Am I a Single Mom?

Even before I divorced it made me cringe – hearing married women with children say, “Oh gosh, I’m a single mom!” when their husbands were out of town for the week/weekend/afternoon. Lady, there’s nothing single about you – your husband contributes to the household income, you can call him if you’re having a stressful time with the little crazies, and you know that even if he’s gone for a few days or hours, he’ll be home soon to give you a hug and help you out with the lawnmowing or child-wrangling. Even if he’s not physically with you every moment of every day, he’s there for you in the form of emotional and perhaps financial support. You’re sporting a wedding ring or living with your boyfriend – you are not alone.

A single mom, to me, is a woman who does it all. She brings home the only paychecks with no or virtually no child support. She parents 100% of the time or nearly so. Dad’s out of the picture or so useless or uncommunicative that he may as well be missing. If young Junior gets sick, mom has to take a day off work and clean up the puke because there’s no one else to ask to help. If baby wakes at night, Mom comforts him. If Mom needs someone to vent to about Junior’s nose picking or antisocial behavior, she has to call a friend or a sister because Dad either doesn’t want to hear it or she doesn’t even know where Dad is living.

Now I’m single and come with that added label of divorced. When people I barely know learn I’m not married and have four children, they sometimes open their eyes wide and say to me, “Wow, four kids, that’s a lot of work!” or ask me, all confused, “But who is with your kids right now?” As if I left my three year old home alone to hold down the fort. These strangers assume I’m a single mom, doing the parenting thing completely solo. Some bolder folks will even ask me point blank, “Is their dad helping you out with money?”

I just can’t call myself a single mom, though. My ex and I share 50/50 custody of the kids and it’s heartbreaking. When I know they are sick but they are with their dad, I can’t give hugs to comfort them. They go to school and I don’t get to welcome them home each time they step off the bus. They tell me stories about what they did last weekend and it’s all new to me because I wasn’t there. It hurts. But as hard as it is, I’m not the only one responsible for their parenting. When my daughter had a high fever today, I texted her dad to ask if I should bring her to the doctor. He carries the insurance for the kids and I feel like we can communicate amicably enough to not spar over fevers and children’s ibuprofen (though truthfully, it’s not out of the question for us to fight about stuff like that). He got a new job and needed extra hours of childcare on his parenting days so I stepped in because they are my kids and of course I wanted to see them more. He’ll be taking the kids a few extra days when I travel to see a college friend out of state. We are divorced, but we still share the tasks of parenting. True, I can’t turn to my ex for emotional support, but when our seven year old does something wacky at school (like lick the school bus windows) and gets in trouble, my ex is the only other person who really cares about what’s going on with our son and it helps to have someone with that shared understanding to discuss what we should do for consequences.

Also, I get child support, as well as spousal maintenance for five years, which is meant to wean me off being financially dependent on a man I now live without. My rent is no less expensive because the kids aren’t using their bedrooms 15 days a month. I can’t drive a smaller car just because the kids are only it in half the time. My standard of living and that of the kids has been knocked down by more than a few pegs but we are getting by – I am not sure I could say that if I didn’t have my ex’s financial help. Not this soon. I know now why some women stay in unhappy marriages for so long. They realize they won’t be able to afford to live on their own. I’ve heard stories of too many women who get no financial support from the father of their children and my heart goes out to them because times are hard for me and I have help. I can’t imagine.

Where I really feel my singleness is when I need someone to talk to about something completely banal or fleeting. You know the stories – the ones that aren’t important enough for a status update, tweet, text or phone call to a friend, but you feel like you have to get them out. Like, “Ohmygod, this lady I kind of know from preschool was at the grocery story and she was in the same aisle as me every single aisle. I didn’t know if I was supposed to smile and say hello each time or what!” I used to have a husband for this. He might not have cared but he was there and had two functioning ears and could occasionally nod and grunt to acknowledge my tales. Now my stupid stories end up woven effortlessly into blog posts as seen above. Ahem.

