W. Somerset Maugham famously said that “the only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you”. So, when Emmy Rossum picked up Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Option B, (which details the pains, struggles, and triumphs she’s experienced after losing her husband and becoming a single parent), she found herself reflecting on her own upbringing.
So much so that the Shameless star decided to pen an emotional essay about life as the child of a single mother, describing it as a “public thank you note, of sorts”.
“I had a single mum. I have a single mum,” she writes on her Facebook page. “This isn’t a secret. Growing up in a school – and a world – filled with mostly two parent units was difficult for me.”
Rossum, whose parents split before she was born, continues: “Father's Day still is difficult for me. I'm not really sure how to celebrate. In the weeks leading up to it, I sense it coming like a wave approaching. Sometimes I try to ignore it – but the ads in the paper or online banner ads for ‘Macy’s Fathers Day Cologne Sale!’ and restaurants selling ‘Father’s Day Brunch Mimosas!’ can make that pretty tricky.
“Sometimes, I take my mom to brunch and get her a present, to show her how much I value her. She really was both a mother and a father for me. I don't like her to know that it still causes me pain – 30 years later – lest she feel somehow that she wasn't enough.
“She was always enough. She is enough. She wasn’t perfect, no one is, but for me she was the best mum ever.”
Rossum – now 30 – goes on to explain that many schools persist in holding Father-Daughter dances, and encouraging children to create Father’s Day presents and pen missives about their dads. All of which, understandably, is ostracising to students who hail from single-parent families.
“Some traditions are really hard for those of us who don’t have,” she says. “Even today, the idea of no father/daughter dance at my wedding. No father to walk me down the aisle. All of these ‘traditions’ are painful reminders that inadvertently re-injure us, causing a feeling of loss, jealously (of others who have what I didn’t), anger and confusion. Usually leading to us feel somehow inadequate.”
Rossum continues: “The statistics have only just get harder. This is two-fold. It's bad and good.
“So, there are more single mothers (and parents) now than ever. Today, one in four children are being raised without a father. Almost half of these are divorced or separated. A third were never married or ‘born out of wedlock’. (Side note: Can we get rid of the term ‘out of wedlock’ please? It feels very antiquated. Although, my parents were never married and being called a ‘bastard’ growing up was particularly painful too so I guess I’ll take ‘out of wedlock’ over ‘bastard’ any day.)”
However Rossum goes on to say there can be an “upside”, saying: “But if there’s any upside to this widespread loss, it is knowing that there are more kids that are LIKE YOU. And LIKE ME. And now there’s a place to talk about all this stuff. And lots of other stuff.
“See, when I was growing up, having one parent often felt very unique. There were only one or two other kids in my entire school who had a similar situation who knew what that was like. And mostly it was kids who had lost a parent to death, not just a parent who didn’t want to stick around. But still it tied us together, a friendship built on a strong, invisible bond that no one else could really understand.
“Because when you're going through something or when you live with something like that, most people don't know what to say... so most don't say anything at all. And that makes it feel even more isolating. But, there are some who do. There are some who reach out and ask how you are and don't expect you just respond with the usual ‘I'm great! How are you?’”
Rossum ends her essay, which at time of writing had thousands of likes, on a note of gratitude.
“I suppose this is a public thank you note of sorts,” she says. “To my friends, who write me on father’s day and check in to see how I’m doing. To my therapist, who has helped me through things in my life and bolstered my spirit and self-confidence. To my mother, who was and is enough.
“To Sheryl, for leading with openness and honesty and establishing OPTIONB.com, an online community where people can connect and build resilience. There are areas to discuss not just this but sexual assault, health, grief and loss, hate and violence… AND RESILIENCE.
“So, you’re not alone. To quote Sheryl’s book: ‘Option A is not available. So let's just kick the s**t out of option B.’”
Read her full Facebook post here.
Images: Rex Features