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Sheryl Sandberg's Mistake Is Every Single Mom's Gain

Photograph by Facebook

Over Mother's Day weekend, Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook, and the author of "Lean In," posted a very moving essay dedicated to single mothers. In it, she acknowledged that she got parts of "Lean In" all wrong.

Sandberg's relatively new role as single mom, after the heartbreaking death of her beloved Dave, has has exposed her to the frail nature and insecure existence single moms endure each and every day in our nation.

"I did not understand how often I would look at my son's or daughter's crying face and not know how to stop the tears. How often situations would come up that Dave and I had never talked about and that I did not know how to handle on my own. What would Dave do if he were here?"

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I have been a single mom and have been a living example of some of the statistics she included in her post.

"Forty percent of families headed by a single mother in the United States live in poverty, compared to just 22 percent of families headed by a single father and 8 percent of married couple families. Single parent families headed by women of color face even more barriers: 46 percent of families headed by black and Hispanic single mothers live in poverty," she said.

Photograph by Instagram

Up until last year, I received state assistance in the form of food stamps, Medicaid and social security benefits for my son. My son has Down syndrome and, when he was born, I made a decision to stay home with him and to work from home to keep my eyes on his developmental progress. I wanted to experience my son's growth firsthand to learn his needs and challenges.

These mothers work tirelessly to provide their children with the best they can offer, often neglecting everything else in their lives like sleep, healthy foods and recreational activities.

As Sandberg shared in her post, paid family leave is either not available or very limited to families and single mothers, who often lack job security and work jobs with low wages.

"For many single parents, there is no safety net. Thirty-five percent of single mothers experience food insecurity, and many single mothers have more than one job—and that does not count the job of taking care of their children. A missed paycheck or an illness can present impossible choices," she wrote.

Still, there is some good news: A very high-profile woman who suffered an incredible and unfortunate loss is using her platform to share her story and confess her mistake.

Unlike me, Sandberg is truly a single mom. She lost her husband, her kids lost their father, a year ago. I, on the other hand, am a co-parent (though, admittedly, with far fewer resources than her. Still.) I know several single moms who don't have co-parents, financial resources or community to assist when needed. These mothers work tirelessly to provide their children with the best they can offer, often neglecting everything else in their lives like sleep, healthy foods and recreational activities.

For the record, I am largely a supporter of the ideas presented in "Lean In." I believe wholeheartedly that we need women to speak up and share their ideas, compete for leadership roles and climb the corporate ladder. I also know what's going through the mind of a woman who might not go for a promotion because her kid's schedule will conflict with new work demands. There's nothing as stressful as needing more money and knowing that, while additional earnings will pay for the sitter, they don't pay for the time you lose as a parent. The choices and trade-offs are endless for single working moms.

I hope that our nation will begin to understand how important and valuable it is to create environments and systems that help our mothers and their children know they matter.

The ability to make ends meet seems to slowly decline with each passing day. The cost of living has increased drastically while wages have decreased. People are working longer hours for less pay, and they're retiring at a later age. All of these events impact single moms more acutely than any other demographic.

One relatively recent development has supported the very difficult task of raising children alone, and that is the Affordable Care Act. Due to Obamacare, millions of people, including children and adults living in poverty, have access to healthcare, removing one less fear from the minds of single parents. This is no small feat, and it should be acknowledged. And even as some states, mostly poor states in the South, refused to expand Medicaid as outlined in the ACA, there has been progress. Sandberg suggests further changes:

"We need to rethink our public and corporate workforce policies and broaden our understanding of what a family is and looks like. We need to build a world where families are embraced and supported and loved no matter how they fit together. We need to understand that it takes a community to raise children and that so many of our single mothers need and deserve a much more supportive community than we give them. We owe it to them and to their children to do better. We must do more as leaders, as coworkers, as neighbors, and as friends."

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I'm with Sandberg on these ideas all the way. I hope that our nation will begin to understand how important and valuable it is to create environments and systems that help our mothers and their children know they matter. Security is something that is experienced at a visceral level. When a mother doesn't feel her children are safe in every way, it births an anxiety and fear within her that no words can express. This is not healthy or good for the mother or her children. We can do better and thanks to Sandberg, we can each lean in and help.

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