I may dance around and sing Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” while I’m vacuuming the living room, but I’m really not. I’m not every woman, I’m a single mom. And I am certainly not EVERY single mom. We come in all shapes, sizes, and situations. Some of us, like me, set out to become single moms from the get-go. Some became single moms through divorce or separation. Some single moms don’t even like to be called single moms because they are widowed moms.
When people meet me and find out I’m a single mom, I absolutely understand the assumption is that I’m divorced. Statistically, it’s the most probable and societally, it is the norm. I can shrug off a couple of questions from new acquaintances because, well, asking questions is how we get to know each other. I am more than comfortable talking about my family and the cool way we came to be.
But some days, I truly am astonished by the things people say and the things people assume. At times, my other single mom friends endure entire avenues of inappropriate questions from new friends. Filed under curiosity or filed under “just getting to know you better,” these questions can often have a sting and a punch. If you find yourself wondering about your single mom friend and feel compelled to ask one of these questions, for goodness sakes do not do it in front of the kids. And then ask yourself, do you really need to know?
Most of us have backstories that we unfold and share with new friends as we are ready and comfortable. But some backstories want to remain packed away.
These are all responses single moms have received to simply stating to a new acquaintance, “I am a single mom.”
1. “How did your kid handle the divorce?”
I have been asked this several times. A few times I was asked this at a playground within earshot of my son. It’s a weird question to ask a single mom to begin with, but for me especially … well, the only way to answer the question is either with a lie or with the entire truth of my family. I can’t imagine inferring I had a divorce when I have never been married, but I know saying, “I wasn’t married” doesn’t always quash the questions.
2. “Aren’t you worried about your son growing up without a father?”
People are very, very concerned about this. Incredibly concerned. I have two things to say about this:
1. Not all people who grew up with fathers had it so great.
2. I DO think kids benefit from having fantastic role models in their life — of both genders. It’s my job as a parent to make sure my son has lots of wonderful grownups around that he can learn from.
Uh … thank you for your concern.
3. “Do you still have to talk to the in-laws?”
Poor in-laws. Some of them truly get a bad rap. I know many single (both divorced and widowed) moms who continue to have wonderful relationships with their in-laws. Grandparents are pretty special, and I know most of us will do all we can to keep that spark in our kid’s life. Assuming the worst because of — what, pop culture? — is just sad.
4. “Does he pay child support?”
Maybe he does and maybe he doesn’t. Is this REALLY something to ask a person you just met? Heck, I don’t even know these kinds of details regarding one of my best friends because it is not my business. At all. If my friend needed to vent about it, I would absolutely pull up a chair for her, but child support is pretty hands off as far as conversational topics go.
5. “Must be nice to have some time to yourself with your custody arrangement.”
I have a single mom friend who would beg to differ. She is a complete wreck while her child is away with her ex. But I also know of single parents who have fantastic custody arrangements that they have worked very hard to make as smooth as possible. I wouldn’t assume any parent is relaxed when they are away from their kids.
6. “Did you try couples therapy?”
I’m sure the person who asked this meant well, but what did they expect to get as a response? “WHAT? Couples therapy?! I KNEW there was something we could have done to stay together!” We can never, ever, ever know what works and what doesn’t work in another family or marriage.
7. “I’m practically single too because my spouse is NEVER home.”
Ha. I can not tell you how many times people have said this to me. I love bonding over shared interests, but being a single parent isn’t a club with flimsy, flexible membership guidelines. If you are married or partnered, you are not a single parent. I will totally empathize with your challenging day while your spouse is not home, but at some point, s/he comes home.
8. “So … are you dating? I wish I could dip my toe into dating again.”
Wait. What?! And no, not dating. Terrified of dating.
9. “I can not EVEN imagine how hard that must be!”
While most of us single moms appreciate a solid fist bump on making it through our day, we don’t need head pats. We don’t need to be told we are just so amazing for getting out of bed every morning and making it work. What else would we do? This is life, this is family. We are just fine. (But thank you!)
And then there’s this …
“You should make sure you take care of yourself.”
This comment? Appreciated! A few years ago I met a woman in a waiting room. Our kids were climbing all over the toys and we were both smiling at the insanity of toddlerhood. The woman and I got to chatting, as you do, and when she discovered I was a single mom, she didn’t plop out some trite bit of awful advice or some eye-roll comment. Instead, she smiled at me and said my son was lucky to have such a fun mama.
She then said, “Remember to take care of yourself because you are all he has.”
She said it so warmly and so kindly. Her message reached me so deeply and perfectly. It was the perfect thing this single mom needed to hear.