There is not one specific circumstance that results in a single parent household. Senior Emma Sykes, senior Dakota Navarro and junior Aaliyah Victoria are three Bonita Vista High (BVH) students who are children of divorce, living in a single parent household. A single parent household is when the head of a household is unmarried or legally separated and has children below 18 years old, for whom they have custody or joint custody.
“When divorce happens, your whole world falls apart and everyday you’re left to pick up the pieces little by little. The entire time you have a million other things running around. Some pieces are bigger than others and sometimes you don’t have help,” Sykes said.
A MOTHER’S SUPPORT
In Sykes, Navarro and Victoria’s household, the sole breadwinner and caretaker is their mother. More specifically, Sykes’s mother is a retired veteran who served in the Navy for 20 years. She is now a college student, studying at Southwestern college to become a nurse. Sykes describes that their mother’s fibromyalgia—a chronic condition that can cause pain and tenderness throughout the body—has made the act of balancing being a single mother and a college student more difficult.
“She has fibromyalgia, so she’s doing a lot all the time. I admire that about her, but all she can do is try to deal with everything. Seeing her taking on [all these challenges]; it can be hard,” Sykes said.
The process of divorce made me grow up.
— junior Aaliyah Victoria
Like Sykes, when Navarro was growing up, they remember their mother facing challenges of balancing the pursuit of her career with maintaining a stable household. Recognizing the sacrifices their mother has made, Navarro is thankful for all of the work that their mother put into raising them.
“My mom is the breadwinner of our family. She’s the sole provider in our house and she does everything for us,” Navarro said. “My mom has been a single mother for most of my life, and she’s always been a hard working and independent person.”
Navarro’s mother has been working as a master scheduler for Kaiser Permanente for around 30 years. As a result of their mom’s work hours making it difficult for her to be fully present, Navarro had to become independent at an early age. Despite their mother’s commitment to her work, she remained a caring figure in their life when they were growing up.
“She did have odd hours at the time, but it wasn’t impactful because I was self sufficient enough to be asleep by the time she got home from work,” Navarro said. “As a kid, you don’t understand what’s normal, so it was normal to be making dinner for myself. Even if she wasn’t there all the time, she was still a supportive mom,” Navarro said.
Similar to Navarro’s mom, Victoria’s mother works at Kaiser Permanente as a receptionist. When Victoria was younger, her mother was a stay-at-home mom because her father was in the Navy. Although Victoria’s mom is their family’s breadwinner, she is not the only decision maker.
“For the most part, it’s not necessarily a one person thing. Since the separation, it’s more of ‘how can we make this work together?’ rather than one person [deciding]. She makes things work as a team with my siblings and I, rather than only her making the final decision,” Victoria said.
Despite the dynamic that Victoria’s mom and her two siblings try to create, she mentions how her mom seems to struggle with the guilt of the separation. Victoria expresses how hard it is for her to witness, especially from someone as selfless as her mom.
“Being a parent, there is a lot of selflessness that goes into it. You’re providing for two. I feel like—especially when the separation was more recent and it was finalized—coming from my perspective, it felt as if she [took] some guilt and I wouldn’t want that,” Victoria said.
A FAMILY OF DIVORCE
While Victoria and Navarro have been accustomed to living in a single parent household throughout their childhood, Sykes has a recent and vivid memory of their parents’ divorce. They recall miniscule changes in their father’s behavior that led them to speculate about their parents’ marriage.
“He would never come up the stairs to tell us goodnight, but rather he would tell us goodnight as we were going up the stairs. He kept his shoes on; he would sit with his feet dangling off the couch and he would still have sandals on,” Sykes said.
These changes in behavior accumulated, so Sykes was not surprised when their parents broke the news of their divorce in Nov. of 2022. Unlike Sykes, Navarro remembers very little about their parents divorce. They tell their story in a much more casual manner, seeing as the wounds of their separation are not as fresh.
“My parents divorced when I was three years old. I don’t remember why [they divorced], but I think it had to do with a money dispute and they weren’t a good match,” Navarro said.
Ever since their divorce, Navarro’s parents rarely speak to each other outside of discussing parental responsibilities. For example, they will communicate to arrange which choir performances they would attend so that they can support Navarro’s work as a choir tech.
“If [the choir performances] have separate dates, then [my parents] definitely coordinate which date to go on so that they won’t see each other. I think that it’s the funniest thing,” Navarro said.
While Navarro talks about their parents divorce in simple terms, Victoria’s parents’ separation is more complicated. While they had physically separated, when Victoria was younger, they had not legally separated.
