It was the first time I’d heard other woman say they deal with judgment from friends, family and the world at large for parenting alone. I swear I thought it was just me! And the first time I heard women cry because they are constantly beating themselves up about every little thing, and dealing with the intense isolation that makes you think you are losing your mind. And I heard Oprah say… Forgive yourself, because you are allowed to make a mistake. That one knocked the wind out of me. Because for whatever reason, that one is huge! You really feel like you are not afforded the opportunity to make mistakes as a single mom. Maybe because we have a different relationship with our kids, one where the line between parent and child is very blurred, and where the children are very aware of what goes on in their mom’s life, mostly because mom has no one to talk to on a daily basis but her kids. So decisions that would normally not involve children, or ones where they would normally be unaware of, now are a joint family decision. And when you fail there is no covering it up. There is no way that your kids aren’t involved in watching that failure, and sharing in that disappointment. The buffer zone does not exist. So we hold ourselves to this ridiculous standard where to shield our kids from our mistakes we go the extra mile to try not to make them, all the while making them of course, but just submerged in total self-loathing when we do. There is no one to say “it’s okay, you did the best you could, everything will be fine.” And because of that you never forgive yourself, you never stop questioning every little decision.
There was a comment made however that did not sit well with me, one Iyanla Vanzant (whom I totally love) made when asked why so many single mothers complained about feeling judged. She turned it back to the mom, saying what are you feeling about yourself that you perceive people are judging you? And though I get and understand that physiology and normally agree with about everything Iyanla says, this one I don’t. By saying that, she invalidated one of our biggest issues we face a single moms, one that the overwhelming majority in that room complained of as well. It’s NOT all in our head. It’s not just us feeling inadequate, then thinking people judge us. PEOPLE ACTUALLY JUDGE US all the damn time!
I used to be very close to my siblings and parents, until after my divorce. Once I became a single mom my family was so full of judgment, suddenly everything I was doing was wrong and they questioned every move I made. Even though I was the same mother to my kids who they had always said before was doing an amazing job. But now there was not buffer zone, no husband or marriage to “not intrude on”, I was fair game, and they all eventually turned their back on me. They couldn’t relate to me as a single mom. They had their ideas of how I should do things and felt their opinion was equal to my own. As a result I have basically no relationship with my family and haven’t for several years. So not only did my kids lose their father, they lost their grandparents and aunt and uncle as well.
Judgment is real, and we face it every day. The only way I’ve been able to combat it, or keep it from destroying me, is to rise above and try to redefine the term “single mom”, and break the stereotypes. Prove to people I’m “not that single mom”. It’s a driving force in my life on a daily basis. It’s entirely possible that all that judgment and “hatin'” is what’s driven me to succeed, so for that I am grateful. Wherever motivation comes from to succeed, even if it’s just to prove people wrong, is just fine in my book!
A perfect example of this was my girls kindergarten teacher in Washington. From the start of the year I noticed that she would single out the girls and punish them for things non of the other kids would even be reprimanded for (asking to use the bathroom, their coat falling off the peg to the floor when they were seated at their desk, stuff that was just totally insane). She would keep them inside for recess because she didn’t like the shoes they wore that day, the list went on and on. Things got so bad she even tried to fail them! Mind you they were in kindergarten and were learning at or above their grade level. My last straw was at our first parent conference when my suspension was proven that she really did have an attitude with me (though we’d only at school functions) and my girls (who anyone who’s ever watched or been around them will say they are really well-behaved girls). At the conference she imminently began speaking so negatively about the girls in front of them, that I knew this was not a situation the girls could continue to be exposed to. I called a meeting with the principle and a mediator to try to understand what her problem was with my family.
When we sat down at the meeting her anger was visible, she clearly had a vendetta against me and my daughters. When I asked her what the issue was she unleashed and in front of the school mediator and principle basically said that a single mom who works full-time can not be a good parent too. It was so unbelievably shocking. To have had my daughters judged to the point where their grades were effected (she actually copy and pasted the girls grades to each report card. Even the comments were exactly the same), all because she had some type of prejudiced against single moms. It’s not something we make up that people around us are constantly judging us and our children, it is very, very real. My girls were moved into two separate classes after that and did amazing, and finally started loving school instead of being afraid to go.
Today was another example, I took my kids to OMSI (science museum) in Portland and tried to buy a “family membership” the woman at the counter took my completed application and noticed the spot for “adult #2” was blank. She looked at me (my kids leaning on the counter standing next to me looking at us both), and said; “you need a second adult to qualify for a family membership”. I thought she was kidding. I wasn’t complaining that I had to pay a membership that included 2 adults when I only had one (you’d think a discount would apply) I was simply trying to pay for the “family pass”. But apparently our “family” did not qualify. I was shocked and appalled. “You can put down someone else, a family member” she tells me as if that’s any better. So I’m standing there with my kids, them all looking at me like “what’s wrong mama? What did we do?” And I’ve got no one to put down. No family. No friends that would ever be taking my kids to this thing. I don’t qualify. Now not only are we not a “family” according to their definition, we are extra pathetic because I have no one to write down on a stupid form. Yes we are alone, but we don’t need constant insensitive reminders.
So no, it’s not just in our heads. It’s real and we face awkward moments like that all the time.
The other thing Iyanla said in the second show that I can’t get behind is that single moms should allow the men they date into their kids lives, to meet them even when it’s a new relationship. And what I, and other good single moms who don’t do that, worry about is we don’t want our kids getting attached to random men who don’t stick around. And her response was “don’t your girlfriends leave? Why shouldn’t guys just be people?” I gotta say this was shocking to me. They aren’t “just people” they are men who at the end of the day are more interested in you than your kids and who want to “date you” and when things don’t work out they are gone for good. You can still occasionally see a girlfriend or a family member that you’re no longer close to, it’s not that way with men. I’m not saying this as the bitter old chick, who thinks all men are pigs, I don’t. But I do know dating, with or without kids is something that can last a month, a few months or longer, but why bring your kids into all that mess? Why? What’s the point of that? It makes no sense to me at all. If you feel like he’s “the one” than yeah, that’s different. But come on now. That’s one of the single mom stereotypes I have tried hardest to never get stuck with, because that’s not me. And yes I’m sure there is a balance (in 5 years being single, no guy I’ve dated has met my kids) which I’m realizing I should probably find, but still… I’m never gonna be one of those woman who has men rotating in and out of my kids lives. I’d rather be happily single!
But I am so grateful to Life Class for bringing this topic up and opening this discussion, because we do feel so alone. And it was amazing to at least for a minute feel “normal” like I’m not crazy to feel this way, and that there are millions of us out there silently facing this struggle and trying to turn it into a blessing. I’m excited to see Tylor Perry’s movie Single Mom’s Club, I’m really hoping it portrays us in a positive light and shows our struggles in a realistic way. I think we need more avenues like this, we need more support and a sense of community for those of us who don’t have one.
*to all you single dad’s out there, don’t get offended by my use of “single-mom” it can very well mean single parent…. obviously all I can speak to and know anything about is the “mom” part.