Life with Gracie: Single moms gather to celebrate and honor one another

Joyce Amilcar lives with her 9-year-old daughter in a second-floor high-rise just off Peachtree Road in Buckhead.

It is a nice place and at 9 a.m. in the morning, when her daughter is away at school, and when Amilcar, a software salesperson, is waiting for the West Coast to wake up, it is especially quiet.

Little about her or her home even hints that Amilcar is a single mom and has been for nearly all of her daughter’s life.

ExploreBut she is hardly the stereotypical “baby mama’’ — poor black women on welfare — that many of us have come to think of.

Not only is Amilcar educated and financially stable, she is able to provide a relatively comfortable life for herself and her daughter.

That wasn’t, of course, always the case. Amilcar has had to fight mightily for where she is. It’s part of the reason the 30-year-old wanted to do something to honor other single mothers like herself.

And so early this year, after much prayer, hosted as many as 150 single mothers from across the Southeast at what she called the “Untangled Single Mothers” conference,” a day of pampering intermingled with sessions on healthy parenting and relationships, budgeting and networking.

Now let me hasten to say what that conference was not. It was not blanket approval for out-of-wedlock birth. Both Amilcar and I believe that a two-parent household is ideal, but for various reasons, many women are parenting alone.

That isn’t to say we believe as some do that all single mothers are bad. We both know better.

ExploreFor her part, Amilcar learned the hard way that the physical presence of a man in the home isn’t all that transforming.

Weeks before graduating from Florida State University in 2008, Amilcar learned she was pregnant and moved in with the baby’s father. Not long after, he started to abuse her, once punching her in the stomach and after their daughter was born, busting her lip.

Hoping they’d eventually marry, she refused to leave.

“I felt stuck,” she said. “I felt like I had to make it work and I was scared to leave.”

Then in the winter of 2010, she arrived home from church to find her and her daughter’s belongings packed. He didn’t want to be a family anymore. He’d already called her aunt to pick them up.

“I never wanted to be referred to as a baby mama,” she said. “I wanted to have a family so bad that I lost myself.”

Amilcar eventually got a new place, and an old used car to get to her new job.

“I got closer to God, started to value myself and pressed the reset button on my life,” she said.

In 2013, she decided to leave Coral Springs, Fla., and moved to Atlanta, where her brother provided temporary shelter.

Even with her work experience and a bachelor’s degree, it was hard to find employment until finally, she landed a sales position with a software company.

In 2015, Amilcar published “Push Forward as a Super Woman,” a book about her journey, hoping it would encourage other single mothers. Her pastor, Mirek Hufton at World Harvest Church, suggested she do more.

ExploreUnclear what that might be, she prayed for clear direction.

She was on a mission trip to South Africa with her church last year when she was struck by the number of single teenage mothers left to fend for themselves.

“The girls had to walk for miles to get clean water in the morning and were getting molested and raped on their way to the water well by older men in their village,” she said. “It broke my heart.”

It was then that Amilcar decided that she wanted to do something that would honor women like herself. Back home, she shared her vision with Hufton, his wife, Linda, and Faith Barnes, director of World Harvest’s Woman’s Ministry.

All of them gave their full support to the initiative to honor single mothers.

Jhoanny Peguero, a divorced mother of three children ages 22, 17 and 15, was among the first to register for the conference.

“The idea of listening and sharing stories with other single mothers is what initially attracted me to the conference,” she said. “Like Joyce, I feel like God wants us to help others, especially those who are abused.”

In many ways, Peguero, 42, of Roswell said her story is a mirror image of Amilcar’s. Not only was she abused for many years; after 20 years of marriage and several acts of infidelity from her husband, Peguero decided to leave her toxic marriage.

“I was committed to having a family,” Peguero said. “Plus, when you have kids and are not making much money, you feel trapped.”

If nothing else, that’s the one lesson Amilcar hopes women will take away from the March 25 conference.

“My daughter and I are the happiest we’ve ever been,” Amilcar said. “You don’t have to remain in a situation that is unhealthy for you. The journey may not be easy, but you can do it with the help of God, family and friends.”

In 1968, about 8.3 million children in the United States lived with only one parent. By 2015, that number had more than doubled to almost 20 million, or 27 percent of all children under 18.

That might not seem ideal, but is it really worse than our ideal — a married couple with one or more children? The families that Amilcar and Peguero have fought to build might hold the answer.

ExploreRelated: Single-father families outpace ones led by single mothers
ExploreRelated: Single mom draws on beard, dons ‘best dad outfit’ for son’s ‘Dads and Doughnuts’ event
ExploreRelated: Opening doors for metro Atlanta’s homeless
ExploreRelated: Atlanta single men fire back at single women