Empathy for the Partnered Parent. From a Richmond single mom.

Crystal's little ninja soldier.

You may have read Crystal’s last post as a Richmond single mom, Allow me to introduce myself. Here’s her follow-up.

I should be reading for class, creating a confidentiality form or maybe even knitting one of the 4 projects I have on the needles, but I’ve got a venue for parenting stuffs and it’s been a while so…

When my son was just two months old, I told my now ex-husband I was leaving. Four months later, I moved out of his house and in with my parents. For two years I worked and muddled about, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with myself and my life. During this time I struggled with several things, especially my new-found identity as a single mom and divorcee. Sure single moms existed eleven and a half years ago, but so much research was being published demonizing single moms, bludgeoning our egos, repeatedly telling us we were ruining our kids. Single moms with sons perhaps bore the brunt of said research because there wasn’t a live-in adult with a penis to balance out the dynamic. It’s much the same way single dads are vilified for not having a vagina around (except that happens far less as often the female contingent step in automatically). Finally, this year, single moms have been vindicated!

So back to the title of this post: Empathy for the Partnered Parent. This, I think, is where I struggle most. As a budding clinical social worker, we are taught to begin where the client is, remain open and empathetic, and most importantly, non-judgmental. For the most part I succeed at these things…except when it comes to my own life and situations that affect me directly.

Per example: About three months ago, the husband of a co-worker accepted a six-week job in France – they were desperate after him being without a job for close to a year – and one day I inquired how things were going with the separation. She almost immediately launched into the difficulty in taking her son to football practice, attending open house once school started, taking days off when he got sick and balancing being a “single” mom with work. I remember her mentioning the amount of time off from work she needed in order to take care of these things. When this happens, I try very hard not to look at parents with partners (aka live-in support that’s around 24/7) and say, “Welcome to my world!” because I understand it is hard to have that support one day and not the next. It is a jolt to their routine and way of life whereas for me, it has been my world since the beginning.

Another example: Last summer, friends in the neighborhood just had a baby and often the husband’s job required him to leave town. One weekend, while we visiting in the dog park, the wife went on and on about not being able to get any work done, her mother-in-law had to come over to help and just wow, parenting “alone” is hard! I hope at that time I kept a flat affect, because again, inside my head I was thinking many non-empathetic thoughts!

Because when your partner goes out of town for a few days, you are not truly parenting “alone” and you know it is only for a short time and there will be an end to that “aloneness”. I don’t get a break. I don’t have someone coming home at 6pm who can help me check the kid’s homework, get dinner on the table, let the dogs out then feed them…I am all the kid’s got for better or worse.

It’s hard for me to be sociable during the week because it’s a school night, the kid needs to get fed, have his homework checked, maybe even study a bit, take a shower and get in bed at a decent time. And I can’t afford a babysitter. On the weekends he is with me, I try to do things that are kid-centered because he is, after all, a kid and our weekdays are fraught with getting things done as fast as possible. Weekends are for doing something fun and exciting as well as taking the time to enjoy each other. This often means my time with mostly kid-free people is limited to every other weekend. This means I only get four days out of every month to focus solely on me.

Four days. Of every month. Only.

Perhaps this is also why I end up shoving way too much fun into the 3 weeks I don’t have him over the summer.

This includes going to the store whenever you want, going to happy hour with friends on a moment’s notice or shoring up the anchor that keeps you at home more often than not. (Let’s not even get on the subject of dating – that’s an entirely separate blog post.)

Then there is the positive financial aspect of being a partnered parent as well, that is if both of you are working full- or part-time. I am the only one who pays our bills and if I don’t work, I don’t get paid. There are a lot of single parents who don’t have a middle class income with paid sick time, vacation time or family leave. Many single parents live paycheck to paycheck (like me) with little left over to put into a savings account. I work anywhere from 40-45 hours per week and have 4 days of paid sick time, but I save most of it if not all for times my son is sick since he can’t go to school when contagious.

And when he can’t go to school, I can’t go to work.

And when I can’t go to work, I don’t make any money to pay the bills.

See where I’m going?

Don’t get me wrong, I adore my kid and think he’s the most beautiful boy on the planet. I would die for him and fight someone to the death in order to protect him. But being a single-mom is super hard and draining. I crack often. More often than not I feel like I’m the mean mom and his dad gets to have all the fun. Constantly being the strong one, or as my bestie said, being everything to everyone at the same time, takes its toll. And when I blow, my kid suffers the fall out and not because I chose to take it out on him, he’s the only one around and is only beginning to understand what I mean when I ask him to leave me alone for 30min.

As a single-mom, the pressure to always be on point is enormous and sits heavily on my soul. So when you complain about not having the day to yourself ‘cause school got canceled due to snow, remember all the moms out there who either get that luxury rarely or not at all.


  1. I can truly emphasize with all you've said here. As a single mother by choice…I know about everything first hand. But this is one of the reasons I don't associate myself with many single mothers groups. I don't like the comparisons, and the complaining and kevetching that usually goes along with those comparisons. Poor single mothers. They have it so hard. My perspective is this…this is the life we chose, so we put our heads down and do it. Doesn't mean we don't find it challenging or have room to complain. But our life is not challenging just compared to theirs. I know lots of partnered families I don't want to be anywhere near. The stress, the complaining this one does or doesn't do whatever to help out. The kids don't know up from down b/c they are so overscheduled and pickups/drop offs are confusing and complicated. Every parent's life has challenges. We just get it done. Parenting is hard…alone, together, supported or not. It's just hard. I, for one, don't want anyone to commend me or feel sorry for me. I'm making my way, one step at a time.

    • "Parenting is hard…alone, together, supported or not. It's just hard."

      This is the same thought that I had. We have a friend, widowed before 40, jobless for 18 months, with a special-needs son…objectively I'd say she's probably got it tougher than a divorced parent with joint custody, but somewhere along the line, someone can probably find a tougher story than hers, too.

      It's tough. We can all find reasons to feel sorry for ourselves or resent someone else's situation. In the end, though, no one is going to find life any easier by dwelling on those reasons.

    • You are absolutely correct. I often don't mention that I'm a single mom 'cause my life can always be worse and it can always be better. I don't want to be commended for being a single mom either, nor do I want special treatment. It is what it is, I am what I am, and I'm okay with that.

      That said, I'm not much of a "joiner" and for whatever reason single mom groups have not appealed to me at all over all these years. I try to keep a positive outlook on life and live one day at a time. As a doer, too much complaining and not enough doing bugs the heck out of me. Heck, sometimes it is all I can do to get through the school year.

      (Plus, there have been sooooo many times I've been ecstatic to be a single mom 'cause I'm the only one deciding what happens day-to-day. There is no one with whom I have to compromise or talk things over first.)

  2. Thank you for this. From the bottom of my overwrought, under-appreciated, not-so-empathetic-at-times heart.

  3. OH.MY.GOSH. I LOVE this article. I am also a single mom of two boys and see very many similarities between your life and mine. I wouldn't trade it for the world and love my boys more than life itself…but damn, it's the toughest job I've EVER had to do! What a great article!!! :)

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