parents

The surprising truths a single mother wants you to know about her life.


By MAVIS KING

At a party, a social gathering, simply chatting to a parent in a park, almost anywhere, if a conversation goes for long enough eventually I need to declare that I’m a single mother of a young baby. This needs to happen for a conversation to progress with any authenticity on my behalf.

On declaring my status I quickly have a sympathetic ear, particularly of other mothers. Soon enough however they feel compelled to claim a closer alignment than might be deemed fair. ‘I’m practically a single mother, he’s always at work’ or ‘I was like a single mother, he didn’t do a thing’ or’ I’m like a single mother I never get a moment to myself’ they state with enthusiasm.

I must confess, it’s somewhat hard to sympathise, for feeling like a single mother is most definitely not the same as being one.

These comments about moments of absence, mostly related to time, ignore and completely discount the hardest and very real aspects – emotional, financial and physical – of what it is like to be a single mother.

A single mother does it all, there’s no shifts, no relief that comes in at the end of the day, however late. If the night is sleepless due to a fever, teething or something unexplained then the morning rolls on regardless. This can happen night after night with no relief, that’s just the way it is.

There’s no one to accuse of not pulling their load, there’s no chance for a sleep in or nap because you did the night tough, it all rolls on and so does the single mother. Invariably she musters a smile and is hopeful for a better sleep the coming night or some night after that.

A single mother invariably has a concern for finances with lone parents significantly over-represented among poor groups in society. When women with husbands in high-powered jobs complain of their long work hours, it can be hard for a single mother to sympathise. A cleaner, a babysitter, a holiday – luxuries one would not dare afford when the future bares down upon oneself and child with just a single limited income.

Moments: first solids, first steps, first words and all the silly things in between, the funny grins, little habits – the single mother may record them but they are to be shared perhaps, with her mother or friends. It’s very different to the wife that calls her husband in elation, sending videos through that he shares with colleagues and friends. Such moments – the significant moments – are often celebrated by the single mother alone, for there is no one with which to share. Yes, still significant and they do bring joy, but the tinge of sadness that can creep in to each moment should not be discounted for we all know they would be better shared.

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Parents commonly ponder their child’s appearance, looking for and celebrating traces of each other. ‘He has my eyes’ or ‘she has her father’s curls.’ Imagine not wanting to see your partner in your child. It’s a different lens, not particularly desired but a reality for some.

The special occasions: birthdays, Christmas, even the birthdays of others can hurt for the single mother. Parents flank their child, look at each other with pride, the husband or wife thanks the other for their support, for being a ‘great dad’ or ‘great mum’. Not so for many single mothers.

Whilst a child fills a house and a life there is still time, particularly in the night when a child sleeps, that a single parent can be left wanting for company. There’s no debrief of the day, no ‘adult’ conversation. Eat dinner in silence – yes it has been done.

An odd sound in the night? The single mother must investigate. Home maintenance required? She’ll have to tend to it, if she calls in a repairman she’ll probably pretend her husbands not home so that he doesn’t know she lives alone. The bins need to go out, and back in the next day – the single mother has to do it – in my case with baby strapped to chest. A medical emergency? She must make and back her own decisions, sometimes in the dark of night.

‘Me time’ – time to yourself to exercise, have a haircut, read a magazine, the single mother soon surrenders such ideas. There will be time for all that again one day, perhaps.

Despite all of this, single mothers get on with it, they most certainly do. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 15% of families are single parents and of this 81% are single mothers, so that’s 780,000 of us.

The great delight is that many of us actually appear less bitter than our coupled friends. As we take out the rubbish, we’re not cursing an absent partner, it’s just what needs to be done on a Sunday night. Another sleepless night? That’s ok, there’ll be a better one soon. No time for exercise? That’s ok, there’ll be time for that later.

Dare I claim that a single mother’s life is tougher but she may very well have more moments of joy than the woman that stands in the park claiming she feels like a single mother as her husband shows his colleagues the video of his baby’s first smile. His colleagues may smile with feigned interest, not because they think it’s cute but because they can see he’s a proud father – and what a gift that is, if only their wife could see it amongst the many others.

Mavis is a Sydney based writer that unexpectedly found herself raising her daughter as a single mother. She has two degrees, a professional career and is living proof that it takes a village to raise a child.
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