On “Single-Mommin’ It” … But Not Really

comforting-child

My husband is a surgeon. Which means he’s not around much. When he is, he’s the greatest partner and daddy ever. There’s Tickle Monster, Lego creations, and freshly baked muffins. But often, my boys and I “go it alone.”

I take a lot of pride in carting my three kids around town by myself. I got a triple stroller (and then, just as quickly, got rid of that awful monstrosity). I invest in scooters and balance bikes and two-wheelers so my older two can transport themselves to the nearest playground while I push the baby. And when they’re melting down, I strap on the baby carrier, even though my youngest weighs nearly 25 pounds, and push those big boys in the double.

Sometimes I rely on the kindness of strangers—to help me through a doorway, lift that hefty double stroller up the three steps to my front door, or keep an eye on a kid while I settle a restaurant bill. My morning showers are routinely punctuated with the shrieking sound of boys waking up well before they should (“Mooooooommmmmm!!!! Is it morning yet?!?!”). I fix things, pump air into tires, replace batteries, parallel park, shovel snow, take out the trash—and splinters, cook, clean…

I say I’m “single-mommin’ it.” But I’m not.

No matter how often I’m on my own with my kids, no matter what percentage of their daily care and well-being is my responsibility, no matter how overwhelmed I may feel on any given day, I will never understand what it means to be a single mom. Because those women are really going it alone.

We flock to the playgrounds as often as weather permits—sure, partly to get our little Tasmanian devils out of the house, and definitely to tire them out before naps, but also (maybe more so?) for the companionship of other neighborhood mamas.

We sign up for parenting classes and breastfeeding support groups and make play dates and join teams and arrange carpools and create chat rooms and websites and blogs—all to connect.

We’ve all realized—we can’t do this parenting thing alone.

When I’m pushing that triple stroller, or loading and unloading three little guys in and out of our minivan, when I’m throwing food at my kids during dinner hour, struggling to keep up with their needs, when Saturday mornings are spent trying to think of ways to engage my kids that won’t drive me crazy, when I feel trapped in the house because there is ALWAYS someone napping (but never all at the same time), when it all just feels too damn hard…when I’m feeling most sorry for myself…I stop. And remember that at the end of the day—or maybe not until the end of the week—my darling husband will resurface to tell me how awesome I am. To praise me for “doing it all.” To give me that critical emotional support, even if he can’t always be there to lend a hand.

It must be so lonely to know not just that your partner may come home late—and long after the kids are already in bed—but that he’s not coming home AT ALL. That being “on your own” is not just a temporary state while you anxiously await the high-pitched sound of a text message from Daddy that he’s finished rounding at the hospital and on his way home. That you’re all your kids have. And oh yeah, you have to support your family financially, too.

So no, I’m not single-mommin’ it. Not even close. But here’s a shout-out to those of you who are. You may be younger. Or older. Your kids may resemble someone you loved and lost. Or maybe someone you never loved, or even met, at all. You have to have all the answers—not just to questions from your kids, but from strangers—some well-meaning, some downright nosy. You don’t get the luxury of saying, “That’s Daddy’s job…” about whatever task or project you don’t feel like doing. You never get to sleep in while someone else makes pancakes for breakfast. You change every diaper; you comfort every night terror. You don’t get a sick day.

Who gives you relief? Who do you vent to? Who do you instinctively call when you crush another car’s bumper as you pull out of your parking spot (like I did just this morning)? How do you have the energy to give your kids everything they need? Who loves your children as much as you do? Who tells you you’re beautiful? Even in your sweatpants?

This is my ode to you, Single Mother. If you’re smiling, if your hair is washed, if you made it to the end of another day—hell, if your kids are clothed…you deserve a medal.

And I’ll meet you at the playground anytime.

About the writer

Dina L. Relles is a lawyer, writer, aspiring doula, and mother of three young sons. She writes at Commonplace, and has a mild Twitter addiction, but mostly she likes to drink coffee and people-watch from her front stoop. 

