I Thought Single Motherhood Would Be More Like 'Kate & Allie'

by Jessica Ashley
Originally Published: 

Kate & Allie, the mid-to-late-’80s TV show about two divorced single moms who move into one home to balance work, parenting, dating and independence, was hilarious to me as a kid.

I watched, rapt, as two women made their own way, different from all the other mothers on TV. They weren’t unlike women I had all around me. My mother had many single friends, all my aunts had been married and divorced (some multiple times), and several of my friends had two homes. And while a divorcée might show up on Love Boat, dripping in climate-inappropriate furs and Lido Deck-inappropriate diamonds, and the Brady parents had once been a single mom and dad, I couldn’t relate to their sitcom storylines. I lived the life of an urban kid solidly in the middle class with married parents.

But Kate & Allie, with no laugh track and plenty of wisecracks that bared both the fissures and strengths of being a single mother in the big city, spoke to me.

The show premiered the year that “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” “Footloose,” “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” “Missing You,” “What’s Love Got to Do with It” and “Love is a Battlefield” all hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100. I can still sing every single word to those songs. And now, more than 30 years after I watched conservative Allie and wildcard Kate negotiate romantic blunders and bullied children and ex-husbands remarrying and career discontent and their own bickering, I can also sing the tune to the single-mom show myself.

Of course, when it was my turn to raise my child on my own, I expected the chronicles of my single parenting to be a lot funnier. A theme song might have made approaching a family court judge’s bench less nerve-wracking. And even though I love my city, building a single-mama command center out of a brownstone in Greenwich Village could have been incredibly empowering.

Mostly, my years of following Kate & Allie led me to believe that I’d find one single mother best friend to walk alongside through all the triumphs and tragedies, the still and silent holidays without kids, the child-free nights filled with new faces and blind dates. I thought that one friend would get it—really, really get all of it—or at least all of it except how I can let so much laundry pile up or have 125 pairs of shoes but only one pair of black pants. I believed that best single mom friend and I would be a plus-one for each other, go on vacations together and raise our children to be more like siblings than occasional playdate pals.

That’s not the reality, though.

Single moms have manic schedules and, as I’ve found, our kids often have visitation on opposite weekends, making getting together as adults, or even as a big group, nearly impossible. We are also often at different stages of grief and relief. We get caught up—paying bills and squeezing in parent-teacher conferences, getting to the gym and remembering to fill out reading logs, updating Facebook and Tinder, picking up and dropping off. We come and go, have too much free time and then, in an instant, aren’t available until the end of June. Just like every other mother, but with the volume turned way up.

That’s meant that I have a circle of single mom friends, some of whom live blocks away but I haven’t seen in months, and more who live across the country, who I’ve shared intimate details with and asked for advice in the toughest moments over 11 p.m. texts and back-and-forth messages every day.

Because divorces and break-ups happen every day, too, the circle widens and new friendships are forged over coffee or Instagram, making our way through the single mom experience together, alone. I didn’t expect a network, and for that, I am more grateful than I’d ever imagined I’d be. I also didn’t surmise that that one single mama soulmate would never really emerge, wouldn’t be there for every little first-date debrief and to let me borrow those Italian boots that fit like butter and maybe make dinner on Spaghetti Tuesdays. There have been lots of Allies, and alliances, but no one Kate ever came.

Audiences lost interest in the two-mom story when either Kate or Allie got engaged. In real life, that happens, too. Just like Kate & Allie, some of my single mom friendships have been cancelled, or just paused, because someone special enters the picture. Dating, marriage, moving in together, having more children—all of it has changed the way I’ve been friends with single mothers, and how I have, in turn, been there for them.

Our single mom experiences and opportunities and problems meld into other life-stage stuff, and those of us who are still sitting at a bar with some hopelessly boring guy from or chasing child support or scrambling to make a conference call presentation with a sick kid on our lap have a hard time relating (and vice versa).

Miranda Hobbes knows what I mean. And so do Lorelei Gilmore, Rachel Green, Shirley Partridge, Murphy Brown, Mama from What’s Happening! and the many more single mom characters who came after those ’80s ladies greaties. Rich in friendships, wit, smarts, resilience and…but no one Allie, no Kate.

Is it too much to expect a best single mom friend to show up to share it all with you? I suppose it is. But it’s not too much to open up to a circle of friends who are both more and less, near and far, on the same page and going way off script.

If I had a second chance to view my own single mom show, to rewind nearly eight years and let it all play out, I’d tell myself that part of the gift of divorce and child-rearing solo is not having to depend on one other person. It was more about building a cast of characters who would come and go, with my child and me at the center. Sometimes just me. And that, I’d tell myself, is a strong enough storyline all on its own.

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