Sometimes people are very kind and tell me I’m a hero for getting through school as a single mom. Usually, it’s the people who didn’t see the nitty-gritty, up close, personal details of the train wreck I was throughout law school. Have you ever seen a person with anxiety, panic, depression, and PTSD go through intense and unrelenting pressure, uncertainty, and deep exhaustion for over three years? I’m here to tell you that it got ugly. When people tell me I’m a hero, it’s more generous than I deserve. Although I appreciate your kindness, I need to tell you all about the people who are my heroes:

1) My parents. They were worried when I started law school, and rightfully so, but when they saw that I was going forward with it they backed me up 110%. They lived far away but never stopped calling to check on me. They never stopped asking me about school and the kids and my life. They bent over backwards to help me financially with whatever they could spare. They would visit at least once a year and take care of my kids so I could study during regular daylight hours and sleep at night. They celebrated my mediocre grades as though I was hugely successful.

2) My professors, classmates, and the law school in general. How many law professors are not only tolerant of children in their classroom but welcoming to those children as well? How many law school students are patient with the little five-year-old girl putting together My Little Pony puzzles and handing out crayon drawings as gifts during class. How many professors are willing to laugh it off when the little boy watching Woody the Woodpecker laughs out loud? My environmental law professor once let my son come to the front of the class and tell everyone a joke he learned about littering. These professors and classmates not only welcomed my children but made them feel ten feet tall and brilliant.

A small handful of professors also took time to develop a relationship with me, to know me, encourage me, help me, and keep me from giving up. I love them. I am so grateful for them.

3) My aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends who gave financial and emotional support, helped watch my children during the crunch of final exams, and who didn’t criticize or judge me for my struggles.

4) The anonymous person who slipped that envelope of $700 into my mailbox and the countless angels who dropped off bags of food, Christmas presents, and gift cards to Target or Old Navy so I could buy new clothes for my kids.

5) The bishop(s) who periodically helped me with bills, food, and the fees for our counseling and therapy appointments.

6) My counselor, who helped me realize that it was okay not to apply for law review and okay not to be in the top half of my class. I didn’t want to be on law review, I was terrified that it would be too much for me, and incredible health professional taught me how to give myself permission not to do everything. He helped me accept that success in school would look different at 36 with two children than it did when I was 24 years old and had no children.

7) The friends who stayed my friends even though I was a sobbing, anxious, hysterical train wreck. I either neglected all my friends during law school or I burdened them with exhausting ramblings about my problems, fears, and anxieties. God bless all of you for your patience and love.

8) MY KIDS. They never complained. Really. They didn’t ever whine. They were impossibly brave. They trusted me to get us through difficult times even though I didn’t trust myself. They still tell me, on hard days, “You can do it, Mom, because we’re the family that does hard things and we never give up.”

So, it’s sweet when people say I’m a hero. It really is. The truth, however, is that every hero is an ordinary person with real problems and whose success depends on a network of other ordinary people. If you’re a single mother student, or if you are a person who is kind at your core and interested in helping single mothers, please join our community at Freedom for Resilient Women. The world needs as many ordinary heroes as it can get… and so do we.

Author: Lisa Sledge