‘Ohhhh, that must be so HARRRRD…’
These are typically the first words out of someone’s mouth when I tell them that I am (*gasp*) [wait for it] a SINGLE MOTHER [da da daaaaarrrrrrrr].
Faces like this usually accompany the statement:
Mother’s Day has caused me to reflect on excessive, well-meaning sympathy like this. As I reflect, I am competing with Ever After High blaring on the TV in the background, and my five-year-old daughter (who is going through a developmental stage where she verbalises her every thought) trying show me which La La Loopsy doll she wants for her next birthday (which is in 361 days). Is this experience of multi-tasking so different to what other mothers experience? Nope. So what is different? Well, I guess I’m not simultaneously feeling internal angst about a man not intervening to give me a break so I can finally have 30 minutes to myself. But, as I understand it, women in 2017 are still doing the vast majority of unpaid domestic labour and child-rearing work in relationships so this experience is not peculiar to ‘my type’ either.
Perhaps then the difference for single mother’s is that we have to fully accept and live that reality of ‘doing it all’ every day. There is no pretence: it is on us and we have to get on with it. Unlike our partnered up parenting pals, we do not have the luxury of wasting any time or energy on the unfairness of it all. Instead, we have to get on with the full time responsibilities of living a fully authentic and independent life. And here’s the quicker: yes, it’s financially challenging but YOU ACTUALLY DO NOT NEED A MAN TO COMPLETE YOUR LIFE no matter what Jerry Maguire might have taught you in the 90s. Now, I appreciate that this will come as a shock to some of you droopy sad ‘oh dear she’s a single mum’ face-makers. But this is the veil that has been lifted for me, and my kind – and, we are empowered as a result. You won’t find any feigned learned helplessness in our houses.
Single mothers not only parent and do the household labour they also do the ‘man-work’: they ‘take out the trash’, negotiate household contracts, manage the finances, have difficult conversations with the neighbour, fix the bike, deal with the mechanic, move the furniture, inspect houses, light fires, pitch tents, get the torch and stealth around the house in our undies when we hear a noise at night, replace the batteries, assemble the IKEA furniture like a pro, change the light bulbs, plan the holidays, drive the car – and have control of remote control. We have the satisfaction of knowing without a doubt that we can ‘do it all’, no matter what life throws at us.
Life is challenging for everyone, it is just that our ‘single mother’ challenges happen to reveal an uncomfortable truth to the patriarchy: life goes on without men. And it goes on well. Apart from doing all the heavy lifting, which women do anyway, we also have the ability to dictate the terms of our lives. We don’t need to compromise with a man on any decision – think about how much free time that throws up! By way of illustration, I’m half way through a master’s degree in law and I am volunteering in causes I feel passionate about. I’m not wasting any time on anything that I don’t think is important. My Netflix playlist is queued and it has no competition – and I like it that way.
So next time a woman tells you she is a ‘single mother’, instead of giving her an apologetic grimace and perpetuating the victim myth with your unconscious bias, consider giving her a knowing smile and a high five because now you know the truth: She.Got.This*
Note: I realise that I have been incredibly lucky and that not all women starting life again after a relationship have access to the resources I do. This is why I am on the Board for the Council for Single Mothers and their Children (CSMC), an organisation that is actively seeking to support women who have nowhere else to turn for emergency relief. If you have any cash to spare, please consider making a deposit into the CSMC Safety Net campaign. You can help another woman to thrive, just like me: https://www.givenow.com.au/safetynet
*With a little help from grandma.
Sophie Banks, CSMC Board Member