Tuesday, February 03, 2015

I Am Not A "Single Mom": Musings From a Mom Who Happens To Be Single

Why is this guy 10x hotter than he would be
without the kid with him? 
When people look at a single dad playing with his kids at the park there is this implication that he is doing a "great job."  "Look at him," people say, "He's actually being a part of his kids' lives instead of fucking off and abandoning them. Good for him."  Our expectations for men are so low that the most basic of parental responsibilities is treated as though it is a great accomplishment.  I think this is very unfair to men. If you watch commercials, they will show these befuddled dads who barely know how to take clothes out of the laundry or cause messes that the beleaguered mom/ housewife has to clean up.  Men are expected to be loud, boorish, crude, incapable of caring for themselves, and when they do then its this remarkable thing we need to hold up and value.  This attitude doesn't give guys enough credit.  But it is still there.

Ann Dunham and her adorable future pres
The attitude toward single mothers is very different. People can become very judgmental when they talk about "single moms," both from a philosophical and political viewpoint, and a personal one.  Ever since I found myself grouped together in this category, I have become extremely protective of other single moms, especially those that I don't know (and I don't really know many irl).  Since I have been a "single mom" for a little over half a year, there are several types of conversations I have discovered when I hear people talk about or to "single moms," including myself:  

Conversation 1: "Well I would have just stuck with it for the sake of the kids."

Hmm.. Boy I never thought of that!  Let's go back and make that an option for me instead of how my ex told me he didn't want to be married any more and I had to move out of the house that I couldn't afford on my own.  But you are right, it was just I didn't TRY enough.  Thanks for the advice, stranger.  This also is completely dismissive of the happiness/ well being of the adults in the relationship.  Why don't their feelings matter too? 

Ahhh!  Not Statistics!!
Thanks for the info, Heritage Foundation!
This will be SUPER useful to me

Conversation 2: "These women shouldn't be having children if they aren't in a committed relationship."

Oooooh don't even get me started on this one.  First of all the implication is that being a single mom is a voluntary decision for everyone.  Some women lack the knowledge or ability to acquire birth control.  Some women, because of religious indoctrination, have been told that birth control is wrong, seemingly implying that they just shouldn't have sex their entire lives outside of marriage.  Some women WERE in committed relationships, some married, some not, when they conceived their children.  To imagine that everybody has the foresight to know whether a relationship will stand the test of time presumes that women have some kind of precognitive powers from a Philip K Dick novel and aren't, ya know, human beings.  Finally there are those women who DO choose to have children on their own and they seem to be doing just fine.  I think that episode of Murphy Brown is like 20 years old now.  The world has moved past your notions of traditional family, asshole.

Welp, I guess I have to be an octopus now
Conversation 3: "Wow I don't know how you do it all on your own."

Well, I don't.  I have joint custody.  People have this preconceived notion that being a mom who happens to besingle means that you are a "single mom."  A "single mom" is a women who raises her kids entirely on her own with the ex absent entirely or neglectful.  A "single mom" is somebody who overcomes adversity and puts herself through school and with the support of her parents ends up raising the next President of the United States.  By this metric I am not a "single mom."  I have joint custody of my daughter with my ex, truly joint custody where we split every week.  Her father is just as much a part of her life as I am.  She spends just as much time with him as she does me.  That burden of responsibility isn't on me all the time and, if I am being honest, I don't hate it.  After 3.5 years of being the one who woke up to breastfeed, who took care of nightmares, who woke up at 5:30-6 nearly every single day, who made lunches, who planned play dates, who bought clothes, it doesn't suck that now I have a few days to myself in the middle of the week.  It certainly doesn't suck when I can make plans to go to see comedy shows or to the movies on the weekend or go out to drinks with people I meet online and I don't have to worry about a babysitter.  Nope, it's just time for myself, just for me.  I look at my friends who have two, sometimes three kids, who work full time and care for their families all the time with no break, and I recall my life before I separated from my ex and I think, "Gosh... I don't miss that at all." There was a time when I felt so guilty for even entertaining the notion of enjoying my life outside the role of mother.  Now I have no choice.  Now if it is a Tuesday that she is scheduled to be at her dad's it is a Tuesday she is scheduled to be at her dad's.  That feeling of shoulds, that weight of responsibility, that guilt all just goes away. The question of course is what remains?  That has been my real journey these past few months.  After "mother" defined me for so many years, just being "me" has been something that I have genuinely struggled with.

