Tuesday, May 31, 2011

On married "single" moms

As a lot, moms are a sensitive bunch. We're all trying to do our best against seemingly insurmountable odds and, because we recognize the monumental importance of our task, we're understandably concerned with how well (or not) we're doing. We review and critique our performance regularly, obsessively. We want to be better, want to accomplish more, want to enjoy it more. We rarely meet our own expectations, and it leaves us a little edgy. We're prone to finding insults and criticism where none was intended, and to judging our peers to make ourselves feel better. We've created the mommy wars we all purport to despise: working mom vs. stay-at-home mom, single mom vs. married mom, clothe diaper mom vs. disposable mom.

We all probably need to lighten the hell up, and I think we all know this. I know this. And yet, as I read this post this morning, my feathers began to ruffle.

It's a tale of a woman, Ellie Hirsch of Mommy Masters, whose husband travels for work, often Monday - Friday. It's a tale of the difficulties inherent in such a situation and, ultimately, a tale of why she prefers it that way. That is the point of her post, the twist: she's in a situation that seems undesirable from an outsider's viewpoint... and yet, she prefers it that way.

Her point was not to compare herself to a single mom. And yet, she did.
"Add to the mix a traveling husband or a partner that works insane hours, and you are pretty much a single mom."

She said it almost in passing, and I doubt she put a whole lot of thought into it. It seems a simple, concise way to describe her situation: married single mom. She's alone with the kids the majority of the time. I totally get where she's coming from and why she would choose to identify as such. I swear. I really, really do.

But I've been a real single mom. And it's different.

This woman is married. She has a partner. Even if he's not always (or even often) physically present, she has a partner. I can not begin to stress how important that part right there is in distinguishing the two scenarios.

There are, of course, plenty of other factors that feed into single parenthood (financial woes, missing child support, emotional divorce baggage, strained co-parenting relationships, absent fathers, trying to date, and so on and so on). Unless you've been there, you don't know what it's like. Even if you've been there, you only know what it was like for you.

That works both ways. I certainly can't claim to know what it's like to live Ellie's life. Which is why I would never compare my set of circumstances to hers.

(Except that's kind of exactly what I'm in the process of doing, right? Comparing her set of circumstances to those of a single mom, and insisting that they're not the same. It appears I am a pot. "Kettle, you're black!" I say. Still, I shall forge ahead.)

So while I can acknowledge some similarities between her situation and that of a single mom (extended periods alone with the kids) taking care of the kids alone is one symptom of being a single parent. One out of about one thousand. And I think that's why we single moms (and former single moms) get our panties in a bunch when such comparisons are made: it feels like a very difficult situation is being over-simplified. I sincerely doubt that was Ellie's intent, and yet I'm sure that's how it made some of us (sensitive bunch) feel.

It's a little like suggesting that throwing up for a week straight with the stomach flu gives one insight into experiencing chemotherapy treatment.

Of course, a woman who uses cancer treatment as an analogy probably isn't fit to give advice on appropriate comparisons.

Check out Ellie's blog, Mommy Masters, and her Facebook page. (Since I've singled her out unfairly, it seems only right that I give her a plug.) And, since I've only barely scratched the surface of the Sometimes Single Mom topic, check out a couple of Singlemommyhood.com's posts on the topic: "Do Sometimes Single Moms Offend You?" and "Married Moms Who Feel Like Single Moms? We Understand."


Shannon said...

That term "married single mom" is appearing a lot lately...I wrote about it a couple of weeks ago...I've never been a single mom, but my husband is not around very much because of his craptastic hours. But you're right, I still have a partner. And while I don't see him in the evenings, he makes sure he calls at least once to say hi and see how things are going...I think many people forget the rule of thumb: Think before you speak. Or in this case, before you hit post...

Megan said...

I read your posts regularly. They remind me of how much I always looked up to you when we were in those formative teen years.
I can honestly say I get both sides of this now and I am embarrassed that I used the term "single mom" while I was married. Although, I am pretty sure that my comments were that I 'felt' like a single mom while he was always gone at work, I am still a bit ashamed. I had no idea how much more difficult things were going to get when I truly became single with 2 children to provide for with no expectation of assistance from him.

Ellie Hirsch-Mommy Masters said...

Thanks for your feedback and I appreciate your comments. As you mentioned, I in no way meant to say that being married to a traveling man carries the same struggles as a single mom. It carries it's own struggles. Tons of people who know that my husband travels, always say the same thing, "How do you do it? You are like a single parent during the week". I don't think they are in the moment disrespecting true single moms, just like I didn't intend to do. It's the title many have given me and it's how I feel. I am married, yet a lot of the time feel like a single mom. I am not ashamed to use the term single married mother, nor am I ashamed when people constantly feel bad for me and tell me they could never live with a traveling husband. I'm glad my article sparked your interest and again, I never intended to offend anyone. I think moms in my "situation", if you can even call it that, know where I am coming from. For all you true single moms out there, kudos to you for doing it truly on your own!

