Growing up as the daughter of a single mother, I swore I'd never be a single mom myself. My mother did her best, as I think most of us do, but I was well aware of the fact that her situation -- our situation -- was far from ideal. My mother worried about money, and with good reason (we were usually broke). My mother was lonely, though she wouldn't admit it. My mother was overwhelmed. Did I want to face the same struggles when it was my turn to be a mom? No way.
Well, you know what they say about the best-laid plans.
At least I was prepared. As a divorced mother-of-two, the territory I travel day-to-day feels largely familiar; had I been raised in a two-parent household, I think single motherhood might have been more of a shock to my system. I've been here before, just on the other side.
So I'm never surprised by the questions people ask or comments they make when they find out I'm divorced. I've heard it all before.
Of course that doesn't make it okay. If you're not a single mom, you might be shocked to hear how nosy and insensitive even perfect strangers can be. If you are a single mom, you've no doubt heard most of these yourself.
1. What happened to their dad?
This one drives me nuts for several reasons. First of all, depending on who's doing the asking, it's usually none of their business. Plus, the question implies that you're a single mom because you were either abandoned or widowed or otherwise rendered powerless to change your fate. What happened to their dad? He fell in love with the nanny and ran away with her ... he had a "spiritual awakening" and went to live on an ashram. Whatever your answer, it's expected to be a variation on "something happened to make him not want to be married to me anymore and that's why I'm a single mom." It's sexist, quite frankly.
2. How are the kids dealing with everything?
From the patronizingly pitying facial expressions that accompany this question, I'd say "everything" is a code word for "the chaos and instability of your fractured family's home life." So things never get chaotic in a home with two parents, is that right? Spare me the dime store pediatric psychology. There is no reason to assume my children are any less well-adjusted than anyone else's simply because I'm divorced.
3. Does their father help you out?
I'm never quite sure if this is an inquiry as to the exact dollar amount and frequency of mandated child support payments or just a way for people to say, "I can tell you're poor because you have that beat-up old car and your clothes look like they came off the clearance rack ... I just want to know how poor, so I can feel better about my two-income household."
4. Oh, that's a shame.
It is? Being a divorced single mother is a shame? Whose shame? Not mine. Again, even if this isn't intended to be a slight, the direct translation is: "Oh, too bad your life sucks." Who said my life sucks?
5. At least you get time off when the kids are with your ex!
Look, I've made jokes along these same lines myself -- the only good thing about divorce is joint custody, etc. But they were, as I said, jokes. In no way, shape, or form does having regularly scheduled alone time make up for the drawbacks of being a single parent. Make no mistake, there is no "break" from motherhood. There is only the ever-present hum of anxiety that occurs whenever your kids aren't in your immediate proximity for more than a day.
Are you a divorced mom? Do people ever say these things to you?
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