Apparently this is how I am supposed to look
So how do I respond to somebody who says, "I don't know how you do it on your own."  Do I tell them that I don't?  Do I tell them that separating from my ex is the best thing that ever happened to me?  Do I tell them how I get to have the freedom that they don't get to enjoy because they are burdened with a kid 100% of the time?  Because that's not what they want to hear.  When people make these kinds of statements, they are trying to show sympathy.  People hear bad news and they want to say "I'm sorry to hear that" and then go home and think "Boy, I'm such a good person, I'm such a good friend.  My relative/friend had something bad happen and I was there to comfort them.  Good for me."  No, what those people really want to hear is how I am struggling to pay my bills each month, which I am. They want to hear what it is like spending nights alone in bed without somebody to lie next to them.  They want to hear about how I drink a glass of wine and watch Downton Abbey with my cat.  (I did that too.  It made me feel like THE most "divorced 30-something lady" in the history of the world).  Then they want to go back to their own significant others and hug them a little harder, and appreciate them a little more, and thank their lucky stars that they have somebody loving and supportive in their life.  They want to revel in my misery porn like they would watching a documentary on starving children in Africa.  I am not judging people for thinking this way, because I have certainly thought this way before too.

Conversation 4: "That fucking asshole"

Yikes! Did you really need to buy a shirt?
These people want to hear you bitch about your ex.  While we have our disagreements regarding the coparenting of our child and some of the logistics of our impending divorce, truthfully I spend very little time thinking about him.  I might mention something that happened that frustrated me, but this is not an opportunity to get into the psychology of my ex, to bitch about him, to get all the messy details.  Maybe it is because their notion of ex is somebody that you never have to see again except for a chance run in at the grocery store where you get to tactfully avoid them hiding behind the grapefruit.  I have to see him on a regular basis.  I have to communicate with him about the goings on of preschool, about a weird rash I noticed on her back, about the logistics of our divorce.  He is, for better or worse, a part of my life, and will be for the foreseeable future.  He is part of my daughter's life for the rest of hers.  Badmouthing him or doing a lot of complaining isn't really healthy, nor is it particularly productive.

Isn't this FUN!
I can't wait to do it again in two days with
somebody completely different

Conversation 5: "Soooo are you seeing anybody?"

These people want to hear about sex.  They want to hear about all the single lady sex you are having now.  I hear this a LOT from married people who are always super curious about what it is like to date again, who want to relive glory days, who want some new real life romance novel shit to think about while they are having hurried sex with their spouses before Fallon comes on.  They are also sometimes SUPER set on this idea that everybody who is single must be immediately looking to get into another long term relationship.  Fun fact: They AREN'T!  Sometimes they want to hear that you are dating people because they want to know if you are happy, as if happiness is defined by being in a relationship or having a ton of sex. 

So maybe the key to talking to "single moms" or "moms who happen to be single" is to just go into a conversation without preconceived notions. Don't assume that they will be sad about their relationship ending, but don't assume that they are over the moon happy about it either.  If you are wondering how they are doing then ask open ended questions, rather than ones with answers you have already come up with in your head.  Nobody died.  This is really important to remember.  The kind of sympathy you would give to somebody over a lost job or a lost loved one is not the same as you would give to somebody who lost a marriage.  Emotions can be very mixed.  For some people the rawness of the breakup can be very painful and they might not want to talk about it.  For others, the implication that they should be sad about leaving a relationship that was unhealthy for them makes them feel as though they did something wrong. Also don't assume that they "lost" a marriage/ relationship.  Maybe they are single moms by choice. 

Have an open mind.  Know that being a single mom or a mom that happens to be single CAN be very challenging, but for reasons that you might not have considered.  When you are the only single mom taking your daughter to Sunday school classes, this can be very isolating.  Seeing happy families together or going to weddings can sometimes trigger feelings of sadness, but this doesn't necessarily mean that you want to get married again now, soon, or ever.  Being the only single person among married friends with kids can be frustrating.  Everyone has unsolicited advice or opinions, and it is hard to find people to go to a club with even though you don't really like going to clubs and you are at the age where they are kind of too loud, but still you wouldn't mind trying to go to one if you had a winglady but they are busy with their own mom stuff you used to have to worry about when you didn't have your days off from the kid.  Try to withhold judgment and opinion until you really understand what it is like.  And unless you plan on becoming a single mom (which for some people is physically impossible) and not just one kind of single mom, but every single mom in existence, then you really can't know.  So just do the best you can as a friend, and know what you don't know. 

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