“They had split up when I was two. They never officially filed the paperwork. Then, they got back together when they got pregnant with my sister and then they recently split up officially about two years ago,” Victoria said.
As a military family, Victoria explains she and her dad have “rocky” communication. She explains that her father’s work makes communication with him unpredictable especially when they have long periods of time without communication while he is at work.
“My dad is in the military, so he has been in and out. His schedule is unpredictable because he has to go out to sea where we will not have contact with him for a while. Even if we do, it’s very rocky,” Victoria said.
A CHANGING DYNAMIC
While some wounds are still fresh and others have healed over, the transition into being a single family household will have lasting effects on a family dynamic. Whether positive or negative, Sykes, Navarro and Victoria have endured difficult emotional changes to their family relationships. Sykes explains that they have not been given a reason for why their relationship with their dad has shifted.
“Beforehand, he was still my dad. I was his child, I was his baby. Now, I don’t know how long [he has] been feeling like this,” Sykes said. “I haven’t had any moments of self blame, but something tells me I’m entitled to an answer and I haven’t gotten one,” Sykes said.
Despite their frustration, Sykes has seen their relationship with their mother change in a positive light. After finding out about their divorce, Sykes now better understands their mother in a way they had not noticed in the past.
“Looking back I’m like, ‘This was a long time coming’. The breaks were already there. It brought my mom and I closer and it’s made me more appreciative of everything she had to do when I was a kid,” Sykes said.
Similarly, Sykes’s relationship with their younger brother has become more intertwined. They explain that prior to the divorce, they were not close with their brother. Now, Sykes is a role model for their brother.
“I feel like he’s taking cues from me, so I’m always trying to put my best foot forward. I feel like our relationship has become much more stilted and aware,” Sykes said.
Navarro also had to work on improving relationships with their family members. Originally, Navarro found it difficult to fully trust their stepfather because they did not grow up together. As time passed, Navarro became more acquainted with their stepfather. Nowadays, Navarro considers him to be a genuine third parent in their family.
“It was hard to talk about him with my mom since she was already married to him,” Navarro said. “Now, I’m glad he’s become a part of my family. He even brought a dog that I’ve grown close to.”
Growing up, Navarro’s half sister would care for them by driving them home from school, cooking for them and assisting them with homework, amongst other responsibilities. Despite Navarro’s appreciation for their sister, they felt deprived of a sister in exchange for a second mother.
“I could never connect with my sister when I was a kid because she was too focused on balancing her school life, caring for me and caring for her other family. She was less like a sister and more like a mom at that point in my life,” Navarro said.
Similar to Navarro’s half sister, Victoria feels like a co-parent in her family. Along with Victoria’s older brother, they all make family decisions together. This breaks from a traditional familial relationship where only two parents make decisions.
“Typically, decisions are more hushed and your parents make the decisions for you. But being able to have that opinion is really nice,” Victoria said. “The process of divorce made me grow up.”
Victoria finds positive and negative aspects of this freedom. Over the years, Victoria has become a mother figure to her younger sister in some ways. This is a responsibility that Victoria has taken on graciously.
“I feel like the instability has pushed me to make sure my sister has the stability I did not. When it comes to my sister, she’s like my baby,” Victoria said.
A MATURE MINDSET
Being surrounded by people who have endured the same changes causes a sense of co-dependence within families. Sykes explains that they must show emotional maturity when reacting to change because their family relies on them.
“It’s hard because I feel like I’m jumping the gun and I’m trying to get to the ‘I’ve accepted this, I’m healing from it,’ because it’s not appropriate for me to be angry. My family keeps saying that it’s okay but I think, ‘you say that, but it’s not okay for me to be angry in this house,’” Sykes said.
In addition to emotional difficulties, Sykes has also experienced their home life seep into their school life. They explain that their grades and their social life at school has suffered as a result of their parents’s divorce.
“It’s hard to care about school when your family is constantly dealing with something new. It’s really hard to be like ‘I have to write this essay for my grades, but my dad doesn’t live with us anymore.’ I feel like it’s consuming everything,” Sykes said.
Navarro’s circumstance has also played a role in the way they approach school. While their ever-changing family size makes them feel the need to cherish their family time, Navarro sees their school involvement as an escape.
“I think of [being a choir tech] as an escape from my real house since it gets a little noisy at home. I think my friends here understand me better,” Navarro said.
On the other hand, it has been hard for Victoria to juggle her home life and her school activities because she is involved in various BVH extracurriculars. She expresses that it does not consume her life, but there is always a subtle weight on her back.
“It can be very stressful at times and overwhelming. It’s more difficult when you have to fix your schedule around your parents rather than them being able to support you more,” Victoria said “It was hard maintaining balance and making sure it’s not centered around my own self-interest.”
