Being a single mom is hard. Being a single mom during this nearly year-long pandemic is especially hard.
Last night, after I put my kids to bed, I sat at my kitchen table and wrote my to-do list out on individual post-it notes. Then, I stuck those notes to the top of the cake carrier where the cupcakes my kids had baked and decorated days earlier were getting moldy inside. I sat back, proud of myself: I’d successfully made my to-do list the centerpiece of my kitchen counter.
This was my new brilliant plan to tackle my to-dos, which seem to multiply exponentially as the days of this nearly year-long pandemic tick by. (And yes, one of the items on my to-do list is to throw out the moldy cupcakes and clean the cake Tupperware.)
As of this writing, only two post-it notes have been pulled off the cake carrier and three more have been added. And, as it turns out, the problem isn’t that I’m forgetting to tackle these tasks. The problem is that my day is being constantly derailed and interrupted because, as a single mom in a pandemic, “completer of to-do list” barely begins to name the hats I wear daily.
I am mom and completer-of-to-do-list and remote school’s teacher assistant and finder-of-all-lost-stuff and chef and cleaner and disciplinarian and emotional cup-filler and pandemic-life-and-death-decision-maker and receptionist and IT support and mediator-of-arguments and shopper and accountant and repairwoman and bug killer and trouble-shooter of all the things—alongside the whole actual job that pays hat.
To be fair, as a single mom, I was most of those things before the pandemic, too. It’s been a long time since I could ask my partner to fix a wonky WiFi connection or help negotiate a peace treaty between two angry kids. By now, I’ve figured it—whatever “it” happens to be in the moment—out. In fact, most single moms I know have figured “it” out. We’re used to doing and being all the things.
But the pandemic has changed the equation and stacked it in the wrong direction by subtracting the babysitters and moms’ nights out and adding doomscrolling and a constant underlying fear that the world is in a freefall. It’s a lot, even for single moms used to doing it all.
Which is why I would urge everyone to check on the single moms in your life.
Check on your single mom friends that you haven’t heard from in a while. Friendship should be a two-way street, of course, but right now your single mom friends need you to come to them.
Check in with your single mom friends who don’t have a co-parent and are feeling the weight of holding down the fort alone. Check in with the ones sharing custody who some days are coming home to an empty house—it might seem like a vacation at this point to have your house to yourself for the night, but not when you’re wondering whether your kids are safe during a global pandemic.
Check on your single mom friends who have a difficult relationship with their children’s other parent, and along those lines, check on your mom friends who have a fine relationship, because this pandemic is putting strain on even the best relationships.
Check on them and then really listen to them—do they need you to drop off some dinner on their porch, can you run an errand for them so they don’t have to drag their kids into a store, or is there another COVID-safe way to help lighten their load?
One of the most helpful and COVID-safe supports I received was from a friend who called me up to let me know that most of the kids in the grade were in a group chat and playing a game together. I downloaded the game on my kids’ iPad, and suddenly they were virtually connected to friends they haven’t spoken to in the last few months. They were social and engaged and allowed me a few minutes to decompress without guilt, all thanks to my friend who realized my kids hadn’t been included. That heads up meant more to me than I can express. She recognized that sometimes (well, all the time) single moms are wearing so many hats, we’re just spinning from hat to hat in our own orbits and completely missing anything outside.
Let’s be clear: living through a pandemic is hard. It’s not a competition. Moms—partnered, single, divorced, widowed, or anything else—are all being pushed to their limit. Nobody needs more added to their to-do list right now, but often times—I would venture to say most of the time—much of what a single mom wants is to know she hasn’t been forgotten underneath all those hats she’s always wearing. And maybe the best thing you can do for a single mom is to let her know she is seen, maybe even heard, and certainly not forgotten.
And when it comes to single moms, that small check in, that little bit of acknowledgment and help, is the invaluable reminder letting them know that if they stumble, there will be someone there to (virtually) reach out a hand or root for them as they struggle back up.