Sunday, January 11, 2009

Does it matter who has it worse? Really?

Last night I went out for my first outing with my single parents meetup group. There were 7 of us single moms all sharing our stories.

One was fresh out of a quick divorce with a 17 month old son.

One was 2 years past her divorce. A divorce that took 3 years to complete!

Others had similar stories... ex-husbands who didn't work, ex-husbands who were uninvolved... The word "loser" was thrown around quite a bit.

I found myself sinking lower into my chair when it was time for me to speak up.

I am very fortunate. My ex is wonderful, supportive, loving, helpful, responsible. As I told them my story, they all looked at me and said,

"Ok, can we hate you now?"


This morning, I read a blog post at Irascible Crayons about a discussion in the comments at Ms. Single Mama. Apparently a few commenters are saying that women who receive child support and are able to have every other weekend free are not true single parents.

As I read the comments and the blog post, I was reminded of how the ex and I picked on each other while we were married. When either of us was sick or tired, one of us would always emphasize how we were more sick or more tired than the other one. It was quite humorous. I would frequently notice it and say,

"Why does it have to be a competition of who has it worse?"

I have always assumed the definition of "single parent" was one who was a parent and also single. I've even written a post about how the term seems like such an oxymoron, but alas it is how we define ourselves.

I know mothers who haven't seen their child's father since they were pregnant.

I know mothers who haven't seen their child's father since the baby was very small.

I know mothers who chose to be single parents, with no man involved at all.

I know divorced parents who hate each other.

I know divorced parents who do what they can to work together, despite their mutual dislike of each other.

I know divorced parents who respect each other and work to share custody of their children.

I know divorced parents who have sole custody and struggle to make ends meet.

I know married parents who feel like single parents because their spouses are deployed (thanks for the reminder Niki!), physically or emotionally unavailable.

I have a great ex-husband who is actually becoming a better father with every passing year. We'd be happy to share weeks with our children but he travels every week with work. Ironically, he'd probably spend the same amount of time with the girls if we did stay married. The fortunate thing, however, is that the time he does spend with them is one-on-one focused time without me in the middle. He's had to step up. And he most certainly has. He is by no means perfect but I know that I don't have it so bad.

The one thing all of us have in common is that we are parents. We have to give so much to our children. Whether that's 1/2 weeks and every other weekend off, or every day save 4 weekend days a month, or every single waking moment, we are still parents.

But we are also single or in some ways, on our own. We all still struggle with the loneliness and overwhelming feeling of loss. We all still want someone to listen to us and understand. We all still miss intimacy and sex. We all still long for that loving acceptance that a true partner can bring to our lives.

We are all the same, despite some order of difficulty in our lives or our parenting.

We are all doing our best with whatever situation we find ourselves in. And we all still long for love.


  1. Great post & blog - you sound like a great mom!

  2. Thank you so much for this post. It's so right on.

    You have this incredible ability to rise above it all and really SEE. It's such a gift. I can speak for all the single parents online: we're blessed to have you.

  3. I see myself as a "part-time" single mom since my husband who is in the USAF is gone quite bit. When he is gone I have to do both parental duties so that my kids don't feel "jipped" in a sense.

    Anyways, I love your blog T! :)

  4. You and Dads have, in fact, inspired me to be as civil as possible in this divorce, and seeing through the two of you examples that such an arrangement is possible is very empowering. I refuse to play the "who has got it worse" game. That is not me.

    Thank you for this post, T. Be well.

  5. Yes.

    I think there should be a ranking system, and everyone should be put into categories. Nice little boxes. A1 Single Parent B3 Single Parent. That would be swell, and a monumental waste of time for someone, or persons.

    Word to the T.

  6. Well said. It's not a competition. I do think it helps for women (maybe men too) to vent a little though, especially if they are going through a very difficult time. To have other single parents that can relate and give advice is helpful. Your advice in this post is the kind of help they need. Maybe that's one reason why you are in this group with women that are hurting - to help them see a healthier perspective.

  7. Thanks for linking to me T. I agree with your post wholeheartedly. It isn't a competition!

  8. I saw the comment on the other blog that you referred to and I thought the same thing! Of course, I also wondered about whether I "stacked up" and was truly a single parent category at The Imperfect Parent a few months ago ( No matter what, I truly believe, like you, that we are all doing the best we can. No competition needed.

  9. I don't know what I am. I just know I'm tired.

  10. What an incredibly thoughtful post. How sad for single parents to even have a "competitive" discussion regarding who is truly a single parent. We all have our unique burdens. Again, thank you for highlighting this important topic.

  11. I don't think anyone should whine about their circumstances. Whining is the most unproductive of actions.

    Once, I was at a convention, where a group of single women were complaining about what assholes men were. One woman was being very quiet. She finally said, "I am very happily married to a very wonderful man. We have been nothing but happy for 20 years." Silence. The women didn't like that.

