The Shriver Report – How I Raised Two Children, Single, Living Paycheck to Paycheck

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How I Raised Two Children, Single, Living Paycheck to Paycheck


By Debra Steen

I have to laugh because lately I’ve been known to say my youngest son will be off my payroll as of May of this year. Why? Because after being a single mom since he was seven and my oldest son was 13, I will have raised them both on my own and funded their college education. My sons are now 28 and 22. This didn’t come easy. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, but the one thing in my life I will never regret.

Being a single mother comes with a lot of guilt, fear and tears, but also with more love and strength than I ever knew I was capable of giving. I had to be both mom and dad in times when I questioned everything about me as a woman, even having the strength to get out of bed and make it through another day.

I grew up in the traditional All-American family so I had no idea I would ever have to do it all on my own. I didn’t want my sons to feel any different from friends who had the traditional family of both mom and dad together living happily ever after. I wanted them to feel that same security and I knew that I, alone, was the person who was responsible to provide that sense of security for them. That security had to come in every way possible which meant physical, emotional, and financial.

So how did I do it alone? I worked harder than I ever thought I was capable. At times, I worked two jobs while balancing everything else two parents did together to make it work. No one can understand unless they’ve walked in your shoes.

I was smart enough to know the meaning and sensibility of a budget. Yet, when you’re in it alone as a single mom, there is always something that wasn’t figured into that budget. I have been fortunate to have a full-time job with health benefits, but at times, that wasn’t enough so I waited tables on weekends just for the extra money to pay for those unexpected bills. When my son was young, I worked weekends and took him to work with me so I wouldn’t have to worry about daycare. I accepted overtime, even as recent as this month, so that I could make my youngest son’s last college tuition payment.

At 51, I’m silent when people talk about retiring. I can’t imagine what it will feel like. Having raised and educated two sons completely on my own hasn’t left much for me to save or to even think about retiring in any near future. I keep hoping social security will still be intact. Yet that’s okay. I didn’t finish college nor have I climbed any corporate ladder, but I am a mom. I’ve raised both of my sons entirely on my own. I am proud of myself. We did it together. And yes, I’m smiling.


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