What I learned from growing up with a single parent

Growing up with a single parent is special, but it's not easy. If I've learned anything throughout my 23 years on this planet, it's that a single parent will do anything it takes to make you happy and give you the best possible life they can. But doing any major task alone is stressful and difficult; you'll have your rough patches that are unique to a single parent household. However, that doesn't mean growing up with a single parent is any worse than growing up with any other type of family. In fact, from my experience, it may even be better.

A single parent is often not home

I grew up the only daughter of a single mother, so it really was a unique, one-on-one relationship. (Yes, I love Gilmore Girls.) As I got older, I always knew I could go directly to her for any advice on any topic, from struggling friendships to sex. Nothing was off limits. But because she worked long hours to be able to provide for me, she didn't have the time or energy to do things that the average parent would do when I was younger. She wasn't able to take me to school in the mornings, she wasn't able to play much with me after grueling work weeks, and we never once sat down at the same table for a home-cooked meal.

To a person who grew up in a two-parent household with a bunch of siblings, this may seem pretty sad. And I'm not going to lie, parts of it did make me sad, especially when I compared my home life to other kids'. But not getting to see my mom all the time was also my "normal." Every family is different and has a different daily routine. When you're the child of a single parent, you get used to the fact that they can't always be there. But the best part of my day was always when she came home from work at seven o'clock and I could finally see her and hug her and jump on her. It made me deeply appreciate the moments we did have together, and it made them more precious to me.

Other people play a huge part in raising you

Since my mother couldn't always be there, the people who did do the usual parental activities with me were my aunt and my grandfather. My grandfather took me to and picked me up from school and made me all kinds of food special to our Armenian background. My aunt was a flight attendant, so on the weeks she was home and not in the skies, she would read to me (which ended up being the reason I fell in love with writing) and play made-up games. While my relationship with my mother was special to me because it was just the two of us as parent and child, it was my grandfather who gave me the comfort of home and my aunt who instilled in me a sense of wonder.

A single parent just has to work, work, work — there's no way around it. So while you sometimes miss out on spending time with your parent, you also get to grow up with a network of people around you who chip in and care about you. It wasn't only my grandfather and aunt who watched me and raised me; it was babysitters, too. To this day, I'm still good family friends with my favorite babysitter, who now has a husband and two kids. As an only child of a single parent, I got to branch out and keep lasting relationships with others, even if I didn't have the luxury of spending more time with my mom.

You sometimes doubt how much your parent cares

Like I said before, being the only child of a single parent isn't easy. They're gone a lot, and when you move along into your teen years and don't need to be under constant watch all the time, you can get very lonely. When I was a teen, I had my close group of friends that, to me, was my family. However, since my mom was always working and tired when she came home, I felt very isolated and distanced from her. No one's teenage years are easy — frankly, they suck. For me, though, teen angst and turbulent emotions were amplified because I often felt like my mom didn't care. I translated her absence and lack of communication into apathy, which really troubled me for a long time.

As an adult, I know now that she was far from apathetic as she worked relentlessly to provide me with anything I wanted. No family, no matter how many people it is composed of, is ever 100 percent happy 100 percent of the time. The kind of unhappiness I dealt with was particular to a single parent home, but other kids have their own kind of unhappiness with their home life, too. It's just different.

It's stressful for the both of you

When you're a child, all of your attention is focused on yourself and your life. As a kid and then a teenager, you don't take a lot of time to imagine life from another person's perspective; you zero in on what you want and what you feel. But there comes a time when you realize that being the child of a single parent isn't all about you. You may go through some rough patches because of the structure of your home life, but guess what: your parent isn't exactly hanging out on a beach every day either. For me, that revelation came at a very critical moment in my adolescence.

