Not knowing the difference

W at 3 months

I have recently been answering some questions for people about things that I seem to be a bit of an “expert” on. Mostly the questions center around either becoming or being a single mother.

First I was approached by a woman who has a really cool site that runs a feature called “true story” once a week. In these posts people basically demystify realities that some might find unusual. Case in point: I became a mom using donor sperm. (look for my true story sometime in October)

Then I was asked to answer some questions for the site Femme-o-nomics about women that decide to become choice moms and not wait around for Mr. Right to start a family. This is a new site, but I loved their mission statement.

And I just finished up answering the bio questions for the circle of moms list of “Top 25 Single Parent Blogs”. (By the way, thanks for all of the votes! I’m number 5!)

One of the things I realized as I was answering these questions was that people seem to want to know “what is it like to be a single mom?” My gut answer is, “as compared to what?”

I have been single for years. Many, many years. I have been single for so long that the idea of  NOT being single scares the crap out of me. (wow. I totally said that out loud.) I don’t know how to be attractive to a man, I don’t know how to date a man, and I certainly have no idea how to be romanced by a man – not any more. It’s been too long and I feel like the cereal box in the far corners of the shelf of the grocery store. You know – the box that is slightly dusty on top, a bit faded in color, probably soon to be expired, and certainly no prize.

I have been in the back of the shelf because I put myself there. It is quite nice and cool back here. No one bothers you. You don’t have to worry about getting a date or impressing a date or getting a man to call you back for the 2nd date. You just watch the other products in front of you get carried off and away to their life. And suddenly you realize that you have been not dating in your adult life longer than you were dating.

So the single part of the “what is it like to be a single mom” question is not new to me. I am not suddenly single or recently single. Being the person in charge of my life and making my own decisions has been happening since (brace yourself, seriously grab a heavy piece of furniture) 2001. That’s a decade of being on my own. Ten years since I was in what I would call a real relationship.

[Obviously I have some issues about this so be gentle, ok?]

Being a single mom is the only way I can see myself. But I don’t feel like I am any more or less experiencing motherhood than my friends who are married or partnered mothers. Oh sure, I imagine there are some moments I miss out on – but I don’t know what they are. And I don’t say that with smugness, I say that because I have been single for so long I genuinely do not know what I am missing. Therefore I do not know what W is missing. I say this as a daughter who was raised by a single Mother and I have no real reference points in my childhood where I can look back and say, “oh man, W is totally missing out on ______” because I didn’t know I was missing anything.

Asking a person who has been single for a long time what it is like to be a single Mom then asking a person who was once a married or partnered Mom and is now a single Mom is a planet of difference. Forgive me if this is a crass analogy – but it is like asking a person that was born without a leg and a person that had a leg amputated, “what is it like to walk?”

If you don’t know that there is a difference then you really don’t know what the difference is.

When W was very little I used to get a bit offended when I would hear people remark they were going to be “single Moms for the week” as their husbands went away on business trips. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why it bothered me at the time, but now I know it is because it seemed being a single parent was something a person could try on for size and interchangeably be.

Now I recognize how I parent is a lot like parents that find themselves alone by circumstance: those parents that are single parents for the week or month or year as the other parent is busy with work, away on a trip, or away serving our country. We all hope to have a support system in place, we all hope that we can afford to make a healthy dinner, we all hope that we can provide a secure and stable home.

Is this a different kind of parenting experience?

I know I am missing out on experiencing a partnership in parenting. I know there are many days where I wish I could ask W’s father to take him out for the day. Instead I ask my Mother and am so lucky that she often says yes. I do wish there was someone who I could share this experience with – and I guess that is where you guys come in. As ridiculous as it sounds, and some people may never understand it, so many of you play a role in my parenting. I turn to you guys for advice on pretty much everything – even the stuff I am kind of ok on- I just like knowing that I am on the right track.

I don’t know what it is like to be a married mom, but I also don’t know how to raise a child without the internet.


  1. Thank you for writing this candid post (and I love the picture.)
    My one big take-away from our conversation was how fearless and strong you are — traits that must serve you well as a mother. I attended a feminist mother’s group last night and you kept popping into my head. I think you rock.

  2. This I adore: “I don’t know what it is like to be a married mom, but I also don’t know how to raise a child without the internet.”

    Congrats on your October article!

  3. Hi Number 5, as I was reading this I realized that I comiserate with mothers who are having a hard time whilst their other half is away, working, etc… “I’m a single mum this week!” they cry. “Oh poor you, when is he coming home? Not long now? Can you get some extra paid help?” I cannot afford any paid help and yet I feel so bad for them. Am I bonkers?

  4. Queenie says:

    Love that last line. And, wish I could set you up with my brother. You’re kinda my ideal SIL.