    Later, we were all drinking at the bar. We looked up to see a woman in the corner, making out with a man. It was her! The happily married woman!

    Oh man. That was funny.

    Seriously, though ~ she was my roomie in the hotel. She had gotten very drunk and was making out with this guy all evening. (He, incidentally, was making noises earlier about how very happily engaged he is.)

    When my friend came to our room, she said, "Oh my God! French kissing is the best!" I said, "What the hell? You have been married for 20 years and have never been french kissed??"

    In the morning, she was overcome with guilt.

    I said, "Don't you DARE go trying to relieve your conscience by telling your husband about this harmless event! Just go home and teach him how to kiss!"

    She said, "Won't he wonder where I learned it?"

    I said, "Tell him I taught you."

    And she did. And they lived happily ever after.

  12. I begrudge no one anything. I have happily married, wealthy friends. I wish I had it too - but I don't wish they didn't have it nor do I deny that sometimes everyone has challenges or is overwhelmed or sad.

    Playing "one up" is childish at best.

    I felt like a single parent when I was married - at least when divorced I did get some weekends to myself to regroup and rejuvenate.

    Now that my ex is dead, I bet I'd win that little argument. No one to help and no one to complain about either.

    Be careful what you wish for, mamas.

  13. T - how much of a "support group" can that single parent meet up be if everyone is using terms like "hate" and "loser". Ugh.

    I don't read the blog you mentioned, but I do know that single parents come in many flavors. You named them all! I'm a single dad with half-time custody, and I get along with my ex-wife.

    Cathouse Teri - you are hilarious. Can you teach me how to French kiss? (Maybe I already know, but there's nothing wrong with a refresher course)

  14. I'm with you on this one, T. I'm better friends now with my ex than I have EVER been. He's a great father to our daughter. I have no complaints.

    And I choose to not compete in these competitions.

    But women being women, we have the venting gene.

  15. I can definitely relate to the who's got in worse game. Maybe it's because I'm a woman, and I like to whine :)

    So many of my college friends like to vent to me about all the tests and papers they have to do. Sorry, I'm just not going to feel sorry for someone who procrastinated until the last minute to do something that they've known about since the first day of class. It gets on my nerves!

  16. Everything here is based on competition. That's the definition of "here", which is intrinsically in competition with "there", "yesterday", "tomorrow", etc. Changing the purpose of competition from out-do to undo is the key to transforming the experience of same...or not.
    Thanks, T.

  17. Awesome post, T! Delightful stuff.

    Men get the same benefits from venting. If I hadn't learned how to productively vent and release I'd still be a passive-aggressive whiny victim-stancing nightmare of a father and partner.

  18. T, you sum up another gorgeous post so well in this last line: "We are all doing our best with whatever situation we find ourselves in. And we all still long for love."

    It's easier to get into a holier-than-thou space when you are doing it all on your own. I admit that I have fallen prey to the "who has it worse" thing. There was a time when I sort of wore my 24/7 single motherhood as a badge of martyrdom. Secretly I was jealous of those mothers whose exes stepped up, shared custody, gave them a little bit of a break. Yet those mamas told me that I was lucky not to have to deal with my ex on a regular basis. Guess the grass is always greener, eh?

  19. Late to this party - BUT - I disagree with one key element here, and would like to clarify something, on the part of those (not-by-choice) full time single moms.

    A competition? UGH. I agree. We all love our kids and ought to be focused on that.

    We all long for love? Absolutely!

    The "haters" who bitch and moan post-divorce? No fun to be around, and worse. But also, often a natural period of venting that takes place when you are still close to your period of battle. That's one of the reasons that I don't hang out with people who are separated or recently divorced. You move on. You're at a different "stage," advanced to a "living your life" stage again.

    But here's the difference.

    If one parent is carrying all the load for parenting - and again - "unexpectedly" can make that a whole lot worse - with financial, physical, logistical, professional, and social(izing) consequences - it's an entirely different life than one in which you have weekends off, or family to help, or a steady income to buy yourself a day or two off, or assistance of any sort. Even a few days just to be free of the worries, or to share them.

    It's virtually impossible to build yourself a "new life" when you find yourself buried by the remains of the old one. Particularly if the repercussions go on for years.

    Those who haven't experienced this kind of devastation (literally a post-war battlefield), or who do not live this kind of experience for an extended period really have no idea what it is like.

    Does that mean you hate or bitch or moan? No.

    But it isn't about competition at all. Or martyrdom. It's about a life reality that is pretty extreme, and I hope, exceptional. It's about realizing that you don't have a shot at things that other single parents do, and eventually, accepting that, and doing the best you possibly can.

    That means trying to stay positive, raise your kids, and keep going. It also means trying to find friends who understand your situation. But they are few. And you have little time for a "life" anyway.

    It's recognizing a dramatically different weight in parenting - surviving day by day, and finding joy where you can.


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