For the past month, and I’m beginning to think forever, my kids have lived with me and had no contact with their dad, nor he with them. They all need to communicate and each side has dug in. He is the grown-up. But let’s not get into that.
The point is that I have become completely responsible for two kids on an income that cannot completely support them and with a schedule that is becoming more and more about them, and less and less anything having to do with me, my professional career and any form of a life other than theirs. It’s a nightmare.
The role of primary parent is not new but it's never been all encompassing. I'm the one who helps with homework, drives them around to most places, tracks their whereabouts, listens to the ups and downs of their day to day lives, and provides a shoulder to cry on when things go wrong. My ex never understood that kids need a parent who isn't working all the time. But I did. That's one reason why they're here with me right now.
But I got breaks. When we were married and he was here I could run to the gym or a business meeting. After we got divorced they went to their dads every other weekend and a couple of nights a week. And I saw enough of them that I didn’t feel like I was missing anything – mostly because they came home every day after school.
What does a Single Mom do when she just cannot be home?
We did a research project recently with a school where one of the teachers wanted to teach the kids about the science of alcohol and drugs. Many of the kids were from highly impoverished families. His point was that the kids were about to go home and many of them would spend the summers without any supervision because both parents had to work all the time. He hoped that a final lesson on why they shouldn’t drink or do drugs right before school let out would make them think twice. I hope he was right.
For several years I’ve had the luxury of working at home to make sure that my middle schooler and high schooler did what they were supposed to do after school, went where they were supposed to go, did not bring friends home to do whatever with them in my house. I am home over the summers. I’ve been lucky.
When Your Husband Pays the Bills
I don’t regret no longer being married. I have been envious of my married friends for a long time – they work, they don’t work, they work part time, they don’t work, the husband gets promoted and they get to not work. Oh they all pitch in, but as we get older and our kids go to school and have more and more activities that someone has to take them too, the moms who are home get stuck with it. And they at least have a second, and usually larger income to fall back on.
Oh the on again and off again working moms gripe and moan about how much they have to do. But they don’t have to do all of it and hold down a full time job, and pay all their own expenses and those of their kids. They may cut back some but they are solidly middle class and don’t really want for anything.
Sorry but the violins they are playing are out of tune for me.
What About Poor Women Who Do it All
So I got to thinking about the other single mothers, the ones who are far less fortunate than I am. The ones who don’t own a home, who struggle to put food on the table, who can’t give their kids anything that they want rather than just not all of it, who don’t have time to sit and do homework, who don’t get to see their kids until 8:00-9:00 at night, if they make it home before bed.
The moms who have had far fewer choices and opportunities than I have. The ones who sit down with their kids over a bucket of KFC when they are so tired they can barely see straight, and attempt to have a family dinner.
How hard it must be for them. Here I sit in my life which is complicated but could be much, much harder, talking about why we should keep our kids away from alcohol and drugs. So many of these women would love to have the time to ruminate about what it takes to do that. And they are struggling to keep their kids straight while they try to just get by.
I wrote a story about a woman the other day who kept getting fired from her entry level job because she had a daughter with disabilities and she required extra time and care. She had to be picked up from school, she couldn’t go home by herself. The men she was working for – and yes they were men – kept telling her she wasn’t a dedicated employee. Wrong. She could have been both a great employee and a great mother, if they’d only understood that her life mattered too.
I’m afraid this has turned into a rant and that’s not what I wanted. But I do want to tell all of the single mothers out there that I was wrong. They deserve medals. They deserve brass bands and singers who tell them how wonderful they are. They deserve a break. They deserve the safety nets that the federal government has provided them. They deserve kids who stay away from alcohol and drugs. They deserve better. They are heroes.
I’ve finally begun to understand just how tough their lives are. I'm writing about it so that others might listen. At least that’s a start.