  5. cute pic!!

  6. Dude, I’m married but it is not an equal partnership. I hate to write that, but it’s true. My days off have transformed into his days off, so my ‘time off’ happens while I’m at work. If I give enough warning Mr Oro is (usually) fine to take the Chieftain, but sometimes the Chieftain comes with me to appointments and such. What I’m trying to say is that while I wish I could be confident in feeling like I have a backup, the truth is that the majority of the child-rearing (and working, and housecleaning, cooking, and alll the driving) is on my back.

    I know I’m not a single mother – I grew up with a single mom – but I sure do feel like one a lot of the time.

  7. I hate questions like that. They are so…impossible to answer. The next time someone asks you that, please ask them on my behalf “what is it like to be a married parent?”

    I’m with you on raising a child with the internet though. :)

  8. Heather says:

    One of the best things my friends ever said to me was I now understand how you feel all the time being a single mom. (I chose to be a single mom by adopting my daughter) My friends husband is a fire fighter and is gone a lot of the summer on fires. The first summer after her second child was born he was gone must of the summer and we spent a lot of time together. She said she didn’t know how I did it being a single mom and not getting time off. Ya it is hard but I wouldn’t trade it for the world!!!!! Thank god I have good friends that give me a break when I need it but to be honest I love spending time with my daughter.

  9. I am in the same boat, though J’s dad was an active participant in creating the life. We split about a week after I found out I was pregnant. We split because I didn’t want to share my life with someone who made me miserable. It was 100% my choice. He was the one left with a broken heart. So I have been a single mom all 6 1/2 years of J’s life. No man has found enough merit to assume any real time around him, let alone resume some kind of additional parental role. J does see his dad. Not often, perhaps 4 or so days a month, more on holidays. But it’s always he and I. It’s always bothered me to hear marrieds pull the single mom moment card. Single mom is not simply the absence of another parent, it’s the absence of another income, of affection and love from another adult not related to you, of any shared responsibility (I’ve already had to talk to my son about the weird things boys bodies do sometimes, if you catch my drift), etc. I don’t know that single parenting is harder, all parenting is hard. I think married couples have a different set of difficulties I don’t know or am capable of understanding. But I agree. I don’t need a medal of honor. I just do what I have to do, with 100% imperfection and 200% love.

  10. If I didn’t have C, I would totally be a dusted cereal box like you. I don’t have what it takes to really date. I just love you and all that you have accomplished and continue to face with courage and strength.

  11. Calliope – thanks for this post. It is EXACTLY how I feel about choosing single motherhood. Your comments about dating resonate – I choose to do my own thing. I was raised fatherless too so I have no reference point. I don’t know what I missed out on and I feel pretty relaxed about my background and confident that I can do a good job as a mum on my own. While I am actualy yet to cross the divide into motherhood, it’s great to read your comments as a mother and that you feel the same way I do. And you just saved me writing my own post on the topic!

  12. Damn, I was driving to work thinking about the being single vs actively looking for a man thing today. There is someone of interest, who is actually my own age, but then my thought went to I don’t want to share my parenting experience. With that in mind, I figured I needed to give it more thought. I quit actively looking, so I have to literally bump into Mr. Where have you been. Some days I think it would be nice, while others I can’t imagine my life with someone else other than my kid.

  13. As the SMC of a 14 YO and an 11 YO, I still occasionally hear how “brave” I am. I try to explain that becoming a single mom by choice has almost nothing to do with courage and much more to do with inevitability: there simply was not a place in my mind for imagining my life without children, with or without a husband. Some people understand what I’m trying to say, while others listen politely and then reply something like: “I don’t care what you say, I still think it’s brave.”

    When W gets older, though, be prepared for this: “Why can’t you go out and find me a dad?” (My son even tried to fix me up with his friend’s widowed father.) This is a difficult question to answer satisfactorily. I seem to get very little mileage out of explaining (1) that I’m incompetent when it comes to men and trying to find a husband would suck me dry; (2) that I was engaged when they were little but called off the wedding because my fiance insisted on adopting my kids and changing their names immediately after the wedding; (3) that many families are led successfully by single moms and dads; (4) that just having a dad wouldn’t magically obliterate every problem, and (5) that we have a remarkably strong network of uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins and friends who are always available to help us.

    It was much easier when I could get away with pointing out that, just as some families have dogs or cats and others don’t, some families have moms and dads and others, like ours, aren’t structured that way.

  14. I can relate so much to your line “the idea of NOT being single scares the crap out of me.” There is a part of me on one level that dreams or fantasizes about having a significant other or partner but those dreams are like being in love in a movie. Not real life stuff. Whenever I put myself in a position to look at a real life relationship with a real live man it just freaks me the hell out and I go running back to my critters and friends that I know and can manage. Maybe not the best coping strategy on my part but it feels comfortable and I’m ok with it.

