Friday, May 03, 2013

'Single mom' is a way of life, not just a label

From today's Briefing:

In general, dads don’t require a qualifier.

We moms, on the other hand, take our labels seriously: stay-at-home mom, working mom, work-from-home mom, single mom, full-time mom (the most pejorative of them all, with its implication that moms who work outside the home are somehow part-time moms).

Last month, Michelle Obama called herself a “busy single mother” during a television interview. She quickly corrected herself, stating the obvious, that she is married but that being married to the president makes her sometimes feel like a single mom.

Many of you can relate, right? Your husband travels for work, often leaving you responsible for the kids, the house and yard, carpools, discipline, shopping, logistics — often on top of your own job or volunteer activities.

Or your husband goes on a hunting/ gambling/fishing trip with the guys, and you tell your friends that you’re a single mom for the weekend.

This drives me kind of crazy. It has ever since I became a single mom. The Obama slip has forced me to evaluate why.

First, I’m a stickler for precise word choice. “Single” in this case means unmarried. If you are married, you can’t be single.

Second, “single mom” is code for so much more than unmarried.

It means one person shouldering responsibility all the time. There’s no relief in sight at the end of the day or week or month.

When the air-conditioner needs to be repaired and then inspected and then repaired again, there’s only one adult to take off from work and hang out at the house. There’s only one adult with the ability to earn the money to pay for all that repairing.

When a child breaks a rule and you’ve run out of ideas on how to help that child follow the rule, there’s no temporarily distant spouse to text, call or Skype for advice or venting. There’s no tag-teaming at bedtime or on days when you’re ill.

The whole experience can be emotionally, physically and mentally exhausting.

Why can’t all you married moms let us single moms — more than 10 million in the United States — have our label?

Maybe because motherhood isn’t a competition.

Strip away the adjectives, and we’re all simply moms. We’re all charged with raising, nurturing, loving, encouraging, disciplining, praising, shaping, challenging, rewarding, growing these little humans into big, responsible, compassionate humans.

Yes, my experience can be tough, but so it is for every other mom, married or single, no matter if “work” is in an office or in the kitchen.

We are all at risk of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion because we pour so much of our souls into theirs. We worry about their choices from the moment they show the ability to move independently from us. We second-guess ourselves. We hold on too long. We struggle to let go, to let them grow.

We are fiercely proud and protective of our people.

I wish we could all agree to drop the labels, to stop trying to “win” the contest of who’s got the most difficult mom job. (Who’s judging that contest, anyway?)

In this week leading to Mother’s Day, I’m working on letting go of irritation toward women who borrow a term that doesn’t exactly apply. I’m focusing more on the joy of motherhood — my motherhood — because it totally outweighs the sorrow.

I’m acknowledging that there’s no contest to win, but instead, children to raise. And those kids don’t care about labels. They just call me “Mom.”

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Tyra, Katie & Cooper, Hilton Head, S.C., March 2013

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