The declaration is a common one.
“Dan is on a business trip so I’m single-mumming it this week with the two boys. SEND ALL THE WINE, PLZ.”
“Ally has to work late every night before her deadline so I’m basically a single dad. The kid is mid-tantrum while I’m cooking dinner. I love you, Ally, please don’t ever leave me.”
“Just got home after a three-hour flight with the baby. Single parents of the world, I totally get you. The struggle is real!”
In parentland, phrases like these get tossed around frequently, and they often elicit instant empathy from friends who’ve been there. Taking care of a kid is hard. If you’re doing it alone, temporarily, it’s harder, temporarily. But for all of us with a partner who offers support in any form, physical, emotional or financial, let’s stop with the hyperbolic “single parent” descriptor. Why? Because it devalues the work of actual single parents.
“If you break your arm, you wouldn’t call yourself ‘disabled’,” writes author Rachel Simmons, a real single mum, for Slate. “You’re parenting solo, but you are not a single mother. Your challenge is temporary, your relief around the corner. Why does your passing inconvenience make it OK to bogart my identity?”
It doesn’t. While Wikipedia says “there’s no true definition of what ‘single parent’ means and is more based on opinions”, the reality is, when we appropriate one group’s burden to call attention to our own challenges, we blur the real problems that exist. There is, of course, a wide spectrum of privilege among single parents — those who are raising children without a partner, by choice or otherwise — but it’s important to recognise some facts: Of single parents in the US, 83 per cent are mothers. Only one third of single mothers receive any child support. The poverty rate of single-mother families is nearly five times that of married-couple families. Families headed by women of colour fare the worst.
Beyond that, well, having the support of a partner or co-parent or ex, even if it isn’t exactly what you had imagined, makes your parenting experience different from that of single parents, so honour that. In a piece on Scary Mommy titled, “You Can’t ‘Single Mom It’ If You’re Not a Single Mom“, Liane Cole shares what it’s really like to be a single parent — the guilt, the loneliness, the expense of shelling out cash for a babysitter if you just need to get a haircut or pap smear. “The responsibility of my child’s future, schooling, friendships, activities, social skills, emotional adjustment, health, self-esteem, happiness, ability to trust, confidence, resilience, behaviour, and needs is all on me, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, forever,” Cole writes.
She’s also thankful every day for her life with her son, whom she loves immensely. You see, single parents are allowed to complain about being single parents. All parents are allowed to complain about being parents (because, really, what would our conversations over drinks even consist of otherwise?). But all parents cannot complain about being single parents.
As a parent with a partner, I know that if I have a bad cold, I can take some medicine and conk out, and my husband will be coherent enough in case there’s an emergency. I know I can use the restroom in an airport and not have to cram a suitcase, stroller, nappy bag and squirming baby into the tiny stall with me every single time. I know that I can “tap out” in the middle of a raging preschooler-tantrum and hide in a corner until I gain some composure again. I know I have back-up.
So if my husband is out of town, I will tell my friends, “I’m solo until Wednesday.” I’m pretty sure they will still come over and bring wine.