I recently wrote an article entitled, "10 Things This Single Mom Wants Her Kids to Know," in which I discussed raising my three children post-divorce almost entirely on my own. You can read it here.
My now ex husband has been living overseas for more than five years, beginning (almost to the day) two years prior to when we officially separated during January of 2012. Although we legally agreed to joint custody, the reality is, due to my ex's proximity (or lack thereof) to our children, I retain full physical custody of them most of the time. So when I titled my article and referred to myself as a single mom (which I wholeheartedly believe I am), I didn't anticipate being met with criticism from others who argued I am not, in fact, a single mother because my children's father continues to play a role in their lives.
To that I say, bullshit.
My ex husband and I are, for the most part, amicable, though we still occasionally hit bumps in the road like so many other divorced couples parenting children from two separate homes, ours being located some 8,000 miles apart.
Almost daily, my ex communicates with our children via FaceTime, text or email, and either visits or travels with them during most major school holidays and for a few days every couple of months or so. He pays support -- to them and to me.
I, in turn, stay flexible, accommodating last minute trips so he can see the kids whenever he is able.
We both love our children.
Our situation "works." Is it a perfect one? No. Are there worse? Yes. Are there better? Yes, to that as well. Am I a single mom? Well, I guess that all depends on how the term "single mom" is defined.
If you ask me, I will tell you I am a single mom -- with an emphatic YES.
I have debated this topic on numerous occasions with my own mom, once a single mom herself. She has since remarried and been married for more than 25 years, but from the time I was 13 years old and my brother 10 when my father suffered a massive heart attack and died, she raised us alone. And by alone I mean without financial assistance, little money, and limited emotional support from family and friends. And after being a homemaker for the entire duration of her marriage, following my father's death my mom returned to work as an administrative assistant in order to make ends meet.
My mom's single parenting experience and my own are by no means the same. I acknowledge and appreciate that. I lived through both (though one as a child of a single mom), and I contend neither scenario is more representative of single parenthood than the other.
By way of comparison, my mother was a widow and I am divorced, and my ex is still involved in his children's lives whereas my own father could no longer be. But, in many ways, our situations are not all that different. And it's these similarities, I argue, that make a divorced mom (or dad) also a single mom (or dad).
Leaving money out of the equation for just a moment, let me say, single parenting is a state of mind, regardless of how much involvement an ex spouse has in his or her children's lives. And it's this state of mind that pervades every thought we as divorced parents have throughout each day. Divorced single parents are never and, I repeat, NEVER at rest. Even when not physically with our children, we are mentally worried about them, particularly as we relinquish control and knowledge of our children's whereabouts to an ex spouse.
Of course, there is a broad spectrum as to how much comfort we take in the care our children receive from their other parent. Every family varies. But I venture to say, even in those best-case scenarios, regardless of how loving and capable the other parent is, and how much faith we have in them, a little part of us still feels trepidation when our children walk out the door. Not to mention that post-divorce feeling of no longer being included in what was once deemed "family" time.
It defies logic then that the most difficult divorced single parenting moments often come when we are with our children. Those times when they long for their other parent, the one they no longer see as much or at all (or, in some cases, never saw to begin with), whether en route to the bathroom or at the kitchen table while eating breakfast before school or dinner after a long day. That parent who is late to or cannot attend every Little League game, piano recital, or school concert, or who never attends at all. How many of us would rather suffer such disappointment ourselves than watch our children endure it?
For a divorced single parent, time is NOT money.
It's also important to acknowledge the physical toll parenting after divorce takes. I would think due to its obviousness, it shouldn't require much explanation. Yet I often find it does, especially to those married parents who don't quite "get" the difference. From last minute trips to doctors, dentists, and the ER, to late night trips to the 24-hour pharmacy and kids home sick from school; from car trouble to carpooling with car trouble, to juggling play dates, school activities, and endless household chores, divorced single parents, when we are enjoying custody, are parenting solo, meaning there is no partner there to... partner.
Add work, financial pressure, special needs (whether a parent's or a child's), and whatever else we can or cannot foresee, it should be easy to see how exhausting, both mentally and physically, a divorced single parent's life can be.
Of course, if we are single parents by divorce, it's possible we weren't getting such support during our marriage and that's why we are, among other reasons, no longer married. But it doesn't change the basic premise we as divorced single parents may still not be getting what we need, what EVERY human being needs at one time or another -- an extra pair of hands, a hug, the security of having someone in our corner, or maybe, just maybe, even a special someone who will hold us in their arms as we drift off to sleep.
Single parenting is a way of life, whether we are parenting our kids on our own full-time, part-time or sometimes, or during those times when our children are with their other parent and we are "off" for the day, night or week. Where our children sleep is merely a matter of geography.
No, not all single parents are created equal. Some of us have it easier than others, and in different ways. Some of us have it more difficult, and in different ways. We can debate until we are blue in the face what constitutes those "better" or "worse" situations. But what I bet most of us can agree on is, although we would never have wished the difficulties single parenting entail upon ourselves, we also wouldn't trade our lives for anyone else's.