Michelle Obama recently made an interesting faux pas. She mistakenly referred to herself as a ‘busy, single mother’ and for that, a volcano of social disdain erupted, showering scorn and derision all over her. I say ‘interesting’ because there are, of course, several sides to any story, and she deserves to have her Freudian slips understood, just as much as anyone.
Many people might see Mrs Obama’s parenting situation as over privileged. Of course, she works very hard, and has a lot of responsibility, but a mother with wall-to-wall servants, willing helpers and round-the-clock support can hardly place herself alongside those strong, resilient and determined women who parent solo.
My Mum raised my brother and I by herself, with no financial assistance or extended family structure to ease the struggle. She worked night duty as a midwife, taking in lodgers to help with the rent and babysitting. And she was there for us when it counted. We wanted for nothing, except perhaps a father… My son’s teacher is a dedicated, incredible woman who puts her heart and soul into the 22 children under her care each day. And, yes, she is a single mother to two young children. I wonder where she finds the strength and motivation to be so in tune with a whole class of other people’s children, as well as being a loving and involved mother to her own. On her own.
We love, admire and respect at least one mother who is doing it alone. And hopefully, we are a supportive, caring and loving friend/sister/mother to those women.
In the last few years, I have discovered a different breed of women who parent alone, a lot. They are the mothers who have partners… partners who are absent for the majority of parenting duties (like the President of the USA, for example). These women can be found at birthday parties, at Friday night swim club, in parks on weekends. You rarely see them out at night time, because they have nobody at home to care for their sleeping babies. They are by themselves, but with their children, most of the time.
In this difficult economic climate, more fathers have been forced to take jobs away from home. Far, far away. Women are learning the hard way that they cannot have their husband and eat food too. They can choose to stay at home, hopefully with a strong social network, seeing their partners every two or three weeks for a quick visit. Or they can relocate, losing their friends and family in the process, finding themselves just as alone on weekends because hubby has to work.
Other women have partners who are renovating their home, or use weekends to complete overdue projects that require an absence of small people. Some Dads travel a lot, disappearing to far flung lands, conferencing, selling or buying. Their children tether Mum to the homeground too, with a distinct lack of social life, despite being surrounded by other women in the same position.
The members of this club don’t broadcast their status because the Married Single Mother is privileged. She has a partner, her partner probably has a job, she can send her children to extracurricular activities and she doesn’t always have to work night duty. It is not politically correct to compare a single mother with a single married one because the married one gets to eat her cake. But the cake she once envisaged having doesn’t taste nearly as sweet when she is eating it. All. By. Herself…
So, Michelle (may I call you that?), I can understand why you slipped up, calling yourself a single, working mother. I am relieved that you make mistakes too, just like the rest of us, and welcome you to the Married Single Mother’s club as a full and active member. We forgive you…