From Around the Web

Close

april 6 months ago

Hang in there you’re doing a good job and your child knows it even though some days seem like they will never end

april 6 months ago

Thank you I am a single mom and have been for 12 years all while trying to build a career to give my girls a better life. There is nobody but me that they rely on and need to take care of them. This post made me cry

Estina 6 months ago

i am a single momma. I have three, 14,15 and 2. I work at least 50 hours a week as a paralegal, go to school full time, and raise my children alone. I tried dating recently, but when I was asked what I did for fun, and what my hobbies were, I almost had a meltdown when I realized that I didn’t have any! Not a single hobby. Fun is my mom picking up the kids and taking a Chardonney induced nap by myself! Thank you for your post and the accolades. Much appreciated.

Alice 6 months ago

100% agree! I’m an ONLY parent. No help anywhere. There’s a huge difference.

Alice 6 months ago

As a single mom myself I’ve never stopped to realize how lonely and exhausting it truly is. I work a full time job, currently attend nursing school at night 4 days a week, and have soccer games, dance practice, play dates, and homework I still manage to complete. I don’t get relief when I’m studying. Or just trying to shower. We may not get a bath every single night. My daughter wears dirty uniforms to soccer and school. And I cry weekly with exhaustion and frustration at the stack of overdue bills on the counter. At the end of every week I look back and think holy crap we did it. We as in my daughter and I. We are a team and we help each other. When you are a single mom you become a team with your child or children. She depends on me for everything from wiping her butt when she poops to making sure she has food to eat. And I depend on her to give me the strength to get thru our hectic life on 10 hours of sleep a week and to keep pushing forward so I can give her a better life. The work is 10x harder doing it alone but the joy is also 1000x better. When she scores the goal or nails a turn at dance and she screams with excitement BC I was there too see it my heart swells with joy and pride for us both each time. The bond with a mother and their child is incredible, but the bond of a single mother and her child is indescribable. I wouldn’t trade being a single mom for anything. My daughter and I have a relationship so amazing BC of it! Even tho having a hot man come home and say,”Oh, honey go study for that peds test you have tomorrow before you go to class tonight Ill take her to practice” and then when I get home late that night have crazy sex with me would be great, I would tell him to leave! High five and hugs to all the single moms!

Lori 6 months ago

First comment ever. But I am a single mom. And just now, after my 2yo whined bc I was changing her poopy diaper and wouldn’t stop whining, I went to the basement and started the dryer for 2 mins so I could have quiet. Her whining was frustrating me bc she wouldn’t tell me what she wanted. I came upstairs and picked her up and talked to her and apologized. And she finally told me she wanted a snack. Feeling immesnse guilt for getting so angry with her for whining, I got her a snack and came on here. Of course. Scary mommy. And this was the first thing I read. It brought me to tears. Her dad has never met her. I love her and I wouldn’t change her for the world. But it’s lonely sometimes. And I’m super hard on myself. This post made me smile and cry but I needed it. Thank you.

Myra Nunez 8 months ago

I love what you wrote and, with all my heart, thank you :-)

I was misty-eyed as I got to the last part. Yeah. I am surrounded by a support group composed of my dad, aunts, siblings, cousins, nieces and friends who help me take care of my toddler. When times get rough, I pray :-) and He has been my source of strength, and His love is constant.

rae 9 months ago

Sometimes I feel I’m ” a single mom” I’m engaged to my child’s father, we live together. He works 60-70 hours a week. Second shift. Sometimes during the week my daughter might see her dad a half hour. While he’s trying to get ready to leave for his shift. We also have one on the way. On weekends he gets more time with our dd2 but not a lot. I can get overwhelmed as I do 95% of it alone. But then I remember my 2 best friends truly are single moms. The dads aren’t around and they never get even the few hours I do on the weekend while he’s home. I can’t imagine how they can function with a child 24/7 with no help and no breaks. Single moms really are super moms

Claire 10 months ago

Just adding im a sole parent an only parent just like so many on here. Im not alone :)

Claire 10 months ago

Thank you for this. Im a single mum of four. I’ve been single for a year now… its lonely its soooo hard. But im getting there slowly. Knowing that people understand and don’t think we are pathetic cause we just can’t do it perfectly some day…. that’s how I feel about myself… but knowing others don’t just thank you so much I really needed this today :)

Andie 1 year ago

Hi, I have to say that the greatest thing I ever did was the single mom thing! :-) I am now getting re-married after 12 years of Divorce and the hardest thing I have had to do was even let anyone else into mine and my child’s life! But the fact that my now teenager is a respectable and polite person I know I did something right! And to be honest I think that it would be harder to be in your shoes then it was mine!

