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How Does She Do It?

Yes, solo parenting is hard work. But the freedom’s good, too. by Laura Broadwell

Eleni and I were playing in the park the other day when I struck up a conversation with another mom. As we talked about the whims and follies of our precocious 5-year-olds, I casually mentioned that I was a single mother. “Oh, wow,” the mom said, her eyes widening with admiration. “I don’t know how you do it!” “Well, it’s hard sometimes,” I answered honestly, giving her my short and ready reply. “But Eleni’s a great kid, and the two of us have a lot of fun.” “Still,” the woman said, as she shook her head with wonder, “that’s so amazing. I don’t think I could do it.” In the four-plus years since I adopted Eleni, I’ve heard such comments a million times. Some people have called me “brave” for having chosen to adopt a baby and raise her on my own. Others have been “impressed” that I manage to keep sane while juggling the myriad pieces of our lives. Still others have deemed me “noble” or saintly, for reasons I can’t comprehend.

In truth, I’ll admit that being a single mother is hard, much harder than I ever imagined—and there are days when strong doses of courage, determination, organization, humility, and coffee get me by. But I’ll also confess that being the head of our little household—the CEO of our tiny clan—has had tremendous, unexpected rewards.

From the day I received Eleni, I’ve been her primary caregiver, her sole provider, and the one who’s set the values, pace, and tenor of our lives. I’ve also been the chief disciplinarian, the mom who lays down the rules but is flexible enough to bend them in a pinch. (“Ice cream before dinner? Why not? As long as you eat your peas!”) I’ve had the freedom, opportunity, and luxury of parenting my daughter without negotiation, distraction, or compromise—and I’ve grown to be a confident, self-reliant mom.

Being a party of two also has had advantages—of the fun and leisurely kind. For the most part, Eleni and I live a casual life, eating in front of the TV, hanging out in our PJ’s, talking and snuggling under the covers, like two kids at a slumber party. When we’re not doing errands, we can slip on a backpack and head to the park, a puppet show, or a museum on a whim, or hunker down with a book or video. There’s no one to answer to but ourselves.

When people ask me how on earth I manage as a single mom, I want to say I “do it” because I’m a responsible person who would never neglect her child. But when I stop to think about what what keeps me going, I think about Eleni. In the years that we’ve been a family, the two of us have learned to negotiate, compromise, and make our lives work in a way that suits our needs and personalities. Eleni has tested, tended, and healed the deepest places of a mother’s soul. And I’ve learned just how happy, strong, and resilient I can be, in spite of all the fear, fatigue, and worries that sometimes plague me.

As I look at our lives today, I realize that I’m not a superwoman, nor will I ever be. I’m a mom who’s learning to weather the challenges of life and drink in the rewards of raising an amazing child. It’s a wild ride sometimes, but Eleni and I are on the adventure together, breathlessly (and perhaps a bit cautiously) waiting to see what lies around the next bend.

Laura Broadwell is a writer and editor in Brooklyn, New York, and the author of the “Raising Eleni” column on She adopted her daughter in August 1999.

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