By Rhonda Gowen
Single moms face an uphill climb, but hurdling daily obstacles imparts to them a keen sense of what’s essential and what can just go hang.
The three moms interviewed below have come to be single in various ways – one through divorce, one as a widow, and one as a military spouse on her own during her husband’s extended deployment overseas. Somewhere early in the experience of singleness, they were able to take an honest look at themselves and plot a course.
Sylvia Savenko has been divorced since 1995. “Finances were a nightmare for a while,” Sylvia says. “I am paid once a month, and sometimes would have $45 left after paying all the bills.” While her job as administrative assistant at the Dept. of Transportation has been good, she has not had the advantage of a four-year degree. There were no vacations or extra trips out of town for shopping. If that were to happen, it would take a year to pay it off. “Being a single mom was something I chose to do. I don’t have any regrets,” says Sylvia. “There were times it would have been nice to have a partner to help out, but. . . I’m very independent. I don’t like to hear a mom say, ‘My husband isn’t at home to help me with the kids.’ [I say,] Get up and do it yourself.”
When Lynette Voigt’s husband died several years ago, she was a mother of three and fortunately had a good education and employment as a clinical laboratory scientist. “I think the biggest struggle [being single] is losing the balance that comes with two people parenting. I miss the fact there isn’t someone to discuss things and to make decisions together.”
Jessie Markovic, occupational therapist with Sanford Medical Center and mother of three girls, has one foot in the single parenting role depending on whether or not her soldier husband is on assignment. “I have the utmost respect for women and men who are raising their children alone. I always prayed my experience would only be temporary,” she says. Before her husband was deployed to Iraq in 2007 and 2008, Jessie, her husband Shawn and their three girls had not been separated for more than four months. Even his long days of shift work as a city police officer and his weekends spent with the National Guard did not prepare her for the impact of him being an ocean away.
Running the Household
As single moms, both Sylvia and Lynette have mastered a thing or two about home maintenance. “I grew up on a farm and learned how to check the oil and change a tire,” Sylvia says. “My dad and three older brothers, who are mechanics and farmers, were a resource if I needed help.” Lynette braced herself as well, and with the help of others, accepted the challenge. She says, “I’m proud to say I can change the oil in the lawn mower and snow blower. I run the snow blower. I can clean gutters, replace toilets and do small plumbing repairs. Dad showed me how to do some minor electrical work. Financially, you can’t hire all those little jobs out; you learn to do them yourself.”
Jessie and her husband Shawn had planned their lives as a two-parent household. During his deployment, they found they had created a schedule that was just too much for one parent to uphold while the other was gone. Surprises came in the form of illnesses, school projects, home repairs, car breakdowns, snow storms, etc. “‘Expecting the unexpected’ helped me in dealing with the constant changes that seemed to come our way.” Jessie said. “I should not have assumed I could do it all. I was blessed to be surrounded by the girls.”
Raising the Children
A sole-caregiver approach to raising children trickled down to presenting the building blocks of human relationships and not trying to do it all. Sylvia, who has two children – one daughter who lives on her own and a son living at home with her – says, “I just did what I felt was right. Teach them to be nice to others and help them out. . . No matter how much money you have or how nice your vehicle is, you still have to be polite and respectful of each other and their things.” Sylvia’s son has been fortunate to have had mentors to teach him basic car and motorcycle maintenance.
Lynette expresses great confidence in youth. “I think kids do pretty well if they know what the expectation is, whether it’s behavior, chores, homework, or their faith life.”
“My mother passed away in 1985, three years before my daughter was born. She never said a bad word about anyone,” says Sylvia. Both Lynette and Sylvia’s own mothers came from farm backgrounds and instilled values of hard work and persistence. Lynette’s no-nonsense observation reveals her mother’s influence: “When you’re raising kids by yourself and you really are committed to making sure they become productive members of society, you better come to the realization that it is going to be hard work. Their needs come first, and complaining is a waste of time.”
Jessie found support from Shawn’s co-workers. “During the Christmas of 2007, Shawn’s fellow police officers purchased gifts for the girls and me and brought them to our home during their night shift. It was a wonderful surprise and very much appreciated.”
These women, and others like them who hold their footing against the odds of single parenting, do so with great inner resolve and are without question their own breed of survivor.
Rhonda Gowen is a piano instructor at the University of Mary and a clarinetist with the Bismarck Mandan Symphony and the Missouri Valley Chamber Orchestras.