Earlier this week one of my DivorcedMoms homies wrote a piece about the difference between being a single mother and being a "solo mother" -- someone who is temporarily parenting alone while her spouse is out of town. While the writer, Susanna Morgan, admitted it is difficult for any parent who has to schlep, shop, cook, and nurse-maid without back-up, she also stated that solo parents shouldn't complain about their interim status, and instead count their blessings because their partners will return.
The piece garnered harsh criticism on my Facebook feed. Commenters felt the writer was whining about her parenting life instead of acknowledging that every parent feels overwhelmed and alone at times. I was puzzled by the intensity of the reactions because it seems like a no-brainer that being a solo parent for a week is far easier than being a single parent into perpetuity. Whenever one of my married mom friends tells me, "I know just how you feel!" because her husband is off on a business trip, I tell her, "Actually, you have no idea."
I think I speak for most single parents (moms or dads) when I say that there is no genuine comparison between our experiences and those of the solo-ers. The relentlessness of single parenthood is draining. You can't afford to develop a major health problem because no one else is around to take care of your kids. You can't afford to lose your job, or segue to part-time work, because no one else will pay your rent. Unless you're financially well-off, you can jettison retirement fantasies because you will most likely be working till you drop. You constantly struggle to keep loneliness at bay: unlike the temporarily solo parent, you have no significant other who will return and relieve you. The only person you have to fall back on, ever, unless you re-partner, is you.
For all those who wish to support a single mom friend (and I suggest you do), here is a list of six simple things you can do to change her life:
1. Ask what it's like to be a single mom. Listen to her share her experience. Don't spout platitudes, tell her things really aren't so hard, or try to correct her perception of her experience. Just listen. One of the nicest things a married friend did for me was to admit that she really didn't know what my life was like. She urged me to tell her if she ever acted like she did. Her willingness to be mindful, and to let me be the expert of my experience, and to listen, was incredibly validating.
2. Give gifts that matter. Scented body lotion and artisanal candles make lovely birthday presents, but they aren't items a single mom needs. Instead, give your friend a Target or Trader Joe's gift card. Bring her homemade meals she can stick in the freezer and heat up when she she's too tired to cook. Buy her a Christmas tree. Or an evening with a gigolo. Kidding! But now that I have your attention, read on.
3. Provide hands-on help. Offer to baby-sit. Pick up her dry-cleaning. Rake the leaves in her front yard. Drive her kids to soccer practice. Help her unpack moving boxes. You know how burdened you feel by your own to-do list? Hers is twice as long.
4. Help her afford a much-needed vacation. Do you have a time-share she can stay in for a long weekend? Can you wrangle her kids for a few days so she doesn't have to spring for childcare? Feed and walk her dogs so she doesn't have to kennel them? Single moms need to re-charge their batteries even more than you do.
5. Give her a happy holiday. Few things can make a single parent feel more single than a Thanksgiving or Christmas spent solo. Invite her to Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas caroling, or a New Year's Eve party. And when you're in line waiting for your hot mocha, pick up a Starbuck's gift card for her to stick in her stocking.
6. Keep her on your guest list. Think your single mom friend doesn't need anything from you because she's okay financially? Think again. Many single moms watch their social lives fall apart because their married friends don't know what to do with them. Invite her to dinner parties, family gatherings, or just to hang out in your back yard. If you worry that she's going to steal your husband, get over it. Your friend isn't a homewrecker. She just wants to feel included.
Got any other items on your wish list, single moms? Leave a comment and weigh in!