  15. I went to high school with several sets of twins, and I once heard someone ask one of them what it was like to be a twin. He retorted, “What is it like to be a singleton?”

    My coupledom is the inverse of your singleness — impossible to imagine otherwise, and seemingly forever. I have been not single so long that the idea of being single scares the crap out of me. When DH and I got together, Kurt Cobain was still alive!

  16. I hope it’s ok to comment twice. I just want to reply to Sharyn’s comment about people telling her how brave she was to enter into single motherhood. I get that comment a lot. My answer is: It was much more scary for me to think that one day I am going to be 60 and I’ll have to come to terms with never having been a mummy. It would have been brave risking that future – I didn’t dare!

  17. Hooray for the internet. :)

    My mother was a single parent. I didn’t notice at the time, but now I can imagine how difficult it might have been sometimes. But probably less difficult than dealing with my father, so.

  18. This is such a great post! I’m a single mother not by choice. I get horribly sad because my husband and I made a choice to be a family and now that dream is gone. My child is missing out on things that we planned and dreams that we made. He may not know he is missing them and may never actually miss them who knows. The fact is I know and that is hard.

    I think the day to day stuff is the same for all moms. I’ve been a married mom and a single mom. Both have their own set of difficulties, but it does annoy me when married mothers whine about being single during a week long business trip. I mean if your husband is deployed for an extended amount of time, yes, you are much like a single mother. If your husband is gone for a week it just doesn’t compare. My dad was a pilot and was out of town a lot. My mom never labeled herself as a single mother while he was gone. It was just our life.

    As moms we do what we need to do to get the job done whether we are single, married, in a partnership whatever!

  19. You way with words is why I come back here. Your last sentence can definitely be applied to partnered moms too, and it is brilliant.

  20. It’s funny because I kind of like the “What’s it like” questions. I find it interesting to try to answer them… except when I can’t when I just tell them frankly that I can’t. I always worry I’ll offend someone by asking something like that precisely because I like talk like that so much that I forget others don’t. I welcome stuff like, “What’s it like to parent with someone from a different culture?” Though I have to say I like more specific questions better.

    Well well said though sweets. I digressed quite a bit there eh? And GORGEOUS babeh. I want to kiss him. He looks just the same.

  21. Not crass at all and, in fact, spot on.

    It is different.

    And, fwiw, it is annoying as hell when partnered moms say they are “single parents for the weekend!”. Gggrrrrrr.

  22. “I used to get a bit offended when I would hear people remark that they were going to be “single Moms for the week” as their husbands went away on business trips.”

    Sigh. This is one of those minor stupid things that drives me completely and absolutely crazy. No, you are not going to be a “single mom for a week.” And that you can say that shows you have absolutely no concept of what being a single mom is.

  23. Gorgeous post. I feel like it’s true for so many things in life — you simply don’t know what you’re “missing” though I hate the term “missing.” Because “missing” is in the eye of the beholder. On the places where I clearly differ from the majority around me, I don’t feel like I’m necessarily missing anything. Just that my experience is different.

    I have a similar reaction to when people describe themselves as “widows” because their partner works so much (film festival widows, residency widows, etc). It’s strange to borrow this term, entirely tied to loss, and use it to mean that the other person is busy.

  24. Obviously I relate a lot to this post. However one side that people sometimes don’t necessarily mention (and they may have already in the comments; didn’t have time to read them all…), is that having a partner doesn’t always bring all GOOD. I parented with a partner for a whopping 6 months before my partner left me, and since she is still involved with my son, to some extent I still do with him. But one of the nice things about being a single parent is that there is only one decision. Ours. That’s it. There is no one to disagree that he/she should co-sleep, or on when he/she should start solids, or on how to discipline… It is pretty lovely to be the end-all, be-all decision maker for your child.

    Although like you…it sure would be nice to be able to say to someone, “hey, can you handle dinner and baths tonight? I could use some time to relax and catch up on my magazine reading…” :)

  25. Shereen says:

    One of the worst things ever done to moms was the North American invention of the nuclear family in the 50s. I mean, my wife and I are partnered parents, but we don’t know how we’d do it without the support of our community; parents, friends, siblings. I’m lucky that we really DO divide all the parenting work equally; my heart goes out to the folks who are saying that their partner is not doing their fair share. My previous partner was like that, and we didn’t even have children, thank god. But Calliope, I’ve spent probably 15 years of my adult life single so far, for a lot of the same reasons you gave. I still have a 2-1 ratio of single vs. dating years, and I was pretty happy about it most of the time; dating looked like so much damn WORK generally. I’m in the marriage I am now because when I met her, suddenly it didn’t seem like it would be work to be with her. 😉 That’s when you know. Make no mistake, you haven’t been left on the shelf. You’ve chosen to be single. Like Katharine Hepburn. Own it, baby. You’re not on the shelf. You’re Katharine Hepburn.

