I was raised by a single mother. No matter the circumstance, it’s hard. It’s SO hard. Getting up alone. Making breakfast, checking homework, finding lost shoes and missing socks. Alone. Trying to figure out how to pay bills, arrange childcare, re-build a life. Alone. Picking up kids from school, getting them to after-school activities. Alone. Coming home and making dinner and after all the kiddos scarfed their food and abandoned the table, finally being able to sit at the table to eat. Alone. Homework time, bath time, “just one more story” time. Alone. And finally sliding into an empty bed and falling asleep. Alone. But I just don’t know why it still bothers me when people refer to me as a “single mom.” Maybe it makes me sound snobbish, putting really hard circumstances into categories. But then I begin to think when I give someone sympathy when they tell me their marriage has ended and they tell me not to sympathize because they’re finally happy again (yes I know not all divorces, relationships end that way…), I just can’t help but to think about how widowhood is just…different.
For example: It was one of the first parties I had attended since the death of my husband. I swore to myself I wouldn’t bring it up. I just wouldn’t talk about myself. For one night, I didn’t want my sad story to overshadow the fact that I was still alive and desperately needing connection. I struck up a conversation with another mom. She was ranting about this and that and throwing in, “Husbands…ugh…you know what I mean? They just don’t know how to help. Or at least mine doesn’t…So, what does your husband do?” There it was. I could lie and just say “he’s a window cleaner,” I could just say nothing and change the subject, but for some reason I couldn’t do either. “Uh, it’s just me and the kids” I struggled to say. “Ohhh, well good for you. Going it alone. Yeah, you don’t need a man, right?!” But I did. I desperately did need him. “Well, he actually passed.” I blurted out. I didn’t want sympathy, I didn’t want the awkward reaction people always seem to give after, but for some reason I needed her to know he at least existed. Maybe it wasn’t for her, but for myself.
It comes up almost every time we go out:
At the coffee shop: “Oh you’re a single mom? You and my sister should get together. She just got divorced and she is SO relieved he’s gone. He was just terrible.” But my husband wasn’t terrible. He would give anything to be here for us.
At church: “Oh yea, I know exactly what you’re going through. My husband left us. He was living a total separate life.” My husband just wanted to live his life, how can this possibly be the same?
In the sauna: “Oh, it’s just you and the kids? Well, it’s so hard to find a good man these days…” But I did!
Parks. Parties. Play dates. Friendly conversations at the store or school. It’s why I’ve avoided mom groups, and sometimes, it’s why other moms seem to avoid me. I just don’t feel like I fit in. People see a young mom with three little kids. They don’t see a ring. They don’t hear her talk about the other half. Most assume there was a divorce or maybe there was never a marriage. But never do any assume that maybe, just maybe I’m a widow. After all, the term “widow” just can’t apply to anyone under 70…right?
I can’t put my finger on why exactly I feel defensive every time someone refers to me as a single mom. I can’t figure out why I shut down the minute a single mom starts tell she can relate to me. Even some of my most treasured friends are single from divorce or other circumstances and my heart breaks for what they’re going through, but I just can’t relate. I can’t relate to the custody battles, the ex- drama, having someone else decide where the kids go and with whom, and all the trauma and heartache that goes with the death of a marriage and that future–and sometimes even the end of an abusive relationship. I can’t relate because I am not going through any of that. I can’t relate because my marriage didn’t die, my husband did. I’m not relieved it’s over. I’m not happy I get to move forward. I can’t relate to that because I watched my husband desperately cling to every breath to stay here for his children. All he talked about was one day getting our boys into baseball and how our daughter would never have a date if he had anything to do about it. We fought a different kind of fight than fighting for a marriage. But that doesn’t mean one is worse than the other. It’s not single moms vs widowed moms in “who has it worse off.” That’s not what I mean at all. No, it’s just different. That’s all. Different.