This week I interviewed Jess who was accompanied by Addy, her jubilant one and a half year old daughter, during my time with her. As a straight A student at the age of 19, Jess did not intend to have a child but her journey of motherhood has provided her with lessons in love and self worth. Jess left an alcohol dependent partner to escape the “ugliness of drinking” and the environmental impact that alcohol use and abuse pose on the development of self in a child. Faced with custody battles, traditional values, the expectation and desire of earning an education and her age, Jess voiced the stresses that existed in her life as the result of her transition into motherhood. After the initial reactions of her family, the dust settled and support and comfort from her family eventually followed, specifically her older sister who bore her parent’s their first grandchild. The social pressure to have an abortion presented itself, but Jess did not allow society, her family or her partner dictate the future of her body or mind.
Jess expressed thoughts and difficulties associated with single motherhood and the absence of a father figure in her child’s life. “Fatherhood is not solely focused on the father himself, but rather the father-child relationship,” stated Jess over our conversation and coffee. The day created to honor fathers does not consider those who lack a father figure in their lives, but rather the father void is highlighted. Jess aims to enforce an optimistic position for males in the eyes of her daughter, which is evident in the emphasis she placed on Addy’s first Father’s Day being a time to establish a positive space in Addy’s memory. Addy’s father though estranged, agreed to see Addy for an hour on Father’s day, but unfortunately he decided for personal reasons to not attend the meeting. In this moment of silence, Jess had the realization that the title of father and mother do not validate love. As the daughter of a divorced couple, Jess reflected on her memories of tension and the comparisons she drew between herself and other families, but comparison, which fills the eyes of many with tears, leaves the heart too heavy to focus on the light that exists regardless of family form. “When I had her (Addy) my eyes were opened to the support that I needed,” and for Jess this meant genuine care, love and responsibility for her child, not necessarily a family with a perfect and present father figure.
Balance was a topic of repetition throughout my conversation with Jess. Emotional and mental health in her life is achieved in the moments when she focuses on not only the well being of her child, but her personal happiness. As a server for a catering company, Jess is able to have a more concentrated workweek that allows her to have more flexibility. She uses the extra time to decompress and to spend time with her daughter. An aspect of finding her personal balances in life involve moving forward in her education each day, which is reflected in Jess’ online class work and the consistent expression of her goal of becoming a nurse one day.
After speaking with Jess and Diana (who I interviewed last week) it has become even more apparent to me that colleges need more resources to support single mothers in their educational pursuits, which should involve mental health services. Jess and Diana both spoke on behalf of financial assistance provided by WIC, however this service did not compensate for emotional and mental taxes that are the result of motherhood. The experiences of these women solidify the notion that compensation for the “Mommy Tax” is not provided or acknowledged within our society. Ann Crittenden coined the term “Mommy Tax” in the book The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued which draws attention to the lack of societal value that is put on motherhood and the centrality of motherhood to the progression of society.
“Young mothers should not let people influence their decisions or force them into discomfort.” Jess advises mothers to “feed off their intuition” and not the pressure to live up to expectations or images of the ideal and normalized mother or family form.