Does a person qualify to be called a single parent if their financial and time responsibilities are split in half with their ex?
That question came up recently, while I was having lunch with a couple of new friends – one who has her children every second week, and the other who has her kids full time, with no help at all, financially or otherwise.
“I’m so sick of people calling themselves a single parent when they have it so easy,” one said to the other with an irritated tone. “You’re not paying for everything on your own, like I’ve always had to do. And you have an entire week off, 26 times a year. I can’t even remember the last time I had a night to myself.”
Her outburst came after the other woman referred to herself as being a single mother.
The conversation immediately became so heated I felt like I was watching an aggressive tennis match, and hoping the ball wouldn’t fly off the court and hit me in the face. While it was an interesting topic of discussion, it was uncomfortable to be in the middle, considering the history, emotions and raised voices between the two ladies I was just getting to know.
A little time has passed since then, and the hurtful things that were said during the lunch have been worked out to the point that both of them were fine with me writing about it in a column. As long as I didn’t use their real names.
So, for no particular reason other than the fact that I used to call my Barbie dolls these names when I was younger, I will call them Jill and Kelly. People of my vintage might get that TV reference.
Jill’s issue, she said later, was a mixture of jealousy, self-pity and exhaustion. “I get where Kelly’s coming from now,” she said. “She’s single, because she’s no longer married, and she’s a parent. That’s not the same thing as being a ‘single parent’ the way I’ve always been and I’ve always thought of it, but I think I was hearing a complaining tone from her where there was none intended. I was internalizing for sure.”
Kelly gained a mutual understanding of Jill’s perspective as well.
“Her resentment made me defensive,” she said, explaining her angry reaction and why the discussion went sideways. “I wasn’t trying to say my situation was tougher than hers. I know it’s not even close. I have lots of ‘me-time’ and I appreciate that. But the fact remains – I’m a mother and I’m single – and I’m looking for a man.”
She laughed when she said that last part, but she was serious. In her mind, referring to herself as a single mom is more about getting dates than getting sympathy, and she makes no apologies for using the term.
And now that the two old friends have an understanding on their different definitions, apologies and explanations are no longer needed.
“What people call themselves, for whatever reason, is a personal decision,” Jill concluded. “Look at you. You call yourself ‘married with children’ – like you’re Peg Bundy or something.”
It’s true. I do.
If I only had her hair.
Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist. She can be contacted at LoriWelbourne.com