As I was flipping through one of the trashy magazines I brought to the pool with me the other day, I came across the headline on a photo of Jennie Garth — you know, Kelly from 90210 — that referred to her as a “single parent.” My first reaction as I stared at this perfectly put-together celeb, smiling from ear to ear in her designer gown was, “Fuck her… she’s no single parent.”
Ahem, where did THAT come from?
See, my only son, Ethan’s, father was a contributing parent for a sum total of five out of his 18 years. (In other words, not for long.) The rest of the time, he was MIA and the responsibility for raising our child fell solely in my lap.
I’m not nailing myself up on a cross here, expecting a standing ovation or even a pat on the back, but it ticks me off to be grouped under the same moniker as someone who clearly has a hell of a lot more resources than I ever did.
I’ve been thinking about why I’m so defensive about sharing the single parent title with a member of the Hollywood elite, and in some ways it comes down to basic semantics.
“Single” as in “not married” is nowhere close to the same as “single” as in “lone” or “solo.” If you share physical custody, psychological responsibility and financial burden for your child(ren) with another able-bodied adult, you are not a single parent, in my opinion.
Hey, I’m not saying being a co-parent isn’t hard. It is. In fact, I recognize that raising a kid is extremely difficult under the best of circumstances.
I’m watching my BFF go through the pangs of first-time parenthood with her healthy, happy 8-month-old son right now, and she’s got a wonderful, supportive husband to share it all with. And she is worn out, ALL the time. Raising a child is exhausting.
But I am here to tell you that single moms and dads who are going it solo by choice or out of necessity are different animals than parents who share the role. We don’t get Tuesdays, Thursdays and every other weekend off. There's no extra check in the mail each month — we have to rely solely on our one, meager paycheck to take care of all our child’s (not to mention our own) needs.
Single parents end up burning through our paid time off to care for our sick kids, because there is no one else to call to do it for us. As a single mom, I never got a night off from homework, sports practices, or cooking meals. All major decisions fell to me, and I was expected to be a bottomless well of emotional support.
I do have to give cred to all my son’s grandparents and uncles during his formative years. They were there for me whenever I hollered for help. But none of them stepped into the co-parent role. My mom tried valiantly throughout the years, and I am so grateful for that, but she could never truly fill those shoes.
Please don’t misunderstand, I am not complaining about my single-parent status. Not at all. Being a mom, period, has been the most fulfilling role I have ever played in my life. And being a solo mama to an only son means we have an incredibly strong and special bond that would not have come about had I been part of a parenting team.
But life was never easy. Especially during those early years. There was time that I had to accept food stamps and other public assistance to feed us so I could go back to school and try to make a better life.
Somehow I doubt Jennie Garth will ever have to clip a single damn coupon. God forbid she has to fire one of her nannies to cut costs now that she’s lost that second, gazillion-dollar income. (Oh, I’m sorry…. Did that sound snarky?)
Anyhoo, I think another reason I am particularly defensive about my position of single parenthood is that, now that my son is a legal adult — and somewhat of an aimless one at that — I’ve been spending some time ruminating on all the stuff I did wrong during his childhood. And there was a ton of it.
I’m trying to be fair to myself and acknowledge that I did the very best I could at the time, but I can’t help but wonder what I might have done differently that would have made my son’s current journey a little smoother. Maybe nothing, I dunno. Hindsight’s 20/20, fo’ sho.
One thing I know for certain is that I loved the hell out of that kid (still do), and I worked my ass off to make sure that he always had what he needed, and frequently got a lot of what he wanted, too. And I did it essentially all by myself.
Yeah, yeah, I know I shouldn’t compare myself to others, and I certainly shouldn’t get hung up on who uses what title. I’m comfortable with who I am and what I’ve accomplished, so I guess I should be charitable and let you call yourself whatever you want. Right?
My own middle-class existence can’t compare with the single dad living in his car with three kids, who have barely enough bread to share among them. Is he more of a single parent than I am? He might say so. Everyone has his or her own path, no better or worse than anybody else’s. I continue to learn that lesson every day.
Writing is such a catharsis for me, so getting this out on (virtual) paper took the fire out of my indignation on this topic. I’m not nearly as full of bluster as I was when I first sat down to write. Yep, I’m almost back to my kind and pleasant self.
I still want to poke Kelly Taylor in her privileged little eyeball, though.
Hey, I said ALMOST.
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After nine years, she's still just saying.