The Realities of a Single Parent

After spending five years of my early adult life as a single mother in the United States Navy, I became sympathetic to other single mothers, who, like clowns in a three-ring circus, try to cope with the juggling act that is motherhood. One mother in particular (a close friend), I felt especially sympathetic toward. She was of a similar age and similar marital status.

She had met her former husband in the Navy during their training school. She soon became pregnant, and they quickly got married, which I came to discover was an all too familiar theme among military personnel. More times than not, these marriages did not last. On top of that, her husband was part of a SEAL team. Now, most people might not know that the divorce rate among SEALS is one of the highest, which also coincides with their rate of survival on a SEAL team. With the added tension of both being a part of the military, a new baby and the fact that he was constantly on deployments to a different country or training missions, often times at a moment’s notice, it did not make the marriage easy. In most cases when a SEAL is deployed, the spouse is not informed about where they are going to be, and there will be no communication for security reasons. This put a horrible strain on their marriage. Needless to say, there were many separations during their marriage and desperate attempts to “make it work”. They soon ended the marriage after a three-year toil.

My friend was then left to raise her daughter basically alone. I say “basically” because even though they had split custody, her ex was hardly around because he was usually on some training mission or deployed to another country. Without the aid of child support she was struggling to acquire sitters for her daughter for the days and nights she had to work late or had duty. Duty is a military term for a watch in which you have to stand anywhere from a 24-36 hour time period, on base. The time frequency in which we worked this duty could be anywhere from every four days to every eight days depending on one’s command.

Finding a sitter for these times where someone would have to watch your child overnight was not only hard to find but costly when you could find someone to do it. Just think about it, if you found someone for let’s say $50 a night, and you had duty every four days, that’s a lot of money you’re spending on a sitter. Not to mention that you barely get paid what you deserve in the military. That’s one thing a lot of people don’t really understand. You could be 30 years old and be the lowest rank getting paid about $1300 a month. If you have a dependent you get to choose whether you would like to live on base and get free housing or get a housing allowance based on the living rates for your zip code. Some people would say, “hey take the free housing on base,” but what they don’t understand is the living conditions are appalling. Problems such as mold, rats, roaches, or thieves plagued base housing. If you needed repairs, forget it! You could be waiting up to three months or more for them to repair something. Choosing to live off-base on the housing allowance in most cases seemed the best option. However, it pushed a single mother like my friend to have to stretch her paycheck throughout the entire month. Not at all easy when your daycare payment can be up to $600 (without including the duty day sitting cost).

When I left the military, I had started to babysit professionally to supplement my unemployment while waiting to start my second bachelor’s degree. I continually saw how hard my friend was struggling with her daughter, and even though she was completely humble about it and didn’t want to show it, I knew she needed help. I offered to take her daughter and help her out in anyway she needed and told her she did not have to pay me a cent. She thanked me profusely, and I could hear and see the relief she expressed.

On many occasions she tried to slip me money, and I refused every time. Just seeing her light up when I could help her out was reward enough to me. I felt like I was able to lift some stress off her shoulders and in a way jump into that crazy three-ring circus and help her with her juggling act. There is truly no greater joy than helping someone out, especially when they are afraid to ask. You cannot buy that sort of satisfaction. You can only put yourself out there to help others.

Sherene Aun