Yes, two people make a family; no, I’m not on the hunt for a spouse; I’d love some help, thanks
On any given evening, my four-year-old son is running haphazardly through the living room and kitchen pretending to be a vampire bat while my two puppies wrestle in his path and the third dog is pestering me for dinner.
The kitchen counter is consumed by a day’s worth of mail, bills, backpacks, socks looking for their life partners, Legos, toy dinosaurs, and a cornucopia of electronics that need batteries charged or replaced.
My mom often suggests I get a cleaning service to take some of the load off, but as I look around the tornado that engulfs my house every night between the witching hours of 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., I think, There is nothing that can be done to fix this.
I am a single mom by choice. I went into parenthood (of both the two-legged and four-legged variety) knowing from the very beginning that there would never be a “Honey, can you unload the dishwasher while I make dinner?” The words “Babe, it’s your turn to give him a bath and brush his teeth tonight” were never going to come out of my mouth.
Although the evening rush that blows through my house isn’t unique to anyone—married, partnered, or single—things are different for me than they are for my married friends.
More is expected of us solo mothers, especially solo mothers by choice. And not just by our children who, by design, rely solely on one parent instead of two. Although my life as a parent may not outwardly look any different than the lives of my married friends—we all have soccer practices and swim lessons and school conferences and jobs and houses and yearnings for Friday-night margaritas—my responsibilities are amplified.
I work very hard to blend in as a normal family in a sea of traditional nuclear families. And that’s what we are: a perfectly normal family, just the two of us. I don’t expect to receive special treatment because I’m a single mom, and I sure as hell don’t want anyone’s pity or charity because there is absolutely nothing about my life that’s pitiable (except, perhaps, my kitchen skills and the current state of my hall closet).
But there are some things we Solo Moms want everyone else to know. These are the sentiments that are talked about quietly in Solo Mom circles, often with a generous helping of guilt on the side. These are the things we want to tell people when they ask how we are. But instead we smile brightly and say, “We’re great!”
We want help but are afraid to ask for it. Very few moms like asking for help whether they have a spouse or not, but it can seem especially daunting for a single mother, even though she may need it the most.
Why? Because no matter how far we’ve come in busting stereotypes about Solo Moms, there’s still an undercurrent of societal disdain, as in, “You made choices that got you here, now deal with it.”
In the case of us solo mothers by choice, we literally chose this life. We went into it knowing there would be no one else on bath duty, no one else available when the school calls to say our kids have a massively high fever, work deadlines be damned.
So when I think about asking for help, the first thing I hear in my own head is, But you made a choice to do it by yourself. Handle it yourself.
What I would love most of all in times of crisis is to hear, “I’m coming over; you let me know when I get there what I can do” or “You sound awful; how about I take your son so you can go to the doctor or lay down for an hour?”
We are terrified of dying. It keeps us up at night in a way that partnered mothers may not experience. It’s intense.
Earlier this year, I got hit hard by the flu. I laid there, wincing in pain with each breath, dozing off only to wake up with a jolt as I coughed and struggled for air. Each night on the evening news there was a new story about otherwise healthy kids and parents who died unexpectedly from this year’s particularly brutal flu cycle.
I was terrified I would take a turn for the worse. Was my son old enough to remember me? How would he ever know how much I loved him? What would his life be like without me? What if I stopped breathing overnight and he found me like that?
I have done all the right things—I have a will, I have savings set aside for him, I have guardians named in the event of my death.
But that doesn’t ease the terror that, one day, I could be gone in the blink of an eye and he would lose his only parent.
We are a real family, even though there’s only two of us. I had a friend warn me before I adopted my son that I would have to fight for recognition that we were, in fact, a family rather than just “Sarah plus one.”
She was absolutely right. People never say it outright because that would be rude, but it has sure come across loud and clear from friends and even family. What does it look like? It’s been assumed I would have a babysitter on hand for everything so I can join in family events without being saddled with a kid, even as other family members with kids were never questioned about their child-care plans. As if my son and I are not a family unit in the same way and he can be easily dispensed to someone else.
When making plans with friends, our wants and needs as a family are often considered last after the husband-and-wife teams have weighed in. It’s assumed that we are more easily accommodated when, actually, I have responsibilities and commitments like everyone else.
It hurts, and it’s total bullshit.
We need people to tell us when we’re doing a good job. This may seem like the parenting equivalent of asking, “Does this dress make me look fat?” But Solo Moms don’t have that mirror of a spouse or partner, yet we need feedback just the same.
We are responsible for 100% of the decisions that will affect our child’s life, from taking a stance on sugary drinks and screen time, to discipline, education, and medical treatment.
Truth be told, sometimes it’s easier to be the one making all the decisions all the time. I didn’t have anyone to argue with me over baby names, and if I want to splurge on an impromptu weekend trip, I don’t have to run it by anyone else.
Yet there are many more nights when I put my son to bed and then just sit in the quiet wondering, Did I handle that the right way? What could I have done better? Motherhood is rife with self-doubt even on the best of days.
So when I ask if I’m doing a good job, I’m not fishing for compliments. I just really need some feedback.
We’re not constantly on the lookout for a spouse. “So, have you been dating?” “Have you met anyone?” “Do you think you will ever get married?”
If I’m getting married, I’ll let you know. If I’m even just dating someone, you can meet the person at the next cookout or game night.
The constant barrage of questions about my assumed quest to find a partner and settle down is tiresome, at best. It also suggests I’m not entirely fulfilled as a solo parent. I really like my life the way it is. I enjoy being a single mom (most of the time), and I’m not so sure I want someone intertwined in our lives.
Society says our kids are weaker for having a Solo Mom. Research says otherwise. Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney earned the ire of solo parents everywhere when, during a 2012 presidential debate, he blamed the culture of gun violence on single mothers .
Two years later, GOP politicians blamed Solo Moms for the country’s poverty issues. And former presidential hopeful Rick Santorum took a page out of Romney’s playbook earlier this year, shortly after the shooting massacre in Parkland, Florida, saying on CNN that school shooters often “come from broken homes without dads.”
I could call these statements cruel and ignorant, because they are, but it continues to be a prevailing societal stereotype that single mothers are poor and uneducated, and that their children will grow up to perpetuate a cycle of poverty and violence.
Except several research studies say our kids really are all right.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that there were no differences in parenting quality between solo mothers by choice and two-parent families. In fact, the families headed by Solo Moms were found to have “lower mother-child conflict.”
And a 2015 study published in Social Science Research that looked at state math and reading scores between 1990 and 2011 found that the nationwide increase in single-parent households had no impact on state test scores.
“These results do not support the notion that increases in single parenthood have had serious consequences for U.S. children’s school achievement,” the study read.
Hey, Solo Moms, what else do you want folks to know?
Sarah Netter, ESME’s Adoption Resource Guide, is a single mother by choice to a fabulous little boy, one neurotic Italian Greyhound, and two Spanish Galgo puppies. She is a full-time journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and ABC News.