I read this article on Yahoo the other day about how Michelle Obama caught herself referring to herself as a “single mother”. What she meant to say is that she has to do a lot of the parenting herself obviously since her husband is a pretty busy guy. The article went on to say how some actual single moms/parents may have bristled at such a remark, but how there are a lot of “sometimes single” parents out there that do share a lot of the same challenges as “always single” parents.
Now, I know that there are challenges to the “sometimes” single parent. My sister is one of them. Her husband travels for work and is gone for a good part of the week leaving her to care for her three children on her own. That is hard. I admire her. She has challenges in her marriage that I can’t fathom. And I have friends who have these same laments about the lack of physical or emotional presence of a co-parent in their lives. But it doesn’t make them single parents. The difference, of course, is that these “absent” parents are still playing a role in the caretaking of the children. Maybe it is only bringing home the bacon, but by those standards all the housewives and stay-at-home moms of the old days were single parents too. The mother was expected to do all of the household duties, including taking care of their children’s needs on a daily basis, and the father went to work and relaxed when he got home.
But I guess I do take exception to this because being a true single parent is so much more than this. It is having no one else to bear any of the burdens and challenges of child-rearing, even if the only things the other parent provides are the financial stability under which the hands-on parent is able to parent or opinions and guidance on those really big issues that face all parents when it comes to their children. It is knowing at the end of the day that it all rests squarely on one’s shoulders. And even those divorced parents who share in the custody and raising of their children don’t have the same issues as those of us who are truly doing the job singularly.
Sometimes I get annoyed with divorced moms who complain about their ex-spouses and their lack of support (either financial or emotional). Those who have neither kind of support are like me: single, alone, solely responsible. But women whose exes are working three jobs to pay support and can’t make it to the dance recital or whose exes spend every other weekend making sure that their children are happy and well-cared for and loved, but may not be able to make ends meet, do not have a lot of room to complain. Let me rephrase…I mean, we ALL have room to complain, right? We are all doing the most ridiculously hard job- raising other human beings to be good, solid citizens of this world. But one should be very careful when voicing these complaints because someone always has it worse than we do. I often think that if one of these women had to truly do it all on their own, they would realize just how great they have it.
I try not to compare my situation with others because I know that road leads to a dark, lonely dead end. There are a lot of women who have it much worse than I do. There are women who are doing it all on their own and they have sick children. Or no job. Or no family or friends to cry with or help them or rejoice with. But those women who do have another parent who participates in their children’s lives should remember that there are those who are going it alone. It isn’t so much that I covet the title of “single mom”. Actually, I hate it. But it is what it is and my situation embodies the truth of the term. I don’t get a weekend to myself to do as I choose. I don’t have a steady stream of income for my children’s growing needs and wants. I don’t have another parent with whom to talk over the latest worries and concerns about our children. I am one. Alone. Single.
Someday I hope that I will be more comfortable and accepting of this. I hope that I will never compare myself and my situation to other single parents or divorced parents or sometimes single parents or whatever type of parent people deem themselves. I would like to not always have to worry about how to provide for my children or give them everything that I want to be able to give them or wish that I could do differently or better or more. I would like to be secure in my role as a parent and know that I do the very best for my kids. To know that even if there are dishes in the sink and unpaid bills and half-painted walls and a door that is broken and endless questions about parentage and concerns about missing homework and essays that are due and white lies and a million activities and a bank account that is in the red– I am a good mother. And that it isn’t just that I am doing a good job under my personal circumstances. Or that my kids are good kids despite the fact that they are being raised by a single mom. But maybe because of it.