mother and daughterWhat do you do when the odds are against you? When statistics predict failure in spite of your best intentions, how do you react? What follows is a story of how my children and I weathered the hardships and handicaps of single parenting to beat the odds.

Born and raised in a rural part of Africa, I arrived in North America from an entirely different culture and very naive. As customary in my home village I married quite young. That marriage didn’t work out however, so I was faced with raising three children on my own, with very little money.

My greatest challenge was meeting my children’s needs without sacrificing quality time with them. Spending time with them was crucial because we had been separated for eight years and, as a result, were more like strangers when we reunited. Preparing to have my children live with me, I worked two jobs and freelanced to raise the funds I needed to fly them from Nigeria.

Once they arrived, we needed all the time we could spend together. I quit the second job. But we also needed enough money for rent, food, and other living expenses. Credit was not an option, so I had to go back to working two jobs with frequent overtime.

I only saw my children for brief moments in the mornings as we hurried through breakfast. The cost of working so much meant that I only saw my children for brief moments in the mornings as we hurried through breakfast and out the door. They came home to an empty apartment and waited for hours for me to arrive home. They could not participate in extracurricular activities because they had no transportation. Some nights they were in bed by the time I reached home. I had no energy left to look at anything they brought home from school, much less to check their homework. To add insult to injury, the few minimum wage dollars I made were wasted on fast food, since I didn’t have time to cook. It wasn’t long before they began to struggle with their school work and it showed in their grades. I had to come up with other options.

I presented the situation to my children during our weekly family time and we unanimously voted for me to quit the second job so I could be home in the evenings. We brainstormed for ways to save money and for inexpensive activities for our time together. By trimming our budget and stocking up on things when they were on sale, we were able to save money while doing things together. We went to the farmer’s market together on Saturday mornings and trimmed coupons.

We all loved pizza but could not afford it. A bread-making course I took earlier came in handy. I brought out my recipes and notes. Before long we were making our own pizza and pastry.

Friday became “Pizza in front of the TV night”

My children started the dough and tomato sauce when they arrived home from school. By the time I reached home, the dough was ready. We had fun adding personal touches. With a few cans of soft drink, our very own garlic bread sticks and a bowl of tossed salad, we had an “all you can eat” feast in front of the TV. In those days Friday night was comedy night on local stations. We did not have cable, but didn’t miss it. Our TV time was limited to a few hours a week because of homework and chores.

I went to school two nights a week to finish my bachelor’s degree. That also became a family affair as we all went to my college campus together. My children did their homework in the library while I attended classes. Eventually, I found housecleaning jobs we did on weekends.

We didn’t have everything we wanted, but we did have most of what we needed. Today, as I look back on our struggles I can see that our sacrifices paid off. Two of my children are now engineers, the third is a computer specialist.

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