Parenting Times talks to widowed and single moms about how they make it work, for the sake of their kidsParenting can be tough. Let’s face it – the job is just easier with two (or more) – sets of hands, and at the end of the day, it’s nice to have a co-parent to share the joys and vent about misadventures with.
But some parents don’t have this option. For this issue, three women shared how they manage on their own.
Carol Anne Meehan
She still remembers that day in 2012 that everything changed.
Ottawa-based journalist Carol Anne Meehan lost her husband, pharmacist Greg Etue, after he was found dead in van near Killaloe, Ont. He had been diagnosed with recurring multiple sclerosis when he was younger, but when it flared up, he was put out of commission for months at a time. In 2010, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 tongue cancer and underwent radiation and chemotherapy. The closure of his store compounded the devastation for Etue, who Meehan said was a brilliant man.
“We kept thinking he was going to get better,” says Meehan. “It was more challenging for him than even I thought.”
After Etue’s death, Meehan focused on keeping their children’s lives as normal as possible, despite it being “a difficult time for everyone. When you lose someone, it’s like a big hole in the house,” she says.
At the time, daughter Elena was seven and son Evan was 13. “It was important to me to get their lives back to normal,” she says. This meant getting a caregiver and relying on help from friends and acquaintances, as well as a psychologist for herself and her daughter. All the while, she was still doing CTV’s 6 o’clock news. “It was a bit of a juggle,” she understates.
Six years later, the kids are 13 and 19 respectively and are doing wonderfully, Meehan says. Life at home, she says, is happy. Now self-employed, Meehan and her colleague, Norman Jack, interview locals doing interesting things on their weekly show, Coffee With. As for Meehan and her children, they spend time with her supportive family, and her sister-in-law’s husband has stepped up to become a sort of surrogate father for the kids. Still, things are far from ordinary. She doesn’t bring strangers into the house. She hasn’t dated. “It’s all about us.”
She talks about Etue a lot. “I’ll say, ‘remember when dad would do this or that?’ I can’t be a downer person. I can’t bring my grief into the house. I grieve on my walks. I think it would be selfish to grieve in front of my kids.”
Lauren Ehrenworth Hébert
They met while working together in radio. After buying a house together in March 2009, Greg Hébert was diagnosed with what would eventually become synovial sarcoma of the head and neck.
He went through two major, life-altering surgeries, but when the cancer returned for a third time, it was deemed terminal, and Greg cycled through many different forms of chemo in order to extend his life. During that time, the Héberts decided to bank his sperm and despite his bleak diagnosis, to move forward with trying to conceive a child.
Greg passed away just as his wife hit the three-month mark of pregnancy.
“Although he was certain he would live to see his child born, ultimately that never came to pass,” says Hèbert. “But he did know I was pregnant before he died and that meant the world to him.”
Their son, Grady, is now four. Hébert, who works in communications for the federal government, tries to talk about his father as much as possible, but because Grady never knew him, he doesn’t quite understand, she says.
Although she is faring well and getting by, she admits that some things are a struggle.
“I always have the mom guilt in my head as I work full-time to support the household and Grady has school and after-care, so it is a long day for him. I would never say it gets easier, but as Grady gets older he is gaining more independence, so we can work more as a team, which is a huge help.”
She rearranges her work schedule to fit Grady’s school and after-care schedule and works an early shift so she can have the afternoon and early evening with him. Her mother picks him up early from school once a week so that Hèbert can come straight home and hang out with him.
There are ups and downs to being a single mom, Hébert says.
She cherishes her “incredible, close-knit bonding relationship with Grady – since it is just Grady and I, we are together through ups and downs. He is my Number 1 person in my life and I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” she says.
But it’s hard parenting without backup. “I simply have to muscle through and deal with it and make any big decisions on my own,” she says. She also has a fear in the back of her head that something will happen to her, leaving Grady alone. Any kid-free time usually happens as a result of work. “There are no spontaneous outings,” she says, which also makes the prospect of dating daunting.
Times when Hébert wishes she wasn’t a single mom include: “when I am sick; when things go wrong around the house, like the car breaks down or the basement leaks; when I have a big decision to make and no one is there to help me with it. And especially when it comes to travel – we don’t do much of it because it is all on me and super stressful.”
Still, her family has been wonderful, and she has a close group of girlfriends who she leans on for support. Her mother “is my guardian angel and is there to support me constantly and without question,” she says, and without a father for Grady, Hébert has turned to male role models through family. “Grady has two grandfathers and an uncle that love him,” she says. Hébert herself tries to fill any voids by doing all sorts of activities with Grady. “I am doing my best to give him all the tools to be successful in life – loving home, feelings of safety and security, challenging his intellect and athletic abilities so he thrives,” she says. “But it is tough.”
She never imagined being a young single mom, yet Heather Baskerville has been single for most of four-year-old Nora’s life.
“It did change my path,” says the Chelsea resident. “I didn’t want to work full-time with a young child so I had to find a job that paid well enough and that would accommodate a part-time schedule and a daycare that would be somewhat flexible as my school schedule changes from semester to semester,” says Baskerville, a student and trans-editor for the House of Commons. “It’s so hard to get that balance right.”
In addition to balance, the biggest challenge in being a single mother is that it can be isolating, says Baskerville.
“I have great friends who have been very supportive, but they all either have kids and a partner or don’t have kids,” she says. “I’m kind of in a different category and it’s hard for people to get that I can’t be as spontaneous as I once was. Everything I do revolves around Nora because it’s all on my shoulders. I’ve also drifted away from a few friends I had before Nora was born either because we can’t get our schedules to work or we just don’t have as much in common anymore,” she says.
Nora’s dad comes to visit a couple times a week, and they have a good relationship, she says. Nora also has both her grandfathers.
Kid-free time is rare. “You can’t just hand them over to the other parent. You have to plan ahead more,” she says. “Sometimes I occasionally get break weeks at work, so I get some kid-free time those weeks on the days Nora is at preschool,” she says. “It never feels like enough! It’s very rare that I go out in the evenings. Like, I’ve done it maybe five times since she was born.”
Being a single mom has been a very humbling experience, Baskerville says. “It has taught me to rethink my priorities and to put a lot of the expectations I had for myself on the back burner, at least for now. Some of that has been hard but it’s also been a great lesson in detachment. I’ve had to give up on some aspirations that just aren’t feasible at this point in my life and come up with more realistic ones, but at the same time I’ve been able to experience some great things I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise and do a lot of self-reflection. Being Nora’s mom has changed me for the better, and when things get tough I just try to remind myself of that basic fact.”
In the day-to-day, Baskerville focuses on being a good example to Nora, and giving her the time and attention she needs, balanced with enough space to let her discover her own unique qualities. The result is a thoughtful and caring little girl.
“Nora often notices how other people are feeling, even without them saying so, and if they’re sad or sick she’ll make some small gesture to make them feel better. She’s so observant and conscientious, and I’m constantly amazed by what she picks up on,” she says.
Other challenges include bedtime – “it would have been nice to have someone else take over, especially when I had papers that could only be written after she was asleep,” she says – finances, and dating, which she doesn’t have time for. But she has an amazing support system, including her parents and her sister, who all live under the same roof. Although they help out when they can, they also respect that Baskerville is Nora’s mom. “I make all the choices with regard to how she is raised. I admit I was a bit reluctant to move back home at first, but now I honestly couldn’t imagine it any other way,” she says.