I sipped my coffee slowly while absentmindedly scrolling through Facebook one rare lazy morning. Without much thought, I clicked on one of my favorite features: the “memories” tab. I scrolled past pictures of my now 11- and 9-year-olds as chubby toddlers and gap-toothed preschoolers to find one that made me chuckle. It said “5 Years Ago Today: “God bless single moms! I have no idea how you do it.” I laughed out loud as I shared it with the caption “life comes at you fast.”
Five years ago, I was a happily married stay-at-home mom of two girls. I worked part-time at my gym, but never really worried or thought about money and reveled in the security of my marriage. My then husband traveled for work, so I felt like I had some sympathies for the plight of single moms because I spent a few days each week without a spouse at home.
There were many crushing blows I underwent in 2018 which are probably familiar to many of you reading, and just when I felt like I had recovered from one, another came. There was the initial shock and disgust of being told my spouse didn’t love me anymore, the anguish of watching my kids ride away to spend a weekend at their dad’s, and the soul-crushing reality that I wouldn’t get to spend every holiday or summer vacation with them anymore. But one of the more unexpected blows came from dealing with the changing of my identity to a single mom. While single moms were people that I sympathized with on some level, if I’m being completely honest, I felt a little bit of pity, too. How hard it must be, I thought, to have to do everything alone? I felt sad for single moms and so glad that I would never have to worry about that, or so I thought.
Actually becoming a single mom has completely changed my identity. Although it’s nothing that any of my married friends did, I immediately felt different from them. Whether it was being the only single person at a party full of couples, or just trying to talk about the fresh hell that is dating to friends who hadn’t dated in 15 years, there was definitely a difference between us, even if it was only palpable to me. Other than that, there was the fact that I was learning how to do so many things on my own for the first time, and that consumed so much of my time. I found myself Googling things like “what does escrow mean” and “how do you unclog a garbage disposal,” and even trying to figure out how to handle my own finances again after 13 years. And yes, you may be thinking to yourself, as I was, I should have known these things all along, and this realization was yet another layer of guilt added to the slew of guilty feelings I was already having.
With all of this, I had also become, seemingly overnight, an actual single mom. As many of you can relate, everything with regard to the house and parenting was up to me alone. And so I realized what it was to actually be a single mom, not someone who’s spouse left town a few nights a week. Not only did all household and child-related responsibilities fall to me, but I lost the emotional support of being able to commiserate with a partner as soon as he moved out. When one of my kids would do something amazing, or even terrible, I had no one to share it with. While friends and other family members were happy to lend an ear, no one can truly relate to the joy and frustration of parenting your own kids like their other parent.
Eventually, what I came to realize was that single moms were no one to be pitied. We are women doing the work of two parents, and what is there to pity about that? While our lives are in some ways more difficult than they would be with a partner, in many ways they are much richer. We may not have a spouse at home to commiserate with, but we have unique bonds between us and our children. And there is no one to help us put together furniture or mow the lawn sometimes, but we have the feelings of accomplishment from doing it ourselves. I found my youngest daughter’s old writing notebook earlier this week and she had an assignment to brainstorm some things that describe each family member. Under “Mom” she wrote “builds things.” That was something that would have been laughably ridiculous a few years ago, but now I’m proud she remembered helping me put together a table and chairs. My lawn might not be the best looking in the neighborhood, and a screw might fall out of my table every few days, but I am so proud of myself when I look at both of them.
So while being a single mom is a label that I never wanted, it is one that I am now proud to have.
But I’ll save the dating for another post.