I am/was the type that took on the world I went to school full time and worked full time as well as raising my growing and always starving (lol) boy, but I always had a support system everyday whether it was family or friends, I never had to worry about a thing, my son had/has more parents then ant child could image simple because of the people who stepped up to help when I decided to go back to school!

So I absolutely give you credit for being the women you are cause it takes a strong women to be in your shoes too!!

AND BEING MOMMY RATHER SINGLE OR NOT IS THE GREATEST THING A WOMEN COULD EVER DO!

Jocelyn 2 years ago

Thank you. Thats nice to hear from someone :)

Jax 2 years ago

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I adopted my wonderful daughter as a single mother from India and it is by far the best decision I ever made. I am a sole parent. One of the hardest things to hear, is other women complaining about how they are like a single mother, for one perceived reason or another, when actually they are not. Or they are a single mother with some shared custody that allows them some time to recharge the battery or get things done. I am “ON” 24/7/365. This is the 1st thing I have read that recognizes the difference of a situation like mine. It feels good to be noticed.

Fii 2 years ago

I became a single mom three years ago. I didn’t have small children, I had a teenager and a pre-teen. The eldest stayed with his dad, the youngest came with me. Not having both children with me was heartbreaking. On top of dealing with the youngest who seemed to think we would all be fixed back together one day.
I have survived. Finally. But it takes emotional superglue.

Habesha Child 2 years ago

This is a step in the right direction. I just wish for someone – anyone really – to also acknowledge the difference between (1) ONLY parents (100% custody and financial responsibility) and (2) “single” parents who share custody.
I’m sure I will piss people off to say it, but I consider the typical situation of shared custody pretty dreamy. You have breaks; you have financial support. It is just not the same – not even close – to what Only parents do.

Only parents do everything, ourselves. We earn the money and we do all the parenting, all the time. I’m not complaining; it is something I took on willingly (I adopted my daughter). Some people come to it unwillingly (through death of a spouse or abandonment), and that seems like quite a burden to bear.

Only parents really are walking a different rode than most single parents, and honestly are carrying a heavier load. Would be so lovely to be acknowledged sometime.

Shelley 2 years ago

I truly applaud the single Mom that gets it all done all by herself. She definitely deserves a medal. I have three ages four and under too. I have help but there are those who do it alone and they deserve praise for being able to keep it all together. Great ode.

Herchel 2 years ago

My husband is a contractor overseas so I often say that I am single momming it too. But I do have someone to work issues through with and lean on for support and I value that. I have several single mom friends and admire their ability to get it all done. But…I do get a tiny bit jealous with the whole every other weekend off (I know not all single moms have that sort of arrangement). I don’t get any weekends off!

Barbara 2 years ago

I was encouraged to see this post this morning – thank you! Finally someone who doesn’t carelessly say, “I’m a single mom for a week!” without recognizing, with sensitivity, what being a single mom REALLY means.
I realize those words are always spoken very flippantly. But, they bother me each time I see them. On the occasions that I have been thoroughly exhausted, disappointed in my life and really just needing that non-existent soft place to land, hearing someone say this flippantly made me ache to my core.
For those who have ever used this phrase, please think about it next time you’re tempted to pull it out. There might be someone like me who feels even further demoralized and diminished by words spoken carelessly.
Thank you, Dina!

Susan 2 years ago

THANK YOU!!!! You are so right in all you wrote. I have been a single parent for over 18 years. I would have never expected this from someone who has never gone through this. I lost my husband when I was 2 1/2 months pregnant with my son. Most of the comments from other single moms I can identify with. Three years ago I had a “surprise” and my daughter is now with us too. Looking back I must have done something right with my son because he is a joy and others see it too and tell me. I hope I can do as well with my daughter. The worst part is the loneliness! I have no one to turn to when I need emotional, financial, or any other kind of help. Sometimes just a few minutes alone would be great! But I wouldn’t change one thing either because they are my life! Again thank you to all the moms out there who support us in our single roles.

