This is an essay by Kristina McGee who was awarded the 2018 WeParent Scholarship. She is a student at California Lutheran University.
When I was one week old, my birth mother wrapped me in a blanket and left me in the public square of a small town in China. A passerby carried me to an orphanage, where I spent the first year of my life. Of course, I do not remember any of that, but from what I know of China at the time, I believe my birth mother was young and single. Keeping me would have left her stigmatized and unable to provide for me. I like to think she had a loving heart, and I can only imagine the pain of abandoning her baby just because she did not have a mate.
Yet my life as a child of a single parent had just begun. On my first birthday, my adoptive (and single!) “forever mom” arrived in China, took me in her arms, and promised to love me forever. We flew 36 hours to Philadelphia, then drove to the only home I have ever known. I can only hope that somehow my birth mother knows that I am happy, fortunate beyond all dreams, and now a college freshman!
Of course, the single circumstances of my birth mother and Mom were very different. Here in the United States, Mom spent over a year gathering approvals and completing paperwork, and finally one day opened her mailbox to see the long-awaited news that a baby was waiting for her in China…me!
And that is how the pain of one single mother fulfilled the dream of another.
Not only is my single-parent origin uncommon, but also Mom and I are different races. So not only am I “different” because I live with a single mom, but also I look nothing like her. Sometimes passers-by do a double take, and sometimes people say, “Is she your mother?”. This is my “normal” that I cherish now, but I admit I sometimes felt differently.
When I was younger, I was jealous when dads hoisted kids on their shoulders. I envied toys (and later clothes and vacations) of friends who had two parents, and was embarrassed by my small house. It hurt when school forms had blank spaces for naming my mother and father, and I had to leave one line empty. I was upset when Mom was laid off from her job and there was nobody help with our money struggles. Yet later I realized none of that is important. My home is loving and warm. Mom is an incredible role model for always being there for me, navigating challenges of a house and schedule, giving a thousand percent of herself, and setting standards.
One reason Mom knows how to be an incredible single mother is because her role model is her single mother, my late grandma. Nana’s single status was different from my birth mother’s and Mom’s. Nana was single because her husband had been an alcoholic. Nana, in a show of strength, especially in the 1960s, made the courageous decision to raise her two young daughters (one of whom was Mom) in a stable and predictable environment as a single mother. To make ends meet, she went back to school at night and worked hard as a teacher at the neighborhood school. She always made sure he daughters were polite, studious, had fun, ate balanced meals, and gave back to others. She was always there for them, the community, and later for me, too.
As someone influenced by single mothers (in triplicate!), I am grateful for them all. I thank my birth mother for trusting I would have a better life elsewhere. I thank Mom for knowing that a baby halfway around the world, who looked different from her, was her daughter. I thank Nana for her example of holding fast to values, being there for others, and working hard. And I thank them for their lessons:
First, I know am capable of doing whatever I dream to do or whatever I need to do, whether or not I have a partner in my life. When we act from a place of love, the impossible is possible.
Second, stereotypes about single parent homes are wrong. They are not “broken”. They can be as loving and functional as two-parent homes. In fact, many times they are better…
…Third, I know from friends’ confidences that a stable, functional, one-parent home is preferable to a dysfunctional two-parent one. Similarly, just because someone appears to “have it all” on the outside, they may be suffering deeply on the inside. We should never judge any family situation, for better or worse.
Fourth, I realize that material goods are not important. I think of the thousands of teenage girls like me who are still in my birth country in difficult circumstances, perhaps working long hours in factories. Yet here I am, with a family and a future. I am healthy, have food on the table, and most important, I have the love of my family.
Finally, because of my multicultural adoptive family, I have special appreciation for all differences, whether racial, cultural, or in terms of defining what it means to be a family.
I am now majoring in marketing communications with the goal of working for nonprofits. I hope my career leads me to organizations that allow me to give back, just as the three single mothers in my life have given to me. On my college journey, I am carrying with me the spirit and strength of a birth mom far across the sea, the love and devotion of Mom at home, and the courage and work ethic of my Nana. I like to imagine these gifts of love in the bottom of my college backpack, waiting to be unpacked when I need them, and waiting to guide whatever is in store for me.
Thank you, strong single mothers. I love you, Kristina