I rarely do PSA’s, but this has been on my mind a lot. Maybe it’s because my son is a teenager now and his autonomy is giving me more space than I’ve had in forever and I’m finally coming out of the great fog of trying to do everything all the time nonstop, and I’m finally seeing that so many things that I felt bad about were total bullshit. I’m seeing that there’s this whole weird idea that people seem to have about single moms and how strong we are, how much better we are at multitasking and doing it all than the average human. We are strong, yes, but we aren’t any stronger than anyone else, just more exhausted, and desperately trying to hide it so we can still be a part of the world. Even though we kind of aren’t.
So here are some things, from my personal experience, as well as an informal poll I did on Facebook, that might help demystify the experience of the single mama.
Also, maybe you’re a single mom and this post will just help you feel like you’re being seen like the superwoman you are. Just kidding. Like the LIKE THE NORMAL WOMAN WITH TOO MUCH ON YOUR PLATE THAT YOU ARE. I see you, girl, and it isn’t going to be this hard forever… which is a nice segue into the first thing.
We know that you mean well when you say we’re badass, warrior, brave, supermoms, etc… but the truth about those words is that they just aren’t true. They imbibe some magical quality to us that just isn’t there, which only makes us feel guilty that we’re ungrateful for the compliment and leaves us feeling even more alone. It’s so much nicer to hear, “Yeah, you are doing it alone and that fucking blows.” Because being invisible and having no one to commiserate with you in the middle of the night when the baby is crying, or say “Don’t talk to your mother that way” when your teen gets moody, is a huge part of the single mother’s experience. Please just see it for, and call it, what it is. We aren’t superhuman; we are regular-human doing what we have to do and it’s costing us more brain cells than you can imagine. Being witnessed is everything.
Please don’t ever suggest that we “just get a sitter”. Ever. Unless of course, you are planning on finding, vetting, and paying for the sitter. A good sitter makes more than minimum wage these days. Gone are the days when you have a list of willing teens hanging on the corkboard by your landline wall phone who will work for $2 per hour. That isn’t a thing. So, plan to pay $70 for a night out. Also expect that we will still be worried about our kids. Single moms will never fully trust that anyone will be ok alone with our kid except us. Also, we aren’t in the habit of having child-free brain space, so relaxing things are only partially relaxing. If you want to spend $70 to spend time with us, please grab a bag of groceries and come over to cook us dinner. I’m not kidding. Please do this.
We aren’t going to go to things that start after 9pm. Asking us just makes us feel old.
If we tell you we’re tired, please don’t suggest we go to a yoga class, have a spa day, take time for ourselves, take a break, take a vacation, or any other totally normal thing you might say to someone who has those options. Because once again, it requires leaving our children, getting a sitter, having the bandwidth, being able to actually engage fully, and having the disposable income after taking care of these spare humans that eat constantly and require clothing, etc. Please DO take our kid to a yoga class or a play date or anything more entertaining than what we have been giving them all week, which, on a fairly regular basis, is the fascinating experience of a weeping mother who barely managed not to burn the fish sticks. You know what would help us feel less tired? Someone keeping our kids safe, nourished, entertained, and alive long enough for us to take a nap.
Please do not invite us to things where children are unwelcome without loads of notice and zero expectations about whether or not we will actually be able to get there. We will try, but if we don’t come it’s not personal. After our kid took forty-five minutes to put on shoes with velcro shoelaces, we gave up on life. If you give us any kind of guilt about this, we will just have to stop ever doing anything with you because your guilt just iced the pile of guilt we already carry for not being able to pull off a plethora of things. This pile is roughly the size of Antares – a massive star that’s bigger than the sun.
If we show up with kids in tow, unless it’s a heroin-addled orgy, please do not turn us away. Instead, please assume our children are used to spending time with adults and will be well behaved. Please be open to the idea that you will maybe even enjoy them! They are your future too.
Please hold an intervention if you find out we are trying to bring our children to a heroin-addled orgy. This is a sure sign that the Antares pile of guilt has finally gone twelve rounds with our rationale and is holding a gold belt while the drunken crowd goes wild. In other words, we’ve lost it and require emergency services.
If we are helping you in any way, minor support, advice, emotional labor, or volunteering for your organization, please recognize the importance of your ample appreciation. We still want our lives to include connection, meaning, and even service, but it’s taking everything we have. Hearing “I know how hard it is for you to get away, your efforts are deeply appreciated” will keep us coming back. It’s that easy, and you would be surprised by how rare it is.
Please don’t ever say, “But, you’re going to miss the best part!” when we have to leave early from any of the things. (See guilt tripping and giant star reference above).
Please try not to participate in boring ass habitual humor about how annoying children are in public. We all know they don’t act like well-behaved, socialized adults, but they are part of the human race and live in the world. If you hate them so much, please stay home. It hurts us so badly every time we’re within ear or eye shot of this stuff because we actually have to bring our children in public, not only because of the sitter situation, but because they need to be socialized. Duh. How else will they learn? Also, it’s not funny. Good rule of thumb: If you’ve heard a joke more than a dozen times, retire it. Heard the one about how I had to sit by a baby on the plane? Yeah. Snore.
Don’t get all sanctimonious and judgemental on us when our kids don’t sit perfectly still. KIDS DON’T DO THAT. And until they’ve been in public places enough times to learn, which is around eight thousand and ninety eight times, they will act like children: curious, energetic, unfiltered, and sometimes unaware of their volume. Unless our children are already adults, chances are you are witnessing one of the “learning times”. We are doing our best to teach them and it’s extra hard when you’re glaring at us.
We may also be looking at our phone while our children behave like children. This is not “the reason” that our kids aren’t acting like grown ups, so stop it. We are literally incapable of giving them all our focus all the time. There’s only one of us. Sometimes we need to work, or scroll, or call people. Instead, you can feel FREE to step in with a game or a smile. There’s always a chance you might have a good time too.
In fact, like the tired kids-in-public commentary, don’t make comments about moms using their phones around their kids. EVER. Not to them, not around them, not in public. You have NO IDEA what mom is doing on her phone, and frankly, it doesn’t matter. Assume it’s important. Assume she is doing her best.
Want to help more?
Offer to drive her kid(s) to school or to an extracurricular activity once a week. OR ONCE. Trust me. She will be so grateful.
Cook something. Anything. And bring it over. Or have us over for dinner with our kids. Make something our kids will eat. Being the only person deciding what everyone is going to eat three times a day is so unbearably tiring. Also, we feed and feed and feed. We are never, ever fed. I swear, I cry when people give me food.
Send flowers and a note saying “I see you and you are working hard, you sweet tender human.”
Ask them. “What can I do to support you?” Sometimes just knowing someone is willing means the world.
For the record, I see you single dads too. And you folks that have your kids every other week. And even you parents that are both at home. ALL PARENTING IS HARD. But there is a massive difference in the support women get in the world. Single moms consistently get all of the blame and none of the benefits, are held to impossibly high standards, and left to sort out the feelings of inadequacy and loneliness alone. So this post is about that. Love.
So there you go. I feel so much better for saying that. I’m sure there’s so much more I could say. But that feels like the gist of it. Do you have anything to add?
Of course, no pressure, feel free to just walk away without emailing me because I SEE YOU THERE, MAMA.
But if you’re into it, I’d love to say hello.