When the football season started, Nashville resident Kristin Cavallari mentioned in an interview that her husband Jay Cutler had left their home to begin his season as quarterback for the Miami Dolphins. She said, “So, I’m a single parent for the next five months.” And then some people on social media responded—as they tend to do. They were not super sympathetic to Ms. Cavallari’s plight. No shortage of “real” single moms disagreed with the notion that having your husband in another state to play a sport for a few months while your nanny and mother-in-law are in town to help you gives you the credential of “single mom.”
I admit it. Occasionally, I find myself playing the single mom comparison game. I have a couple of friends who are divorced. They share 50/50 custody with their ex-husbands. Every other week, these moms get to go out to dinner or travel or sleep in on the weekends or develop a hobby. Even the moms who are without their kids every other weekend have some chances for Netflix binges on a Saturday. They make last-minute Friday night plans without figuring out a sitter. They get breaks from being the solo parent. I find myself wondering what that would feel like. Their single mom lives looks so much different than mine, after all.
I have full custody of my kids, who are eight and almost twelve. They are with me every day and every night. In the quiet of those late-night hours, when the kids’ fighting and the piles of work at my office and the house that cannot ever seem to maintain order get overwhelming? I find myself asking some questions that don’t make me proud. They go something like this: Doesn’t my 24/7 solo parent status make me MORE of a single mom than my friends who share custody? Shouldn’t my struggles and my exhaustion be appreciated more? When other women complain about how hard it is to be a single mom, do they realize the comparatively easy hand they’ve been dealt?
See? My inner thoughts and grievances can get petty rather quickly.
But then, what about my friend who lost her husband to cancer? Or the friend who gets no child support? Or the friend who doesn’t have an amazing village surrounding her to help? (As I write this, I have one kid zip -ining with a friend from softball. The other kid is mountain biking with another family from church.) What about my friends whose spouses deploy to the other side of the world? Or whose partner spends more of the work week in hotel rooms than their own bedroom?
What about the moms who are married to husbands who disappear to the bars or the basement whenever they aren’t working? There is truth in the notion that being married to someone who makes no effort to be engaged in the family is more lonely that parenting as a single person.
The longer I think, the more examples I can name of women whose single mom status is more legitimate than mine.
Is there a sliding scale of single mom-ness printed somewhere so I finally can figure out where I belong? These 2am conversations with myself can run the gamut of unhealthy emotions, from pity to sadness to guilt. Much like a gremlin, I probably should not feed my brain after midnight.
Here’s the thing I need to remember: The single mom who has every other week to herself also probably spends every other Christmas and birthday without her kids. She gets only half the nights to tuck in her kids that I experience. She probably loves her free time but also misses her kids every minute that they are gone. The single mom who sends her kids to her ex-husband every other weekend still grieves for a marriage that she did not want to end. For most (not all) single moms, regardless of custody or financial standing or relationship with the children’s father, their current situation is not one they imagined for themselves. We reconstructed the vision of what family looks like to us. Even Kristin Cavallari must adjust her expectations of what being a mom means in her daily life for the season that her partner is many hours away.
I want to apologize for the time that I have spent comparing myself to other single moms. We all have unique stories to tell. Each of us faces great challenges and amazing joys when it comes to parenting our children. We all understand what it means to sacrifice for our families. I want to be a woman who champions the efforts and the stories of single moms, not one who has to evaluate how we each measure up.