Since a young age, I've always struggled with depression and anxiety — it's just part of who I am. My mother knew this, too, as I had been in child therapy as early as eight years old. So one day when I was about 14 and I refused to answer any of her phone calls — for whatever stupid teenage reason — she absolutely lost it on me when she came home. She bolted upstairs to my room, busted through the door and was visibly freaked out. I had never seen her so upset and scared before. She had thought the worst, that something had happened to me, and it was then that I realized how hard it is for her to be a parent all on her own. I learned it wasn't just about me. I learned my mother had feelings, pressures, and stresses too, which is something you don't think about when you're young and your parents seem invincible to you.

You learn independence at a young age

The negative side of growing up with a single parent is feeling a sense of neglect at times. The positive side of that same issue, though, is that you learn independence at a very young age. Since your parent is often away from home and working, you have to grow up a little bit faster than your peers. You have to be the adult in the house when your parent isn't around. Because my mom was frequently absent, I had to learn how to be strong on my own. I had to learn how to be responsible for myself and for others. When my mom couldn't field an electrician's visit because she was at work, I had to do it. I also had to make sure the dogs were fed and properly taken care of. Simultaneously, it was about adopting a lot of self-discipline, because I needed to be the one who made sure all my work was done. My mom didn't pester me about my responsibilities because she had her own. As a result, I became more mature more quickly and learned things about the world and about growing up that my peers didn't learn until much later. Thick skin and independence is absolutely invaluable as you become an adult.

You realize exactly how hard they work for you

Ever since I was born, my mother has worked her ass off. I literally don't know how she did it and still continues to do it. We've always lived in northern New Jersey, so she has always commuted into New York City for work. Her daily routine consists of waking up at 3:30 a.m. to get ready, feed the dogs breakfast, and then make it on to the 5:30 a.m. bus. She works a full day and then gets home during the late evening and repeats this process day in, day out, using the weekends not for relaxation, but to do errands and keep the house running.

When I was little, I often asked the question, "Why isn't she here for me?" Now that I'm grown, I look at my mother in awe and ask the question, "How the hell does she do it all?" Not only is it impressive from on objective standpoint, but it is the best model for hard work that I've ever seen. Watching her work so hard ceaselessly has pushed me to do my absolute best. I'm always looking for more work to do and I never think that anything is impossible so long as you keep grinding away at it. I always want to give as much of myself as I possibly can to my work, and even still, I feel like I pale in comparison to the effort my mother has put in over the years. She's taught me that nothing worth having in life comes easily, and it's one of the most valuable lessons I've ever learned.

A two-parent household isn't automatically better

Even now when I tell people that I'm an only child of a single mother, at least half of them project a sense of pity for me. They ask me about how I felt about "missing out" on having a father and if I ever think about how much better it would have been if I'd had one. Honestly, that is one of the most offensive and insulting things that people have ever said to me. By starting that conversation, they imply that somehow my mother wasn't enough for me, which is so far from the truth that the Hubble telescope can't even see it.

Growing up with a single parent came with its challenges, but I also grew up seeing what other kids' family lives were like. If I'm being frank, a lot of two-parent households I knew of were way worse than my own situation. Parents would fight or be estranged from each other, causing problems for their children. I've seen two-parent households with much less income than my single parent household had (not that we're rich, though), simply because they lacked motivation to do better in life. So no, just because a person has two parents doesn't mean they're better off than someone with a single parent. I've seen parents who are absolutely lazy and dysfunctional, and I've seen my mom who is a go-getter and a highly moral, kind person. You tell me what's better.

They're always going to be your superhero

My mom and I don't have a perfect relationship, but there's not one day that goes by that I don't see her as my superhero. I still deal with lingering feelings of neglect sometimes, but I also have a friend — not just a mother — that I can always go to. She doesn't know all the answers, but to me she is infinitely wise. She can't be everywhere at once, but she can do anything. If I've learned anything from growing up with a single mom, it's how to be a strong woman, a woman who is not afraid to strive and persevere when life gets tough, and a woman who will never back down even on her weakest day.