Being a single parent can be tough. It can be even tougher when you're coping with serious health issues.
Allison Brown and her husband have been separated for some time, but they co-parented their son, Jed, equally up until two years ago.
Simultaneously she has antiphospholipid syndrome, which makes her prone to blood clots, and as such, she's already had two pulmonary embolisms — one right after Jed was born.
It was also recently discovered that she has a genetic oddity on the BRACA2 gene and a family history of breast cancer, so she's made the decision to have a prophylactic double mastectomy in 2018.
Allison and Jed Brown. All photos via Allison Brown.
Jed wants to be with her in the hospital, and while she's always been open with him about her health issues, this feels like uncharted territory. He's been with her through illnesses before, but this surgery will change how she looks and no doubt have an emotional impact, so she's apprehensive about letting him see the aftermath.
"I'm not entirely sure what the 'right' thing to do is," Allison writes in an email, "but I go back to one of our family reminders: We can do what we can do. And sometimes we can do hard things."
As it turns out, Allison isn't alone in her concern. Many families struggle with knowing what the "right" thing to do is, but they still manage to #familygreatly.
The truth is, there isn't one "right way" to be a parent. And, through her relationship with her son, Allison's come to realize that.
She cherishes Jed, and together they've successfully navigated some difficult times. But mostly she tries to savor every moment with him that she can.
"He is kind, he is moral and thoughtful, he is just a lovely person a lot of the time," writes Allison. "He is working hard to be responsible and I really appreciate that. I think we are very close, in part because we are a household of two, in part because I'm pretty unflappable."
Jed on the soccer team.
Of course, as Jed grows up, she's realizing he doesn't need her as much. It's a hard reality, but she knows it's what needs to happen.
"I know I'm not all he could ever need nor should I be anymore," explains Allison. "Life is bigger, and his world is wider."
But even though Jed's a teenager now, they've maintained their tight bond thanks to a few unique traditions.
For example, every night at dinner, they hold hands and share a "moment of gratitude," which can be anything that happened in their day that they're grateful for. Since Allison can't be there all the time, it's a great way for them to reconnect.
She also makes sure to be there for all the big events, like Jed's soccer games and choir concerts.
She wishes she could be around more often to encourage him to stop staring at phone/computer/television screens all day, but that's likely a struggle that would exist whether she worked or not.
Jed and Allison Brown.
And really, at the end of the day, Allison believes she is enough for Jed because she's proud of the man he is becoming.
"The world is big, and there are a million ways to be successful and measure success," she writes.
Time with your kids goes by fast — Allison knows this better than most. So instead of worrying about the future, she hopes parents, like herself, can stay in the present with them as long as they can. After all, that's what truly matters with family.
Life may throw you curveballs along the way, but as long as you can come back and share a moment with your kids, you're nailing parenthood.
It doesn't matter if you're a family of two or 10, if you're celebrating around a big Christmas tree or eating leftover pizza while watching your favorite show — if you're spending time together, that's what makes a great family.
This holiday season, Allison and Jed will be taking their traditional trip to the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago to see the lights festival. It's just something that makes the month of December a little more special for them.
Families are made by these traditions that make them unique, no matter how big or small they are. And that uniqueness outshines perfection every day of the week.