SINGLE MOTHERS AREN'T SUPERHEROES by Hilary Barnett

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In the middle of the night several years ago while I was nursing my newborn daughter, I had a thought hit me like a ton of bricks. It happened to be one of those marathon nights when sleep had eluded me, thanks to my growing and very hungry little girl. I had to work the next morning, and the strong pull between my helpless daughter and the need to work felt like it might tear me into two separate pieces.

It felt like a punch in the gut. The question “how do single moms DO this?”.

I had help. I had a husband who could support our family financially and help with the baby, make meals and do household chores when he was home from work. I had my mother, who came over weekly to help with the baby and let me get some rest. I had my mother-in-law who did the same. I had a “village”, and I still felt like I was drowning. So…. just how do they do it? I didn’t know then, and I still don’t know.

I finally came to the conclusion that single mothers are superheroes.

Fast forward several years and another beautiful daughter later, and I embarked on my first ever solo trip as a mom of two little ones. I’d never been to Grand Rapids, Michigan before, but when I heard about the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College, I knew I had to be there. So many of my favorite authors were speaking, and I needed some inspiration. So I emailed my friend Lisa Anderson, Founder of Grace’s Table, to ask if she might know of a place to stay in town. And of course, because she is an amazing human, she offered for me to stay in her home. I was so excited to get to spend time with my friend and see the work she was doing firsthand.

When I pulled up late at night from a day-long road trip, I was greeted by a beautiful brick home and the best of Lisa’s hospitality. The conference was an unforgettable experience, but my time with the community at Grace’s Table is what has stuck with me. Over the next few days I would find out how meaningful this home is to so many women in the Grand Rapids area.

Lisa invited me to dinner on Friday evening after the conference, and I gladly accepted.

I knew this was no ordinary dinner, but I wasn’t prepared for how much it would change me. Lisa opens her home weekly to at-risk teen mothers and their children for a meal, support, encouragement, and community activities. In Lisa’s home the mothers and children are offered hospitality, respect, and dignity. They are given a safe space to share their struggles, and the children are offered a warm environment to play and be together.

I helped set up the table for the meal, served food, and spent most of the evening playing with the kids in the yard and snuggling a precious little baby who fell asleep in my arms (swoon).

As we were gathered around the table, another thought hit me like a ton of bricks.

I was wrong. Single mothers aren’t superheroes.

They are regular women and girls. They are vulnerable, they are hurting, and they need our support. The “superhero” narrative doesn’t serve them, and it only keeps them isolated. They are doing everything they can to navigate difficult circumstances and love their children well. And while mothering is a universal experience, the situations in which mothers find themselves and the resources each of us have when we enter motherhood are vastly different.

Grace’s Table is a lifeline for so many of the mothers who find themselves parenting alone while trying to finish high school or college, navigating complex situations, and creating a promising future for themselves and their precious babies. They are truly “finding hope together” around that table every week, and the support and love that is shared cannot be matched.

This is what the village looks like.

Mothers from all backgrounds, coming together with their own specific gifts and needs to support each other. So much is received just when you think you are giving, and I received something very special that evening. I wish everyone could spend a Friday evening around Grace’s Table.

So how do we, as mothers, begin to help change the narrative for these beautiful women and their children? Grace’s Table is always welcoming new volunteers, advocates, and financial supporters. I know that any support they receive from our community would go such a long way.  This could be the beginning of something beautiful. 

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Hilary Barnett is a mother of two daughters and founder of The New Mystique, a community devoted to exploring the intersection of motherhood and work with honesty and grace. Follow her @hilarybarnett.