This Mother’s Day I’ll probably celebrate in the usual way. I’ll sleep in. Around 11am I’ll be gently awakened to the aroma of chai tea at my bedside. There will be cards from my kids and husband and I’ll receive flowers and gifts, surrounded by family. After that, I’ll take several hours for myself and get a mani-pedi or relax with a book—whatever I want. But it wasn’t always like this. I’ve been a mom for almost 19 years, and for the first half of that, I was a single mom. Mother’s Day used to look very different then.

Mother’s Day is really hard on a single mom — especially those without a support system. That’s the kind I was. I had an abusive first marriage that turned into a bullying divorce. Six months before I finally walked out, my soon-to-be ex strong-armed me into relocating 2500 miles away from my friends and family, and after we officially split up, the custody arrangement forbid me to move back to my hometown. I was isolated and alone, raising my son, Dash. In those days, I had to carefully choose my battles and one of the casualties of the divorce was Mother’s Day. While moms across the continent were being celebrated by their families, I usually spent the day alone.

When my son was 5, I asked my ex if I could spend Mother’s Day with him, even though it wasn’t technically my day. He agreed, just this once, to give us the morning hours together, so Dash and I went out to breakfast. I knew from my waitressing days that restaurants were packed on Mother’s Day and since we didn’t have a lot of time, I chose an out of the way Mom n’ Pop’s. It was your basic greasy spoon, filled with old-timers, but we still felt fancy going out to eat. We both ordered pancakes and agreed that it was the best treat.

After enjoying some quality mom-son laughs together, our waitress came over, but instead of a cheque, she put down a note for my son. It was from the elderly couple that had been sitting at the table next to us. When they left a few minutes earlier we had exchanged smiles. They seemed as happy as me to watch my son enjoy his pancakes.

The note read>

“We bought your mother’s breakfast today on your behalf since you’re too young to do it. When you grow up, make sure you remember your mom on Mother’s Day. And if you ever see a little kid who needs a hand getting his mom something on this day, please help him out.”

“But Mom, how will I pay them back?” my sweet, beautiful son asked, wide-eyed, “I don’t even know who they are.”

“You don’t have to,” I explained, my eyes a little wide too, “You’ll just pay it forward someday, like they asked.”

I didn’t know it then, but Mother’s Day is as much about the child as it is about the mom. Kids need practice in appreciation—especially for their caregivers. Mother’s Day (and Father’s Day and all the rest of our celebrations) give our children the opportunity to practice gratitude. They need help learning to be mindful. These designated days are a part of teaching our children compassion and kindness. Celebrations, no matter how small, teach our kids the art of giving. This act of kindness was the first step in helping my son learn this lesson.

That Mother’s Day, Dash and I got lucky. I’m so grateful to those people, total strangers, who helped us honour the day. When I think back to my time as a single mom, it makes me appreciate all the single moms out there who go it alone every day. As moms, we’re all used to giving, but sometimes receiving can be hard to get our heads around—especially when you’re single. So, if you know a single mom this Mother’s Day, think about reaching out and giving her some support—I bet she’ll be moved by your gesture.

4 Ways to Support a Single Mom this Mother’s Day

  1. If you know a single mom, don’t assume she’s taken care of. A kind word, thoughtful note on how you’ve noticed what a great mom she is, a sweet treat, or other small token will mean the world to her.
  1. Kids usually make a Mother’s Day art project in school, but they tend to get a bit beat up on the way home, left in a backpack, and sometimes even forgotten despite best intentions. Like those strangers at our breakfast, giving a kid a helping hand can teach him a valuable life lesson about generosity and thoughtfulness and make a mom feel great at the same time.
  1. If you see a working mom, like your waitress, cashier, or any other mom on the job on Mother’s Day, be extra kind. She may not be a single mom, but she’s not with her kids on her big day. Leave a bigger tip, buy some long-stem roses to hand out, or even a drop a note to say “Thanks for spending Mother’s Day with us!”
  1. Mother’s Day love can come from anywhere. Every mom will appreciate the words, “Hey, thanks for raising kids that will no doubt become some of this country’s top citizens (even though they didn’t make it to the potty this morning). Good job, mama. You rock.”

And while you’re basking in Mother’s Day hugs from your little ones—don’t forget to thank your own mother, because, single mom or not, you’re still her baby.