A 2011 Care.com Guest Writer Contest, hosted on my blog, asked all promising scribes to tell us about themselves and their families. Selecting this winner proved to be an incredibly difficult process – there are so many parents with such moving and inspirational stories! Our panel of judges finally narrowed the selection down to two mothers, Kelsey and Valerie. Both told their life stories with intense passion and heart wrenching honesty. Both are potentially facing the greatest challenges of their lives. And we had no choice but to choose both as the winners of our contest.
Independent. Strong-willed. Fierce. Kelsey, currently living in Iowa, is a college student, future lawyer, and single mom to baby Isaac. In less than a year, Kelsey’s life was transformed. From a typical college student, she became a single mother, fighting her way towards a law degree – six hundred miles away from family and friends. To understand her daily battle to build a successful future for herself and Isaac, the Care Team and I asked her to share some insights into what it means to be on your own and doing-it-all:
Who are your role models?
Immediately upon the discovery of two pink lines on a little white stick, I resented the ironic timing. The previous year, I had five friends become pregnant at the same time. Their situations ranged from married college students to potentially questionable paternities and just about everything in between. But none of them were planned and all of them handled their pregnancies and motherhood with grace. So, Erika, Ashley, Lindsay, Mackenzie, and Miranda were all role models of mine in terms of young mothers, single and otherwise.
My parents got married at the ages of 18 and 19, and they are celebrating their 29th anniversary this year. They didn't go to college, but they worked very hard and struggled with monetary issues – the same issues that I now face – before and after the births of their four children. They've always inspired me to defy popular gossip and expectations and to never lose faith. They're the reason I know it's not love or faith or trust that breaks people, but it's people that break these ideals.
How do you hope your son will describe you when he’s older?
I want him to have intense respect for women in order to help prevent what I went through with his father from happening to anyone else. To that end, I hope that he will remember my strong moments and hopefully never have to see me when I break. When he becomes an adult, I want him to look back at my accomplishments in the same way I look back at my parents’. I hope he will say that I always did what I thought was best for him, for us.
Why have you chosen not to lean on your parents for support?
They've worked hard their entire adult lives for everything they have. They shouldn't have to sacrifice the lifestyle they've spent decades creating for me since nobody did so for them. Like I said, they struggled as much as I did. The only difference is they always had each other to lean on. They do help Isaac and me when they can.
How difficult was it for you to find a trustworthy sitter or nanny?
It was exhausting. I met with a few younger college women, who were too expensive and had crazy-strange availability (of course). Finally, I met the one! I trusted her almost immediately. It's always scary leaving my baby with someone new, but my sitter gives me text message updates, so it's getting better all the time.
What do you look for when hiring a caregiver for your son?
I love to see how they interact with Isaac and their own children. Due to her car breaking down, the women I hired most recently had to bring her family when we met. It meant I got to meet the whole gang. Her entire clan sat at another table, and being able to see how she interacted with her family at a stressful time, while fielding my questions, made me quite confident in her child care expertise. Anyone can have experience on paper and find one or two people to give them tons of praise. Real human empathy, sympathy, and the ability to connect with and truly care for children add up to something special. Something you can sense is being faked.
What is the most supportive thing anyone has ever done for you?
There was a woman I met with from Care.com about watching Isaac. My entire life is constantly in limbo, so I couldn't nail down the exact times I would need her. I told her what I was trying to do. I wanted to finish school. No, no family here. No, his father is not going to move here. It's just me and I-Z. It was a few weeks before I followed up with her, and when I called, she told me she was still interested. She would watch him anytime and wouldn't accept any other jobs because she wanted to help me get through school. I never expected to hear that.
What is one misconception of single moms you want to set straight?
Just because a woman is a single mother, she is a slut. Nobody thinks that about single fathers. What's more, it's usually other women that make such comments. When I was pregnant and chose to break up with the father of my future child because he had committed what I considered an unforgivable offense against our family, I was told more than once, “Well, I want to be married when I have kids.” It hurt so much more than anyone could imagine. Yes, clearly I wanted to get pregnant half-way through my bachelor's degree by a man who had told me for years he wanted to marry me and have my children – and then watch it all go up in smoke at the beginning of my third trimester. Six hundred miles from home. The weekend before finals. Followed by the very distinct pleasure of finishing college and law school while raising a baby by myself.
What is the most annoying thing people say when they find out that you are a single mom?
When I would tell people about my future plans, they would say, “Wow, you know that's going to be hard, right?”
Do you find celebrity single moms like Madonna, Halle Berry, Sandra Bullock, and Katie Couric inspirational? Or does it feel like their star status can set unreasonable expectations for single mothers?
I feel disconnected from them. I believe they're “doing-it-all,” and I'd never discredit that. However, “doing-it-all” on a dangerously small income, is a completely different planet of motherhood. At least, I feel like I'm on a different planet.
Why do you want to be a lawyer?
I actually wanted to be a lawyer when I was very young. My mom was a big “Ally McBeal” fan, but I like to think it was just the budding feminist in me wanting to put on a modern woman's suit and put people in their place. Sometime while growing up, I doubted my ability to defend people I knew to be guilty and prosecute people I knew to be innocent, and the dream lay abandoned. However, when I found out I was pregnant, my new maternal instincts revived the desire to fight. I've found something worth fighting any battle for.
Read more about Kelsey’s story: