Not All Solo Moms Are Created Equal

Not All Solo Moms Are Created Equal

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Celebrating the individuality of Solo Moms begins with us

It was one of those lazy Saturday mornings in which the likelihood of us getting out of our pajamas diminished with each passing hour. My son was contentedly stationing Legos and miniature action figures atop our living-room cocktail table that he had commandeered as a play station while I twiddled around the house picking up scattered mail, tossed clothing, and his week’s arts-and-crafts productions.

My eyes searched the living room as I heard my misplaced phone buzzing with an incoming text message. I considered it could be an emergency, since it was just before 10:00 a.m., just as I always do anytime someone contacts me during early-morning or late-night hours. Once I located my phone and saw it was my friend texting, I swiped to open the message, hopeful we would finally settle on a repeatedly rescheduled and long-overdue lunch date.

“Sorry, Mama, but I will be in the Dominican Republic that weekend.”

I responded with everything one says when a friend is going to the Dominican Republic but you are not.

“That’s great! I know you are going to have a blast. I wish I was going :(”

“You should come! A group of us are going for somebody’s birthday party.”

“Girl, you know I can’t go anywhere. I have no one to watch J. for that amount of time.”

“I know, Mama. You know I’m in the same situation. I wouldn’t be going anywhere, either, if it [were not] for my aunt helping me out whenever I travel or go out.”

“You are so blessed.”

“I really am.”

We continued texting about beachwear and hair options as well as other goings-on in our lives. Before exchanging our last series of texts, I urged her to get on Instagram so I could live vicariously through her posts, since I wouldn’t be going any farther than the South anytime soon. She joked that she’s old and doesn’t even know how Instagram works. We promised, yet again, to reschedule, just as we had for the past year.

Same tribe, different lives

After we ended our call, I gazed out of my living-room window replaying our conversation. As my eyes set upon the vibrant green trees and pastel-colored flowers marking the undeniable presence of spring, I thought about our lives as Solo Moms. I tallied all the ways in which they paralleled: We both tried desperately to hold on to our marriages long after they had slipped beyond our reach. We are both the only child and are now raising our own only children. We never wanted to raise our boys alone, as our mothers raised us. We each wanted siblings for our children; instead, they have paternal half-siblings. We are working moms because we want and have to be. And we both undeniably would go through the same hell we once did to be gifted with the sons we have.

But for every way in which our circumstances mirror each other’s, they also differ. My friend’s mother is less than 30 miles away, while mine is more than 900 miles away. The small family I have is neither close in proximity nor connection. She has a beloved aunt who is a mighty village unto herself, evidenced by her resignation the same month she learned my friend was expecting; my friend’s auntie was adamant that there would be no babysitters or day care for her great-nephew. She would care and has cared for him as if he were her own. My son, however, had a sitter from the time he was three months old when I returned to work. And now at four years old, he is a veteran. He has advanced from a day-care toddler who could barely speak or feed himself to a counting, spelling, animal-identifying prekindergartner who will proudly inform you that the name of his favorite author, Dr. Seuss, is Theodor Geisel.

And when it comes to dating, my friend hasn’t missed a beat since divorcing. Her dating life looks like something out of Sex and the City while mine is more reminiscent of The Golden Girls. With her aunt’s help, my friend can wine, dine, and enjoy birthday parties in the Dominican Republic. I, on the other hand, limit lunch dates to when my son is in school, stave off dinner dates for months when my mother is in town so as not to incur babysitting costs, and am generally more enticed by the thought of my pima cotton bathrobe and a glass of moscato than I am by an unsolicited picture of, well, anything.

There is no typical single mom

Although solo motherhood is the common ground upon which my friend and I stand, our paths rarely intersect. I navigate mine at a wearisome-yet-steady pace doing what I can on my own two feet, alone. My friend gains greater traction because she has women by her side who are willing and able to share her load when it becomes too heavy, even if for a little while. But woe is not me, nor is it about how lucky is she. We are where we are in our lives as women and mothers. Our respective stations are not to be envied, lamented, or pitied. Day by day, we are traveling our own motherhood journeys—individually, decidedly, and courageously.

Our Solo Mom lives will look vaguely familiar to us five years from now and be almost unrecognizable in 10, for it is ever changing and evolving. There will be days when we couldn’t feel more triumphant in the raising of our boys and others when we will summon every fiber of our being just to survive the present day, let alone another. Yet we always do.

Solo Moms are as individual as their stories

Jane Juffer aptly writes in Single Mother: The Emergence of the Domestic Intellectual (NYU Press, 2006), “There is no typical single mom.” We are widowed, once married, and never married. We work outside and inside the home. We coparent and parent alone. We are parts of fully formed villages and in search of much-needed ones. We are white, brown, and black. We are rich and poor, and straddle the middle. We are lauded and maligned. And, most of all, we love and are loved by our children beyond measure.

My first trip to the Dominican Republic likely won’t be for a birthday celebration or romantic getaway, but probably will be to build sandcastles on white, sandy beaches with my little family of three: Grandma, my boy, and me. That’s exactly how it was for my friend years ago, when she beamed in pictures on Facebook, sitting poolside with her equally fabulous mom and beautiful son. That was during her early season of solo motherhood—where she no longer is and I am fully immersed.

Time will continue to move us forward. There will be some places in which we share a conversance as mothers, but far more in which we share a kinship as friends. Therein lies the beauty. Long after our boys have let go of our hands and set out to make lives of their own, we’ll have each other, laughing and sharing good times under the Dominican Republic stars and beyond.

The ESME community honors and respects all Solo Moms. Check out Sister Chat, or join a Tribe for support and connection.

Terri Linton, ESME’s Incarceration Resource Guide, is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, where she is currently pursuing a master of fine arts degree in creative nonfiction writing, and a graduate of Rutgers School of Law-Newark. Terri is a freelance writer and professor of criminal justice. She hosts and produces the podcast She Roads with Terri Linton, where she interviews women about their journeys of endurance and resilience. Terri’s writing has appeared in Ninth Letter, HuffPost, Motherly, and Mamamia. You can connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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