By Dana Thompson
A copy of Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth slides closed with a soft rustle upon the bed. Its 10:30 p.m. and Daphne Perry’s “me time” has ended early again as she doses off for the night. It’s probably a good thing… she has to wake up soon.
Perry has been a single mother of two for about six years.
“As a single parent, you don’t have a choice. You have to do both. I must have a job to support my children,” she says of her employment at the University of Dallas.
July will mark her ninth year in the Human Resources department. But this is not her first time on campus; she graduated from UD in 1999.
“Life took me down a different path for awhile,” she says of the interim between graduation and her return in 2003. “When I came back to Texas, I saw that the university had an opening and applied.”
Perry manages the benefits program for university employees and the department’s intern program. Her boss, Janis Townsend, is the director of Human Resources. “I’ve worked with her since I came here in 2005,”says Townsend. “She’s a great employee who picks things up easily and always wants to do the right thing. She’s very compassionate and it enables her to work very well with anyone.”
Morning comes early in Garland. Daphne is awake each morning by 5:15 a.m. That’s before sunrise in any season. Her daughter Cecilia, 12 ½, and her son Jude, 10 ½, join her for breakfast and each make their own lunches before heading off to school. The first bus comes for Cecilia at 6.25 a.m. The second at 7 is for Jude. They attend local math and science magnet schools.
It’s a 45-minute commute from her home in Garland to her office in Carpenter. Here, as might be expected, Daphne is surrounded by pictures of her children and numerous vases of deathless sunflowers. The space is a genuine reflection of her personality.
Daphne works until 5 p.m., which means she cannot be there to pick her children up from school or greet them when they come home. They ride the bus and have their own keys.
“Transportation is the biggest problem,” says Daphne of the to-and-from grind of a single mom. “When my parents were younger, we got a lot of help from them. They would be there with the children until I got home.“
These days, the kids make it home just fine on their own and begin their daily list of chores. “I call them every day in the afternoon to make sure that they arrived home OK and that they are doing what they’re suppose to do,” says Daphne, glancing at the phone. Its 12:30 p.m. not time yet.
The drive from Irving to Garland is at least an hour in evening traffic. However, with Cecilia in band, Jude playing soccer and both responsible for homework, Daphne’s day is not quite over.
“I come home and cook dinner right away,” Daphne says of the family’s evening routine. “Then we address any obligations we might have with activities as well as their homework.”
The children are washed and in bed by 9:30 p.m., and Daphne is alone for some “me time,” which sometimes last too long, but usually, not quite long enough. “I wish I could be there with them more,” Daphne sighs. “The time just seems to go away…”
Single parents are part of the scenery in contemporary society. So much so that it is easy for their daily struggle as well as that of their children to go unacknowledged.
“I was blessed to have healthy children,” says Daphne with a smile. “That is usually one of the bigger challenges being a single working parent. If you child gets ill, you have to miss work to be with them, but you can only miss so much work…”
Without much effort, the mind can wander to all of the other difficulties that trouble families with a single parent, most poignantly perhaps the consequences for children. When asked about the effect of single-parenting on her children, Daphne is quick to offer lemonade from lemons.
“Things are difficult, but I believe that one of the primary ‘goods’ that we make from our situation is the independence my children are learning. Obviously, I can’t always be there, and they are learning to do things on their own, to take responsibility.”
Their daily list of chores, packing lunches and time alone after school are some of the constructive means by which Cecilia and Jude are learning to be self-sufficient.
“They are learning to stand on their own two feet, and that formation is positive,” says Daphne. “Cecilia even babysat for the first time recently. I want them to learn that working is important and that hard work is formative, it helps you build character.”
As they get older, how is Daphne addressing the inevitable questions from her children about marriage, particularly her own?
“I never speak badly about their father,” says Daphne directly. “Family is very important. I hope and think that I have taught my children that having connections and respect for others is of the utmost importance.”
Across the board, Daphne looks to temper her honesty and openness with both Cecilia and Jude.
“I certainly look to shield them from the stress I occasionally suffer. I’m not always cool as a cucumber,” Daphne laughs with just a hint of melancholy. “I try to make sure that I answer their questions and address issues with honesty and discretion appropriate to their age. It’s difficult. It’s parenting.”
As far as parenting goes, Daphne is not unlike many other mothers, monitoring homework and signing school planners. As her kids get older, so does her vigilance and censoring of the media to which they are exposed.
“Tv and computer are definitely limited,” Daphne says. “I make sure to watch with Cecilia from time to time. She’s getting older and I like to make sure that I keep tabs on just what it is she’s being told by the shows she watches.”
The weekends are consumed with housekeeping, sports, extended family and commitments at church. “Time. It’s always time.”
How do you manage?
Daphne sits back in her chair, looks briefly into the distance and smiles, “Everyone needs a support network, and mine is amazing.”
With her children, father, family and three working mothers in her department all supporting her in various capacities, Daphne has reason to smile.
“As a single mother, she juggles a lot between work and home, but she does it with a lot of grace,” says her boss, Townsend.
Even a brief chat with Daphne manifests the love and dedication she has to her children. Though it is difficult, she makes the daily necessary sacrifices to maintain balance and provide normalcy in her home.
“My children are my priority, then church and my household, and only then my “me time,” and you know,” says Daphne with a pause. “It’s not perfect, but it’s OK. We’re doing OK.”