I recently read a Facebook status of one of my married friends: Ugh, my husband has been working so many hours I’ve practically been a single mom for the last three days. As a single mom, I was annoyed at the sentiment but brushed it off and kept reading my newsfeed until I got to another one: Hubby is out of town for five days starting tomorrow. It’s so hard being a single mom when he’s gone. Cue my side-eye, especially when I remembered that the day before the same woman wrote: Three-day business trip for my husband; finally had to drop the kids off at a drop-in daycare so that I could get a mani-pedi. This single mom deserves a treat!
Ok, hold up, back up, and STOP. Let me tell you something right now: Having a husband that works long hours does not make you “practically a single mom.” Sorry, it just doesn’t. What it DOES make you is a stay-at-home mom doing what stay-at-home moms do: caring for your children while your husband goes to work so that you don’t have to try and do both like real single moms do.
Nothing makes single moms angrier than non-single moms claiming our title. Being a single mom is a battle that many of us fight every day; it’s not a “status” you can claim in the midst of a temporary circumstance when you’re feeling overworked. When you callously throw those words around it shows how little you really understand the lifestyle of single moms and it feels disrespectful to the actual work we put in. Being a single mom is an ever-present, all-engulfing lifestyle. And like many things in life single motherhood comes in many forms so, for argument’s sake, I’m referring to the more than 15 million single mothers who (for many different reasons) are parenting without the help of their child’s father (and explaining why Dad left isn’t always easy).
As one of these women, I would kindly like to ask the rest of you co-parenting mothers to stop claiming our title.
What you don’t seem to understand is that single motherhood extends far beyond the day-to-day workload that we carry. The meaning of “single mom” is not rooted in the fact that we, alone, are responsible for our children’s survival nor is it rooted in the fact that we do all their laundry, pack all the lunches, give them all their baths, and make all of their meals. Being a single mom also has nothing to do with the fact that we have to balance our careers alongside the ginormous task that is child-rearing, as many co-parenting mothers also juggle work and home. Being a single mother even extends beyond being the breadwinner for our families, since many moms in a two-parent household are the main financial providers. Being a single mother isn’t even tied to the 4 million of us that are raising our kids while living below the poverty line because we’re struggling to provide for our children. Nope, even our income doesn’t make us single mothers.
So what does make me a single mom?
I am a single mother because I am the only person invested in the lives of my children.
When I go to work each day and leave my children at daycare, no other parent wonders how they’re doing. When I pick them up after a long day’s work, no other parent greets me at home. When I climb into bed at night and worry about how the bills will be paid, nobody shares that burden with me. When a scheduling conflict comes up or a child is sick, it’s up to me – and only me – to figure everything out. When I see their faces light up with joy, I physically feel the loss of not having someone there to witness that moment with me. I have no one to talk with about the dreams I have for my kids and no one to share in the excitement of their future.
Have you ever had to explain to your child why they don’t have another parent? Have you ever watched as your child struggles to understand why their father isn’t there? There are no comforting answers in the single mother’s world, there is no “dad’s at work so that he can take care of our family.” There is no alone time for me when it’s their father’s week of custody. Single motherhood is not a title that I can claim during the times when I feel lonely and overworked, only to shelve it when my children’s father is able to help out more. Single motherhood is not a title to describe the trials of raising children but a title that describes just how hard I’m fighting to raise them alone.
Overworked moms, dual-career households, wives of traveling husbands: I’m not without empathy to your struggles. I know that you’re overworked, stressed, and lonely just like me. I know you also struggle to balance everything and often times feel like it’s all too much. I applaud you for your efforts and I thank you for everything you do for your children. But please don’t claim our battle as your own. Claim your life for what it is, hard in its own right, but don’t discount our reality by changing the meaning of single motherhood into something that it was never meant to be.
I’m a single mother and the title is mine.