One night over cocktails with some mom-friends, I sighed and said: “It’s hard being a single mom.”
I’d been complaining about how chaotic it was at home while my husband was away for a week-long work training. While scrambling to do everything myself, I walked out the door one morning wearing two different color socks, had a Goldfish cracker stuck to my rear and forgot to actually put the sandwiches in their school lunches.
Everyone laughed and continued their conversations — except one woman, a friend of a friend I had just met that night.
She leaned in, and said softly, without any attitude or resentment in her voice: “Being a single mom isn’t like that. No one comes home after a week.”
I sat there stunned, embarrassed and ashamed. I looked down at her ring finger; it was empty.
She had lost her husband three years ago and was actually a single mother of two.
My face fell, and I found myself apologizing over and over for my insensitive comment. She was understanding — not judgmental or upset.
We then talked about what being a single mother was really about. Or, should I say, she talked and I listened. She told me about how hard it is not to have someone to call or bounce ideas off. About how at the end of the day, she doesn’t get to have a few glasses of wine because she’s the only one there if something happens to her children. About how she worries about money from the second she wakes up until her exhausted head hits the pillow. And how she has to say no to different activities for her children because she can’t be in two places at once.
She told me that she tries not to get upset when people throw around the “single mother” line when their spouses are away for a night or week, but deep down it does hurt. Because at the end of the day, she’s not waiting for anyone to come home and ask how her day went. No one will drop their shoes at the door and jump right in with dinner or to help the kids with their homework.
That conversation made me stop and think about how I’ve used that line so much. Whether it’s a golf weekend my husband goes on, or just a night out with the guys, I’ll often say: “I’m single parenting tonight.”
But I’m really not. I have no idea what that means.
I do understand being offended when someone thinks they understand your life experience but really don’t. I feel that way when someone tells me they are “basically married” because they live with someone. You can’t understand marriage until you are married.
And I can’t understand single parenting unless I’m a single parent.
When I started acknowledging to this woman how hard it must be for her, she didn’t want my sympathy. She shook her head and told me to stop. I could see how strong she was, and she wanted to make quite sure I didn’t feel sorry for her.
She simply wanted me to understand the difference between saying something and living it.
After a humbling conversation and the chance to make a new friend, I can honestly say that I do.