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5 Things NOT to Say to a Single Mother

By carolyncastiglia |

single mothers

I know you mean well, but...

It’s Father’s Day today, a happy day for those of you out there who can celebrate your wonderful fathers and husbands.  Unfortunately, I can’t do either of those things because I lost my Dad in 2008 and I left my husband in 2009.  (I’m still looking for a Sugar Daddy in 2011.  Ba-dump-bump!)  But seriously, folks…

Father’s Day can be kind of a strange day for single mothers, us overworked, often underpaid women who care for kids, some with co-parents and some without.  I get a lot of well-meaning comments from friends about my single-with-child status, but they don’t always come off as well as they’re intended to.  So I thought I’d continue in the “5 Things NOT to say” tradition established by my earlier post about how to talk to the parent of a preemie – riffing off this great list of 10 Things Never to Say to a Mom by Ellen Seidman – and give you five things you should avoid saying to a single lady with a baby:

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5 Things NOT to Say to a Single Mother

I don't know how you do it.

I think this is supposed to be a compliment (?), but it definitely always comes across as a backhanded one. Whether you mean it this way or not, it sounds like you're saying, "Dude, if I had to go through everything you do, I'd punch myself in the face." In all likelihood, you probably mean, "Wow, I really admire how brilliant you are at your work and how effortlessly you balance a career with your loving dedication to your child." If so, feel free to say that as many times as you want. Photo via Flickr.

Main photo via Flickr

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About carolyncastiglia

carolyncastiglia

carolyncastiglia

Carolyn Castiglia is a New York-based comedian/writer wowing audiences with her stand-up and freestyle rap. She’s appeared in TONY, The NY Post, The Idiot’s Guide to Jokes and Life & Style. You can find Carolyn’s writing elsewhere online at MarieClaire.com and The Huffington Post. Read bio and latest posts → Read Carolyn's latest posts →

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26 thoughts on “5 Things NOT to Say to a Single Mother

  1. JennyOndioline says:

    Even us married moms get — and loathe — the “there’s no pay but it’s great exposure” line. For every hour of a project that’s “great exposure” for me, I have to find and pay for childcare for my 2 kids. “Great exposure” projects, in my experience, require lots of hours — hours that fall, usually, at a time when it’s impossible to find childcare even if I could afford to pay for it myself. This is why my creative career is nonexistent. In total agreement with you on this one!!!

  2. carolyncastiglia says:

    I hear that! Did you read the post about Camp Gap? http://blogs.babble.com/strollerderby/2011/06/15/how-do-you-deal-with-camp-gap-and-other-childcare-issues/ I’m facing that soon…

  3. goddess says:

    I’m beginning to think I’ll just quit talking to women altogether!.

    We’ve had the list of what not to say to infertile people, 5 Things NOT to Say to the Parent of a Preemie, 10 Things Not to Say to Adoptive Parents , What Not to Say to Parents of Kids with Special Needs, 12 Things You Should Never Say to a Pregnant Woman, Things You Should Never Say to a Nursing Mother, 5 Things You Should NEVER Say to a Woman Who Suffered a Miscarriage and now this……

    Somehow, even though I miscarried twice, have been a mom 4 time,s and once to a child with very special needs, and now as a parent of a dead child (I’m surprised there’s no list for that one, LOL!) I always took in stride the things people said- most meant well, might have felt awkward- and to be honest, all of these lists might serve to make people feel even MORE awkward about it.
    Guess we’ll just have to go and pretend that all those things don’t exist right?

    1. carolyncastiglia says:

      The lists are meant as guides, gentle reminders, not rules set in stone. Of course good people say dumb things – including the authors of lists!

  4. goddess says:

    Still too many to remember, LOL! I’ll just remember how many times people told me my son was better off that way, while knowing they were attempting to comfort me, and assume those with whom I am talking are equally as gracious if my well-meaning phrases fall flat.
    I DO take it though that honesty is not an option, LOL!

  5. JennyOndioline says:

    People — myself included — say dumb things all the time. I’ve been guilty of the “I don’t know how you do it” to many of my mom friends who are in much tougher situations than I am. And truly I don’t know how they do it, ’cause parenting is hard no matter who you are, but extreme circumstances (spouse absent/ill, loss of a job, etc.) make it all that much harder….. Excellent article on the camp gap, Carolyn. In my experience that gap also happens around here at the end of the summer — camps end in August but school doesn’t start until well into the first week of Sept. I’m a SAHM so I don’t have to worry about it for the time being. I truly don’t know how other parents manage it.

  6. goddess says:

    So why is it necessarily a dumb or wrong thing to say then? Honest maybe- but infinitely kinder than “Oh ma GAWD- I’d put a gun to my head if I had t do what you do!”, right?

  7. Anne-Marie says:

    SOOOOO sick of the last one. And all I have is a cat.

  8. Bunnytwenty says:

    I don’t see these articles as beating people over the head with “you are a bad person if you say these things! bwah!” I see them as reminding people to have empathy for what someone is going through, and being mindful of people’s feelings. Sure, most of these things are said with good intentions, but we all need reminders to say not just what we think we might want to hear, but what people really need to hear from us. Empathy: it’s a good thing, people!

  9. macnrysmomma says:

    The one I hated the most when I was a single parent was Wheres their dad? I always tried to come back with a smart alec response. O and the other was does your kids have the same dad? My oldest looks like me and my youngest looks like her dad

  10. Alisa says:

    As a single mom one comment/question I hate is “were you and the father together?” Another one is “why isnt the father around?” If I wanted you to know I’d tell you!