    Okay, that’s enough rambling from me!

  26. Im guilty of placing myself in the “single mother” category with as much as Mook travels–I often catch myself saying “I dont know how single moms do this ALL the time”
    Im not as graceful with this comment as I want to be..but please know that overall my feelings are:you are an amazing mother…period. The fact that you parent W day in and day out and have similar joys and frustrations as any mom–and since Im honored to know you, I can say without a doubt you do a fantastical job.

  27. There are many facets to being female, being a mother is just one of them. Being a woman with the wants and needs of one is also worth nurturing as well. Not every woman can go years without that special touch that doesn’t erupt in spit-up or followed by a diaper change. “That” moms voice needs to be heard and supported too.

  28. gypsygrrl says:

    well…since the internets DID help you conceive Capt. Adorable…it’s only right that we should help raise him, no? ;o)

    love you and miss you and we SO need to plan up a meeting, ok??? it’s coming up on the 3rd anniversary of you claiming me. i can bring Berger Cookies!


    PS: sending you an email about not-suitable-for-open-internet/FB-discussing in a few minutes <3

  29. This is an awesome post. And I feel EXACTLY the same way. Thank you for sharing and explaining so well what I cannot. I’m taking tips from you in the question/answer department – I hope that’s okay!

  30. You wrote: “I used to get a bit offended when I would hear people remark that they were going to be “single Moms for the week” as their husbands went away on business trips.”

    and then Mel wrote: “I have a similar reaction to when people describe themselves as “widows” because their partner works so much (film festival widows, residency widows, etc). It’s strange to borrow this term, entirely tied to loss, and use it to mean that the other person is busy.”

    I have exactly the same reaction when I see or hear moms writing (gleefully) something along the lines of, “We’re childless this weekend! The kids are at Grandma’s!” Try being “childless” because you’re either lost your child(ren) or couldn’t have any in the first place & see how happy you sound. :p I don’t think people stop to think how hurtful these tossaway remarks can be to others.

  31. I like this post but I have to defend mothers that are married but alone all week.
    First it shouldn’t be a competition of who has it worse and no persons problems are exactly the same so we shouldn’t minimize how difficult it is to be alone when you have a spouse away. Especially if your marriage is imperfect as most are.

    I usually do not make this statement about my arrange ment but all of my friends and family say all the time you are like a single mother Sunday-thursday. That’s my husbands working schedule.

    So on those days I care for my two young boys by myself I change all diapers, make all meals, give every bath, drop and pick up from daycare while I go to work and commute 45 mins a day. I have to explain why daddy isn’t home and why he chose a job where he can’t be a part of our routine.

    So whilest our situations are different they both come with their own set of difficulties. I respect yours I ask that you consider being compassionate enough to respect mine.

    I’m on the brink of leaving my unavailable spouse and its painful enough to hear from my husband I should quit my complaining and be thankful for his income I don’t need to hear it from people who don’t know what its like to live in this situation.

    Time is much more valuable than money.

    Just a perspective of a part time single mom.

  32. I too was raised by a single mum (a powerhouse!) and never really missed having a father. I have an enormous extended family, and my grandmother and many aunts helped Mum raise me. One aunt lived with us until I was 14. I am the work of many hands and hearts :) way more than many of my friends who were raised by a nuclear family with no support!

    When my first child was born, and my husband turned into rock star Dad, I started to get a glimmer of what I might have missed out on as a child. But when I mentioned this to a friend, she quite rightly pointed out that hardly anyone had a dad like that in the 1970s anyway – certainly she hadn’t, and most of my friends had breadwinner dads, not “quality time” dads. My father, who I met in adulthood, is an on-again off-again alcoholic, so – yeah, I didn’t miss out on much, although he’s an OK guy I guess. My husband now stays home with our three kids (3 yo and 1yo twins) and is still a dad in a million. I’m away 2 days per week for work but I assure you he never refers to himself as a “single mum” on those days!

    I second what Shereen says. Extended familes are so important (whether biological or “friend” family or “Internet” family). I don’t think a child needs a parent of each gender to flourish. What I think is that a child needs as many loving people as can readily be arranged, and the more the merrier. Biology not so important, gender not so important. LOVE is what matters.


  33. Thank you for putting words to it. I often get the brave/ or super woman comments. Welp. people who parent once along do not qualify for SMBC status. So please complain elsewhere about doing it alone for a day.week.weekend?

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