I was recently half an hour late to a Junior League of Washington meeting and a when I asked a question about something they had discussed earlier a friend made a joke about getting there on time. Yes, within no time at all I realized she was making a joke and didn't worry about her. The reason it hit home and I continued to worry about being late was that I was beating myself up inside about being late. Her teasing comment was barely heard because of the screaming judgmental voice inside every single mother that says "you can't do this" or "you're doing it wrong."
To give you a little perspective, let me give you an idea of what I needed to do to get to my meeting at 7:00 PM. I needed to leave work at 5:00 PM, walk to a metro station, wait for the right train and take it to my station about six miles away, walk to my son's daycare to pick him up, get the feedback for the day from his teacher, on this particular day we had to find the shoe my son had taken off and hidden in the room, pack up his stuff, walk home, pick up dinner for him at our favorite pizza place (thank goodness for our favorite place in our condo building), meet the babysitter, give her the update and catch up a little, catch a bus to my metro station, take the train to another station, and take another bus to my meeting. Now consider for just a moment your experience with public transportation...is it ever just sitting there waiting for you to hop in and leave? I had to wait four times for a bus or a train. When I rationally sit here and type this out I am amazed that I ever make it on time! Now remember, for those four hours of commuting time and meeting, I am paying for a babysitter. Should I call into the meeting instead of going in? Probably. Should I take a year off and get myself together after the upheaval of my life this year? Probably. But the truth is, I need my night or two each month with these women. I love the people on the committee and we are doing important work. It is truly one of my top two life experiences with true teamwork. Beyond that, these women have helped me through one of the roughest times of my life both through personal efforts and through just giving me an escape and sense of normalcy. So I do this twice a month and I do my best to juggle everything to make it happen.
In your life there are single mothers you work with, volunteer with, or are friends with. It is okay to admit that you get frustrated when they are unreliable and you have to deal with it. Single working moms have to take off work when a child is sick. Period. There are no other options. Daycare doesn't allow sick children for the obvious reason that they don't want the other children to get sick. Single working moms sometimes don't get any sleep and don't have energy for fun things you may have planned for months. Single working mothers spend all day at work and then all evening taking care of their child or children, they rarely have time for relaxing showers let alone phone calls with friends. Single working mothers often ask you to change drinking and dancing get togethers to playing trains at Barnes and Noble. It is okay to miss who they were and get frustrated. The most important thing you need to know when you do this is whatever you are thinking or saying is nothing compared to what is going on in their heads. You can't make a single working mother feel bad - she does that herself. And she tends to work harder to try to constantly make up for everything she thinks she is doing wrong.
Would I hire a single working mother - in a heartbeat. They are hard-working, values-based people and they will give you everything they have and constantly strive to give you more.
Would I have a single working mother as a friend - absolutely. They appreciate little things and your company in a way you will never fully understand. They just want to hear what happened in your day!
Would I volunteer with a single working mother - gladly. They are making a conscious decision to give of more than just their time because they truly believe in the cause.
Have I ever judged a single working mother - sadly yes. I look back at my own childhood and realize what an amazing woman my mother was. Even as the child of a single working mother I did not understand the challenges because she made it look easy and normal. She did it with the ultimate grace and set an amazing example. Only now, at forty-two, after having my own child, have I learned that she has the same voice in her head (still!). Hearing her thoughts on what she thinks she did wrong and knowing what an amazing mother she was to me in reality are what help me when my inner voice starts judging me. Not every single working mother has that type of reassurance to hold on to so I hope that this little piece will help them.
You are an amazing person. You are raising one or more children who will just remember that their mother was successful, hard-working, and always there for them. They may remember those occasional times when they were at your office, but they remember them as magical times in a new place with lots of cool grown-up things around. You will never understand how "fun" your workplace is! They will never know about the times you cry in the shower because you don't think you can do it. And they won't know or care that they were frequently late to daycare or play dates. They will remember your love and your support. They will remember your passion for your work and your causes. And they will look up to you and remember you as an amazing person not as a single working mother.
For those of you who are friends or co-workers of single working mothers. Don't worry when you judge them or if you say something out loud. You will never be as hard on them as they are being on themselves. Anger is such a difficult emotion to maintain and they just don't have the time or energy for it. They understand that you are not trying to be mean and they will forgive you long before you forgive yourself.
Single moms out there - what is something that someone has done for you that you were so incredibly touched by and they probably have no idea how much it meant to you?