Deanna Shull 2 years ago

THANK YOU!!!! For realizing how extremely difficult and overwhelming it is as a single mom to provide 24x7x365 for your kids….there is NO ONE coming at the end of the day, or week, or even once a month, to give a single mom support….Thank you!! Your article made me emotional just knowing that a married woman gave us some credit. Bless you.

Susan Thomas 2 years ago

Unless your husband deploys for 6mo to a year and you're not sitting in the lap of luxury brought by living on a surgeons salary.

Carrie Taylor 2 years ago

you're not the only one! Sometimes being the only one is great (only my opinion counts), but sometimes it's terrifying (what if my choice is the wrong one???)

Christa Froome 2 years ago

Thank you for posting this.
I am a single mom to two delightful boys and have been for almost 8 years.
Before leaving my ex I was "single mommin" it. Late hours and distorted priorities left me with the kids more often than not, so when I left, it wasn't that big a change… But it was.
All of a sudden it was me paying all the bills. Me alone making sure we had all the food, roof, clothes AND love in the house. It was overwhelming at first but eventually I got the hang of it.
When I have a rough day, I have people I can call or text. People who remind me that the bumps in the road are just that, bumps… I'm not about to dive off a parenting cliff Thelma & Louise style.
It does take a village and sometimes that village just needs to be enough to say "You're doing just fine mama"

You are all doing brilliantly mamas

Jane 2 years ago

I am a single mom too and want to thank you for writing this! It made my day, just when I was needing it!

Jennifer Greenwald 2 years ago

This post made me feel good! I have raised my daughter from day one all on my own. She is almost 6. I can count on one hand how many times my mom has taken her. Her dad is sick and not in her life but I wouldn't change a thing. She is a true blessing and my saving grace!

Lisa 2 years ago

Thank you for this! I especially love it when my mother compares my single mom life to her married mother life “because I didn’t get a lot of help from your dad”. She got a lot more help than she will ever realize. Maybe not directly with us as kids, but she didn’t have to worry about everything else. Keeping up the yard, the house, etc. it makes me so angry. Because even at the end of the day, he was there. I do it all ALONE.

Sarah 2 years ago

I needed this more than you know today. I am a newly single mom to three boys and you sum this up so well. I am so sad, so lonely, but also so hopefull and grateful. Thank you

Mel McNeal Burdett 2 years ago

well i guess that's one of the reason why you prob divorced him among other, and your happily married now.

Carin Ekre Anderson 2 years ago

(and brave smart hilarious caring…etc)

Carin Ekre Anderson 2 years ago

I ♥ how positive you are :)

Heather Holter 2 years ago

I am in the same boat most of the year with my husband traveling for work. I do it all, when he's gone. But I have the satisfaction of knowing when he is here he helps and that he pays the bills. I could not imagine doing all I do and being financially responsible for it all. I wouldn't want that in a million years, and the women who do it are soooooo brave and are to be congratulated for all they do!

Keia 2 years ago

Thank you.
I just came in from shoveling my house, my neighbors house, and cleaning off the car. The entire time I was out there I kept thinking I needed to get in so I could fix my son some lunch. As soon as I walk in he told me he was ready for lunch.

As I single mom I could appreciate this. Thank you again

Caroline Leone 2 years ago

Yup, I'm a single momma crying along with this. Though it did make me smile as well. Thank you for this.

Ivy Zozzaro 2 years ago

My life didn't change much after I left my ex. I was truly a single married person for years. It is a hard job.

Laura Farruggio 2 years ago

Another single-mom who wants to thank you for making the distinction. I don't get offended when a married woman refers to herself as single-mommying as I understand what they're saying but you really hit the nail on the head… there is no reprieve for us and no one is coming to help at the end of the day, or week….

Mel McNeal Burdett 2 years ago

Thank you so much for writing this, its nice to have it written by someone that is married.. I have a lot of people saying that they feel like a single mom but they have no clue. I was guilty of saying it when my ex husband was working a lot or traveling a lot. Now reality kicked in , I now know how hard single mommy life really is.

