She was always well-behaved, even as a baby. After a few colicky months, she was easy, a peaceful sleeper and quick walker with an incredible laugh. She grew to be a sweet, well-mannered, bright little girl. Her love of soccer made her dedicated and hard-working. Her love of people made her kind. Countless families included her in their family activities. Teachers and coaches praised her. I loved spending time with her.
I considered myself lucky- until she turned thirteen.
People joke about the treachery of the teenage years, but this was like Jekyll and Hyde, and I just was not prepared. Suddenly my innocent little girl wasn’t little or innocent anymore, and she was looking for something I couldn’t give her.
Every parenting scenario has its challenges. As a single mother of a little girl, I faced countless challenges, some easily conquered (and those fueled my “super-mom” fire), others not as easily. I am fortunate to have always had a very close relationship with my daughter, but there are some things a mom just can’t give. Her father’s complete absence left a hole, and as much as I tried to (over) compensate, it was a hole I couldn’t fill. I thought I was doing okay, until I was told that a boy had a photo of her on his phone…. A photo that we will call…. less than flattering. Oh, the wonders of technology.
To say I punished her is an understatement… the door came off of her bedroom, all electronics were taken away (well, everything was taken away) and we began discussions of self-respect, privacy, pride, boundaries, love. Discussions that, in retrospect, I should have started sooner. I thought that providing an example of a “strong, independent woman” was enough. I was wrong.
Of course, I understood that my daughter was at the age where she was curious about the opposite sex. I did not understand that she would seek male attention in such a bold way.
We can attribute this to hormones, call it an expected change for a teenage girl, but I think there was more to it. I believe her father’s failure to give her love made her crave male attention so much, that she compromised her values to seek it. I believe that if she had received more love and appreciation from adult male “father figures”, she wouldn’t have gone to such lengths to get it from boys.
Our story has a happy ending, and I only had to ground her for a few months! (If you have ever lived with a grounded teenager, you know that it was just as much my punishment.) Our conversations, and those she had with others, including a counselor, aunt and uncle and her godparents, led to an understanding of the right and wrong way to foster those relationships. She gained perspective on the type of attention she should be seeking, on the attention that she really wanted.
Our “village” rescued her.
During those years, my daughter’s godparents made the greatest impact on her life and mine. They gave her an example of a strong marriage, of traditional family values. While neither their way nor my way were “right” or “wrong”, they provided a perspective I couldn’t and wished I could. They gave her a safe place to discuss things that she didn’t necessarily want to share, or sometimes burden, her mom with. And they gave me breaks that I so dearly needed. I was not yet twenty-one years old when my daughter was born. While she was growing and changing, I was too.
Unfortunately, not every child of a single parent has a village. And, sometimes, a single parent can be spread so thin, between multiple jobs and/ or multiple children, that something like this can be completely missed. So, what can we do? Have those hard conversations earlier…. Create the village… Provide the “father-figure”…. In parenting, like in anything else, it is always better to be pro-active than to be reactive.
She will thank you later.
Tara Taylor is the founder of Single Mom Strong, a local nonprofit organization for the empowerment of single mothers and their children. Born of her experience as a single mom, she has created programs aimed at providing the resources and encouragement single mothers and their children need to thrive. To learn more about how you can make an impact in the life of a child of a single mother, email Tara at firstname.lastname@example.org