T said...

Been there. Done both.

My husband traveled like that too during our marriage and still... after our divorce. I handled just about everything from finances to keeping the house in order to working full time to working part time etc. etc. There is a difference, ohmygoodnessyes. But I will say that life definitely helped prepare me for this one.

Great post!

Martini Mom said...

@Shannon: I just read your post, and I absolutely agree with your take on mommy (and daddy) wars. I'm not sure why we're all so hard on each other. Sounds like you've got a lot to handle, mostly by yourself. I can't imagine what that must be like. The Man has been here almost two years now, and I'm completely acclimated to having a partner around. When he goes out of town to visit his girls, I panic at the thought of having to parent by myself for a while, even though I should be used to it after the years I spent as a single mom. I always have to remind myself that I managed just fine for 6 years, so why do I panic now at the prospect of 6 days? It's like a mini PTSD response!

@Megan: Your comment made me laugh. I'm quite flattered, but I'm also quite surprised. My memory of myself during those formative teen years isn't anything I would expect someone to look up to. :) I sometimes felt like a single mom when I was married too, not because my ex was gone a lot but because he was completely checked out when it came to parenting. It got harder when we divorced... but easier too, if only because I wasn't so miserable anymore. I hope you find a similar kind of balance. You know how to reach me if you need to vent.

Martini Mom said...

@Ellie: Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I generally don't get too offended by the "single married mother" epithet, because I understand the spirit in which it's used... but there is a small part of me that's always a little annoyed by it. Reading your post made me ponder why it annoys me, especially since the logical part of me tells me that it shouldn't. Self-reflection is a good thing, so thank you for that.

I don't know if I would handle a traveling husband as well as you do. After spending so many years doing it alone, I'm pretty excited to now have a partner who's around to help out!

@T: I handled everything in my marriage too, though my ex didn't travel... he just had no idea how to take care of himself. In some ways, getting a divorce made things easier because then I only had one "child" to care for.

Anonymous said...

Cheers to you.

I am a single mom, and I've had married moms use that term when their husbands are out of town, "oh now I know what your life is like" they say with a dramatic and exasperated sigh and a roll of the eyes. Frankly, very offensive. Unlike my married friends who experience someone leaving for a week or longer--I have only one income, clean my own home, do my own gardening, fix my own car, encourage/support/parent my son solo, shuttle my child btw school and activities on my own, shop with a child ALWAYS at my side, and have terrible guilt over work/life balance, or lack thereof...but on the flip side, married moms have confided they sometimes wish they could choose their own decor for the house, cook what they want-when they want it, watch the TV shows they want to watch, not answer to anyone for buying a handbag or inviting family over, and never having to deal with in-laws or that dreaded silence/eery feeling when things aren't right in a marriage:... so while single parenting does have its downsides--it also has some great stuff too.

While I bristle at the comments some married moms make, I have to remember that all experiences are unique and fraught with difficulties. I also agree that as moms (married, single) we beat ourselves up too much and in turn judge other moms too quickly and sometimes harshly. Myself included.

No one is perfect, and most of the time we are just trying to be the best people we can be.

Kelli said...

I completely agree with you about taking care of kids alone being only one of the symptoms, and the oversimplification of it being what is offensive.

I also really liked the cancer analogy. ;)

Glad I found your blog!

Kelli said...

Anonymous, I agree with you that there are, in fact, perks of being a single parent that married moms may not get: freedom, 100% run of the house, raise your kid exactly how you want...

I was a single mom for many years and then met a single dad. Talk about a roller coaster. There have been times while blending our families that single-motherhood looked pretty damn good. LOL

Anonymous said...

I am a mother of two and full time step mother of three. I can say exactly what it feel like to be a single mother and a mother with a traveling spouse. I can honestly say it feels comparable in some aspects, but with out my husband it would be overwhelming and just plain hard. I give woman that do it alone credit. I have money, so no worries of what if so and so gets sick? How am I going to make rent! I am not doing it alone, because he is always a phone call away. I do take care of the house cleaning, cooking, homework, bedtime, morning time and so on. I have had that 8-5 children in daycare sick kids missed a day of work boss mad at me scenerio, so I know i'm nothing like a single mom.

Rebecca Bany said...

Great post/blog. I checked the other out also, following both now.

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