How Do You Define Single Parenthood?

I have observed a strange behavior sweeping the Internet ever since I found myself trying to figure out what to call myself in the wake of my divorce. Dad is still very much in the picture so am I a single mom? Or is the new, politically correct term “co-parent?” We split custody and expenses involving the kids straight down the middle. I work full-time to provide health insurance and pay the rent and other bills, and every moment I’m not at work I’m with my kids. Alone with three kids under five and no one to rescue me when I become overwhelmed. But because Dad has them half the time, does this mean I am not a single parent? Is the title “single parent” strictly reserved for someone who receives absolutely no help from the other parent? I am single and I am a parent, but this does not a single mother make?

It’s so confusing.

image source: Monica Bielanko

Add to that the disturbing reaction that Heather Armstrong of Dooce.com received after she posted a photo of a calendar on Instagram back in October with the caption, “Full-time single parenting will make you celebrate the small things and contort your brain to the point that multiple explanation points make sense.” One of the first comments after the photo was from the self-ascribed Single Parent Police:

“Single parenting” means no co-parent — someone who is widowed or whose former spouse has shirked parental responsibilities.

Oh, ho. So wait. A single parent is not a parent who is single? I’ve been laboring under the delusion that I — with my three kids and my responsibilities involving them — am a single mom when I am most certainly not? The full-time job I got to pay for their health care and this rent I pay to keep a house over their head and these groceries I pay for with my own money  to feed them doesn’t count as single parenthood? Because Dad has them half the time? But my bills are the same whether or not he has them half the time or never. So what then?

In what space-time continuum is it okay to call out someone on their parenting status? Especially when we don’t know the details of the Armstrong’s custody arrangement. There are as many post-marriage parenting scenarios in the world as there are divorces and now we have the Single Parenting Police calling out folks who don’t qualify? I think the always hilarious Edenland brings it into the proper perspective with this proposed scenario: “But what if you’re like, in line buying some milkshakes and your kids are waiting at the table? You’re not parenting right then are you ARE YOU.”

The takeaway? No one has the right to define single parenthood. It’s hard enough to parent within the bonds of a loving relationship so we should give mad props for anyone managing the balancing act of parenthood under any other circumstances.

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