  11. Lily says:

    I loathe the weight “compliment.” Compliment me on what I’m wearing, or if you think I look good in general, or better yet, on something I have accomplished. If I have lost weight, so what? If I have gained weight, so what? Neither is a measure of my worth as a person.

  12. A. McInnis MD says:

    My question to you single mothers is how do you deal with your biological fathers. My opinion if the give financial support, no matter how modest and want to be involved, that is positive. Any one who loves my child is welcome. If you don’t care enough or ar not responsible enough to contribute with money ie tangible support…no visitation. Am I too old school? By the way, I am retired and 60.

  13. Lee says:

    I was a single mom for many years. My children are grown and on their own. When I ask a single mother “where is your baby girl?” (or whatever gender). I am not asking as some kind of accusation. I am asking because I am either one saying I would have liked it if you had brought the child with you, it would have been fine or I am saying I remember that you have a child and would have liked to see the child. I think you are way too sensitive. Too many single moms wear their status like some kind ashes and sack cloth.

  14. Betty says:

    My childrens’ bio-dad doesn’t pay support and never has. He also doesn’t ask for visitation. Every now and again I get an email..”how are the kids doing?” Every few years he breezes into town and I let him in to see them. Other than that, fair is fair. Another man is raising them, supporting them and he’s pretty much their “Dad.” Bio-dad, on the other hand, is referred to by my children using his first name. They see him as a family friend and not much more. No expectations equals no disappointments. It’s worked out very well for us with no fighting over the divorce, the money, the visitation, etc.

  15. Valeri says:

    I don’t mind the questions. And when I need a sitter I know how to call one, thank you very much. I have 3 kids, and it isn’t hard. what was hard was being married to an abusive jerk. life is very peaceful these days, and everyone is happy and safe :)

  16. pete says:

    I have a better one….gee i can see why your a single mom

  17. Kathy says:

    What not to say to a single mom? I rsvp’d to a party my son was invited to and declined saying he would be with his dad for that day. The child’s mother responded with, “I often think that it must be so nice to be divorced where you can have every other weekend to yourself”.

  18. Rachel says:

    Hmm. I have a 6- (almost 7) year-old son, and I’ve been single since he was 2 months old. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been a single mom, but these statements don’t bother me at all. When people say, “Let me know if you need a babysitter,” I take it as I would when people say, “Let’s get together sometime.” If they mean it, they will make it happen or accept when I try to make it happen. If they don’t mean it, then they won’t make the effort. It’s not offensive, it’s just something people say. And I take the, “I don’t know how you do it” as a huge compliment, as it’s meant to be. I’ve heard that one many times. My response is usually “I’m not sure how I do it either.” :) We all have our own unique challenges, and being a single mom happens to be a challenge and a joy. :)

  19. coco says:

    I think all too often single parents (moms) carry alot of weight on their shoulders raising child(ren) with totally absent dads. Big props to the ones that are doing it without the help and support they need! Every day is “Mother’s Day”!

  20. Renee says:

    I have heard the I dont know how you do it remark and I am not a single mother. I think its something everyone says when they see someone else overwhelmed. Or at least in a situation that feels overwhelming to everyone else. After an 11 day stay in the hospital with my 2 month old with congestive heart failure I appreciated the fact that they realize how hard everything had been. My daughter is thriving now and I still look back and wonder how I did it all.

  21. heather says:

    i love to hear people say i look like ive lost weight because after having my kids i feel like a big cow. these are all said to me and im married. i dont find any offensive.

  22. Lana says:

    To you and all single moms, I’ve always (since I had my baby) absolutely admired you and yes, I don’t know how you do it and still can walk, talk and function. I would like to know so I can learn from you. Learn not to freak when bubs is having tantrums, learn to make sure she’s entertained and I still have time to make dinner, learn to manage my finances properly, learn how to cook the way she eats only one dinner, not five different meals etc. etc. etc.. You’re the strongest of us all and that’s what we are trying to say in a very clumsy way. And by we I mean not-so-single-mommies with certified useless hubbies. My mom was a single mom and only now I am starting to realize what a monumental accomplishment it was and how I owe her absolutely everything I have and then some. Rest assured that your child will always think a world of you.

  23. Meredith says:

    @kathy,

    The parent’s response to your RSVP SHOULD definitely be on this list.

  24. rhonda says:

    When I was still a single mom, the other moms on my son’s football team used to complain to me about their husbands. Their husbands who attended every single practice/game/school function, co-parented with them and worked really hard to pay for their brand new cars/houses, etc….then they would tell me “you’re so lucky that you don’t have to deal with a husband” or “you’re so lucky that you get to work and be independent and do it all on your own, I never got to do that”….seriously, did these women think I was “lucky” because I was raising my son on my own?

  25. Patty says:

    I appreciated this post, but the comments about weight and work seem like insensitive things to say to ANYONE, not single mom-centric. I believe that most people try to be supportive, and if they say something that rubs me the wrong way, they just have trouble seeing the world thru my eyes (as I would have before I became a single mom….solo mom, really, no father in the picture at all). BUT, I really have to take deep breaths when someone posts on Facebook “Hubby is away ALL WEEKEND! Being a single mom is HARD!” Dude. First of all. You are a not a single mom because your husband went away. Did his paycheck go away too? Did his ability to care for your children if you die go away? No. Secondly, it shows how people think that the challenges of single motherhood have to do with the logistics and the relentlessness of it. That is part of it, sure, but the part that you learn to manage. You get used to putting hi to bed every night and waking up with him every morning because, well, what other option is there? No, the HARD part of being single mom is the fear. What if I lose my job? What if something happens to me, no one loves him or cares for him like I do. What if I die in the middle of the night and no one misses us and he is alone in his crib? This haunts me and I am NOT a crazy worrywart.

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