Ashley Goodwin Sims 2 years ago

Thank you for posting this! I am also an over-caffeinated "part-time" lawyer (i.e. I only work 40 hours per week) and full-time "mom mom" to a precocious and precious 19 month old boy. My husband is a military officer who travels constantly for work. When he is home he is the BEST dad and a wonderful partner, but it is very hard having him gone as much as he is. Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself, I try to remember that I am so lucky! Even if I am lonely, have dishes to wash, toys to pick up, and 2 hours of work to get done after the baby goes to bed, my husband's emotional support is present even if he physically is not. You're right that real single parents are heroes unto themselves just by virtue of the fact that they "keep it all together" day-after-day and truly on their own.

Jamie 2 years ago

This was overwhelmingly appreciated. Thank you.
Kimberly, my own sister would say things like that. How she felt like a single parent, etc. She has a husband, who works two jobs to support her compulsive shopping habits, as well as our mother who lives with her and pays room & board, not to mention acts as a third parent, driving the kids to their insanely expensive activities!
I know she was just expressing feelings of overwhelm with being a mom in general, but I could never figure out how she could vent to me without appreciating what she had…at all!
I was left with three young ones. My youngest was only a month old and, being 5 weeks early, was technically not even due yet when his dad decided he wasn’t up for the job of being a Dad!

Food banks, subsidized housing, if those things didn’t exist, we would have been homeless and my kids would likely have been taken from me. My sister has no idea what she is saying when she says she feels like a single mom. Even after I confided in her about what I went through…Gotta love her though… sisters! lol 😛

Amanda 2 years ago

Thank you! It is crazy hard. I have been single since 3 months pregnant. I’m so blessed to have a family that has been so helpful. Still some days are harder than others. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Kimberly 2 years ago

I read your post with appreciation. I still wince when I hear a neighbor or friend say they’re tired of being a “single parent” and can’t wait til their spouse gets home 3 days later. I know inside that they have no idea what they’re saying.

You never really get it until you do it. I’ve been doing it with now 2 teenagers for 7+ years. And, really doing it alone. With. almost. never. any. break. Not a day. Not an hour. (Now that they’re older, they’re gone more so I am reclaiming a bit of alone time.)
It’s hard. You learn lessons you never wanted to learn but you learn them anyway. You ask for help when you need it from a good friend or neighbor. You have to come to peace with the aloneness of it.

But, trust me, single parenting has its rewards, too. Sometimes in very small ways. And, once in a while, in big ways, too.
I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I knew. And my kids are too.
And my heart has grown in appreciation for all the great kids out there who are being raised by a single parent. We’re sort of a growing private club. And we speak the same unspoken language full of understanding for the journey.

Olives in BA 2 years ago

That is so true, Dina. I was just writing this morning about spending two weeks without my husband over the holidays and while it was a challenge, it is nothing like going at it alone every single day of the year. Kudos to the ladies who are managing to raise their children alone, to every tantrum they must weather and every triumph that they cannot share with a partner, they are doing all the stuff we all must and on their own. My hat goes off to you, ladies, and to you, Dina for reminding us of how much harder they must work for their children.

H DeRaps 2 years ago

Thank you for this. When I first started reading it, I thought it was going to say what I am completely EXHAUSTED of hearing. Something along the lines of “I was married while raising children, but I might as well have been doing it alone.” Because, that is utter nonsense and only serves as another blow against those of us who are absolutely alone every day, every night, through every illness and tantrum, and amazing moment. Truly, it’s the times when my toddler son is so cute and adorable and doing something incredible that I feel the most alone. Yes, it sucks to parent alone when the boy is screaming and dinner’s not ready and the snow is not shoveled and the bills are overdue. But, when I realize that I have no one to tell how beautiful and inventive and down-right impressive my son is? That’s sad to me.

Yes, I have facebook. But I don’t use it to share these moments with virtual strangers. Or even close friends. That is not what I need, what I crave as a single mom. I’m talking about that shared look between two people who created a life, who see parts of themselves in that new life. That’s what I wish I had.

So, thanks for this. I am finished crying and will go back to work. My boy is about to wake from his morning nap, and I don’t want to miss a single second of his preciousness.

