such beauty in their individual stories. While each one of us wants to make our own in the world, continuing our mothers’ legacies of grace, aptitude and vitality is a huge part of the pride and self-driven behavior in which we marinate. Being the daughter of a single mother has been challenging, but the love and appreciation I have trumps any inkling of “lesser than.”
Under my mom’s tutelage, I have lived a better life; a life only amplified by the success I will find and share with her in the coming years.
Lead Image Credit: Courtney Baker