Living in a single parent household caused Sykes, Navarro and Victoria to develop the maturity to understand financial struggles. Sykes, in particular, noted a change in her family’s spending habits after their divorce.
“Both of my parents grew up in poverty in the South, so both of them are very good at hiding any financial struggles,” Sykes said. “But now, my mom will talk about a budget that she hasn’t spoken of before.”
Sykes’s mother primarily supports their family from the money she saved up during her time in the military, with some help from their dad. As a result of a tighter budget, Sykes’s family eats out less and they cook dinner more often when their mother’s fibromyalgia causes her to have limited mobility.
“It’s more common now that we cook at home, because it’s too expensive. That was never an issue before and it is now,” Sykes said. “I like making spaghetti because it’s really good. Sometimes my mom will come down and she’ll sit in the chair in the family room and we’ll talk as I’m cooking, it’s really nice.”
As a kid, Navarro’s culinary skills weren’t as developed as Sykes’. As opposed to spaghetti, Navarro would make boxed meal-kits for themselves when they were alone.
“Since my family didn’t have a babysitter for me, I was often home alone making myself ‘Kid Cuisine.’ That mac and cheese may have not been the best thing for me, but it still holds a special place in my heart,” Navarro said.
Navarro would eventually become the babysitter that they never had, finding babysitting jobs around their neighborhood in order to pull in money. To Navarro, it was relatively easy cash and they received the pleasure of spending time with little kids.
“The apartments that I lived in as a kid was a really safe neighborhood for me and I would go to my neighbors houses and offer my babysitting services,” Navarro said.
For Victoria’s family, their mom started working to handle their financial challenges. Though Victoria has not had to take up a job to support her family, she has been an emotional rock for her mom.
“Letting her in more on what I’m going through, helps her open up. Sometimes I think my mom feels like ‘I can’t say anything because they’re going through their own stuff,’ but if we work on it together, it helps,” Victoria said.
A SUSTAINABLE SUPPORT SYSTEM
In addition to their parents’ financial support, navigating a life in a single parent household requires support from other family members, in both social and emotional aspects. For Sykes, the person they look to for support is their grandmother on their mom’s side.
“She lives in Missouri and she drove out for the holiday season to help my mom out. She would take my brother and I to school, whenever my mom was having flare ups and doing things that emotionally and physically my mom couldn’t,” Sykes said.
Ultimately for Sykes, a part of the healing and growing process in a single parent household is personal time. They explain that alone time at night is their ideal place when they can get away from all the social and emotional pressures of a changing family dynamic.
“I’ve been staying up later because in the middle of the night, it’s completely dark and I can pretend that my parents’ marriage is fine and everything is fine,” Sykes said. “I put up that curtain and it makes it really hard to go to sleep and it makes it really hard to wake up.”
On the other hand, Navarro mentioned feeling jealousy towards their cousin, whose parents’ marriage is still intact, while they were growing up. To them, their cousin’s entire homelife seemed more privileged.
“I feel my cousins were better off, they had both parents in their house at all times and it was hard seeing a good family household while I was eight, serving myself food,” said Navarro. “I was always jealous of my cousins because I felt like they had something that I didn’t.”
Navarro eventually got over their jealousy by recognizing the support that they get from their mother and father. Though this support comes separately and looks different from their cousin, recognizing their parents’ contributions helped them heal.
“I came to the realization that my mom is always going to be there for me. My dad, too. No matter how far apart they are, they’re still here for me,” Navarro said.
For Victoria, emotional support comes from her mom’s side of the family. Similar to Sykes, she finds a unique connection to the female role models she has in her family.
“My mother’s side of the family has been very supportive about everything that I do and although they are not parental figures, they are people that I definitely look up to, such as my tía and my grandmother,” Victoria said.
Victoria mentions that a way for her to escape her struggles is involving herself in extracurriculars. While stressful, she is a part of Green Team, Junior Optimist and the BVH dance team, Get to The Pointe.
“I overcommit myself and I get involved in whatever needs help. Committing myself to different things is where I find a better outlook,” Victoria said.
Regardless of how they have dealt with the effects of a single-parent household, Sykes, Navarro and Victoria’s journey have caused them to mature. Often, it is not outwardly obvious that someone is in a single-parent household. For that reason, Sykes explains that the best way to support students in a single parent household is not with stigma and discomfort, but with respect.
“If someone is going through this or if you know someone is going through this, it sucks and it’s hard,” Sykes said. “But give them some patience and have a little grace because their whole world is kind of imploding in on itself.”