Stephanie 2 years ago

Thank you. As the widowed mom of two boys under six I am not a single parent, I am an only parent. While it would be nice to pass off the responsibility to someone once in awhile, often times it is the morale support I miss the most- a shoulder to cry on or a pat on the back. It is also overwhelming to consider that you are the one solely responsible for building the foundation for the type of men they will become.

Em 2 years ago

Thank you…thank you…thank you…made me tear up. Much <3 from this single mom of 3

Mary Stollenwerk 2 years ago

I am a SAHM. Not even when my husband travels for the whole week have I uttered the phrase that “I am single parenting it”, because even when he is gone, a very important thing shows up in our bank called a paycheck. If I were a single parent, I would have to be responsible for that, too. That is something that I can’t relate to, and is more than half the battle of surviving!

Miranda Beltz Davidson 2 years ago

Thank you so much for this. It made me tear up. I'm a completely single mommy of two and I appreciate you realizing just how hard it is……but SO SO WORTH IT. <3

Becky 2 years ago

Thank you for saying this!! My friends often use the phrase “single momming it” when their husbands are away for a few days, and I confess that it drives me nuts. I am a widow, raising my son alone. I’m a great mom and we have a wonderful life…..however, 24/7 childcare, every single household chore, the full weight of our financial state, and fun tasks like making a will because there is no other back-up parent if something happens to me constitute my everyday reality. I fully recognize that having the day-to-day tasks of interacting with kids and running a household are much more complicated when a partner is away for a bit, but there is indeed a vast chasm between those frustrations and being a single parent.

Misty 2 years ago

I needed this. I’m a single Mom and this morning was really rough. Thank you.

Jenny 2 years ago

Yep. I’ve been solo with four kids for almost 8 years now. I wouldn’t give up the chance to raise them for all the martinis in the world, but I’d be a big fat liar if I said it’s been easy.

The irony is, before my ex walked out, I was a stay at home mom. And I used to complain, loudly, when he’d leave me for days to go on golf trips or conferences. If I’d only known what was around the corner….

Thanks for this!

Kristen 2 years ago

What a well written article. It is very hard as a single mom, you hit the nail on the head. While it is a struggle I am one single mom that wouldn’t change a thing.

Anastasia 2 years ago

As a single mom I would like to thank you for that beautiful post. It made me tear up. I’ve often had to stop other mothers when they say that they may as will be a single mother, I kindly tell them they have no idea, and thank God everyday. My boy is now 10 and I’m acustom to it by now, but reading that post reminded me of a lot and u thank you.

Kelly 2 years ago

Thank you for this : )
I don’t think any mom (singe or not) has it easy, but thank you for this special “shout out”
You made my day.

Katy 2 years ago

Thank you for this! I used to refer to myself as “single momin it” when my husband changed shifts, worked late, or did overtime….now since he lost a 2 year battle with cancer I am truly a single mom of 4 small girls….is it rough? Very! Totally puts things into perspective when you are the sole provider of EVERYTHING!! :) thank you! I love this blog!

Manday 2 years ago

I am not a single mom and have often had this thought. Its amazing what they do.

Ashley 2 years ago

This is me. It’s so tough sometimes, but the thank you I got last night from my husband made me feel like its not all unnoticed and under appreciated.
I get sick of tantrums in the grocery store (almost every single time lately!) and hauling babies places when its below zero and pushing carts through this slush that’s impossible. I’d love a hand sometimes. Or a break. I give single parents so much credit.

Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes 2 years ago

Yes to everything.

Frankie Laursen 2 years ago

Thank you for your honesty in this post and for honoring those single parents (some are of course Single Dads) for getting through each day, when it can’t possibly be easy.

My friend is the blogger Sassy Single Mom, and although her ex-husband is still in the picture, while her daughter is at her house, she really has no one to give her a break. They live in a one-bedroom apartment, so she doesn’t even have a room to get away for a few minutes.

Thankfully we’re part of a mommy group, so we set up play dates and watch each other’s kids, but especially from dinner time to bed time, it’s a real struggle to keep it together. Kudos to all the parents who get through the tough times and keep taking care of their kids.