I was a single mother to my oldest son for four years, before my husband and I got together.
My husband was recently gone for a couple weeks for work, and I was parenting alone.
I was parenting alone, but I wasn’t a single parent.
I ruminate on this after witnessing a strange phenomenon where partnered or married mothers call themselves single moms because their partners are gone for any amount of time.
“My hubby’s away this whole week, so I’m a single mom!”
It has been expressed by those of us who are or have been single parents that this is inappropriate.
Stay with me now– I know what some of you are thinking.
“You’re too sensitive!”
“Get over it!”
“I can call myself that if I want to!”
I can see the dismissive comments now.
Because I’ve seen them several times before.
But, in the spirit of letting the voices of marginalized people speak louder than those who wish to speak over them, please consider not calling yourself a single parent unless you truly are one.
Of course you’re free to give yourself that title whether or not it’s true. Some people wonder why it matters, why there is weight to it. Consider this: would you think it’s right for a single mother to call herself a military mom? Or a married mom to call herself a widow?
I’ve actually heard a married woman — whose husband is alive and well — call herself a widow. Because hunting season started. How fortunate to be able to use that title as a joke.
Everyone has their own struggles. This isn’t about who has it worse.
Parenting as a happily married mom is tough. Parenting as a military mom is tough. Solo parenting is tough. I have two kids now, and it’s definitely harder to balance things with my partner gone. But there are differences between solo parenting until your husband gets back, and being a single parent.
While my husband is gone, I can still have contact with him. We email and text. Even when he was in the military and went overseas, I got letters from him.
When I was a single parent, there was no partner for me to share milestones with. No partner to giddily exclaim “He took his first step!” to. No husband for me to send a letter to, expressing how difficult bedtime is without him. No texts and phone calls to check in. No supportive words from a distance.
While my husband is gone, I still live in the home we have created together. His temporary absence does not leave me to support our whole family on my own. He supports me, emotionally and financially, to be a stay-at-home mom. While he is gone, I still have his support.
As a single mother, I was solely responsible for the food we ate, the clothes I put on my child, the roof over our head, every bath time, every bed time, every boo boo — it was all me, and only me, all the time.
While my husband is gone, his blankets are still on our bed. His clothes are still in the closet. His smell is still on his shirt. His image is still in my heart.
When I was a single mother, there was none of that. I was alone. Sometimes it was wonderful and empowering, and other times it was excruciatingly painful and lonely. It was my choice to embark upon parenting on my own (as much of a choice as it can be when you find yourself with a surprise pregnancy and the biological father simply walks out of the scene). But it was hard in ways you cannot understand unless you’ve been there.
When you call yourself a single parent even though you’re not, you treat it like a costume you can put on and take off whenever it’s convenient. The casual treatment of something that is very serious to many of us who have been there is dismissive of our experience. It’s also something of an insult to your partner to claim to be a “single mom” just because they’re out of town for a bit. I’m not single as a result of my husband being gone for work– work that he does to support our family.
Harm reduction is important. Harm reduction is assisted by people being aware of the words they use, and how they impact others. Now you know it is hurtful to some of us. Will you stop?