Other times it’s when I look around my house at the mess and realize this is all on me. My ex may not have contributed to the household as much as I would have liked while we were married, but that meant that if something didn’t get done the blame was shared. It wasn’t just me who overlooked the clean laundry basket on the stairs or the broken cookie half under the oven, it was him, too. Now I’m the only one to blame. My ex and I may share parenting duties but we don’t share living spaces. I take the garbage out to the curb and change the light bulbs and put the salt in the water softener (in theory – I have the salt but haven’t done it yet because it seems so deceptively simple I fear I will somehow mess it up). If the house is a wreck it is because I didn’t clean it, friends.

I’m single, yes, but I feel like the term “single mom” describes someone doing more of the hard work completely on her own. I may not want a break from my kids – my forced time away from them is not welcome at all – but I do have breaks. I may not be rich but my kids are taken care of financially by their dad because he and I both know the kids would be living in much worse conditions without child support.  For now I’ll just call myself a divorced mom. Or just mom. Those seem to fit.

How do you define single motherhood?

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11 thoughts on “Am I a Single Mom?

  1. This is such a good essay– that’s what it is–an essay. Sometimes I hate to call something a blog “post” because that title can sort of minimize the quality of the writing and this is QUALITY writing. I think I feel especially connected to your situation because I have four kids. I know our lives would be 180 degrees different if I were truly on my own. I think you’re very astute and sensitive to not call yourself a single mom for the all the reasons you mentioned. But still, how you’re parenting and managing is so much different than before. It certainly deserves it’s own new category. I’m so impressed with how you’re able to articulate exactly what’s challenging about it. And I’m also excited to watch you build your new life!

    Oh– and if I’m out alone I HATE when people say: “But who is with your kids right now?” WHAT KIND OF QUESTION IS THAT!?!?!?!

  2. Pingback: Summer Mother | highly irritable blog*

  3. I enjoyed this very much. I’m a single mom. My daughter’s father never stepped up. I have never received support, and she has never received a birthday card. It’s been me, 24/7/365. I don’t regret it–she’s by far the best thing in my life. Our relationship is rewarding. But single parenthood is often difficult and sometimes lonely. It’s a huge balancing act.

    All moms, regardless of circumstance, make sacrifices. But I believe single moms make more. As you said, there is no emotional or financial support. There is no one else to help when your child is sick. There is no partner to discuss motherhood guilt worries.

    We’re all moms who want to do the best for our children and therefore we have something in common. But there’s one thing that some of us do not have in common and it’s a big thing. I try not to, but I bristle when moms with support claim to know what my situation feels like.

  4. I found your blog through another blog that posted a link about this post. I have to agree with every word that you say. I call what you do co-parenting and often when people in your situation refer to themselves as a single parent, I correct them in saying that even if their relationship status is single they are not single parents as they have help and financial support. I am both a single parent and a co-parent. My eldest father is not in the picture and offers no help and I’m all she has, where as my youngest father helps with her financially and had her a 1/3 of the time.

  5. Pingback: The Dichotomy of a Life of Shared Custody | A State of Motion

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  7. Love your writing.
    I’m lucky enough to be co-parenting with my ex who lives close by. I was used to doing pretty much everything anyway, but you’re right, it’s the little things like having another adult to chat to at the end of a very long day about the kids. Or about anything! Or to share a glass of wine with and unwind.
    Thank goodness for Facebook and blogs like yours!

  8. I am a single mom. Not a co-parent, truly a single mom. The breadwinner, the financial planner, the manager, the doctor, the maid, the cook, the personal shopper, etc……. could go on and on. It’s hard and I’m exhausted. I have no life other than my kids and no help what so ever. Not even other family except my mom whom works full time and lives 40 miles away. She tries to help as best she can so I can have a break. Is my kids dad around? Yes, I know where he is and so do my kids. Does he see them? He’s a mess so it’s in my kids best interests that the court limited the amount of contact. Do I get child support? Sometimes, but he made other babies after our two and has to support them (pretty sure his very young wife who works for her family’s business is the bread winner, no one has been able to prove he really works, at least not child support workers or lawyers). That’s the excuse I’ve heard, he has other kids to support. Mine were here first. But they have to suffer because he had to make other babies. I have a useless court order that also states he should pay for health and dental too. Hasn’t happened in 14 years. No lawyer has been able to “make it happen”. I’m depressing everyone aren’t I? Time to go to work anyway. Off to one of my 3 jobs, the kind that no one calls me “mom” at.

  9. Pingback: Summer Mother | Highly Irritable

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