Friday, March 6, 2009

One Size Does Not Fit All (Divorced vs. Only Parents)

Soon into my widowhood I became aware that my status was lumped into that of "Single Parent" along with all the divorced folks out there. This might have happened around the time I attended a grief support group for singles held at a local church. Two of us had just been widowed, while the rest of the women were divorced (some for a number of years). The other widow and I immediately connected and some of the group sessions became difficult - at one, the divorced moms all insisted it was harder to be divorced and the other widow and I had it easier. It became a contest of whose lives were more challenging. The divorced women rationalized that theirs were harder because they had to have ongoing contact with their ex-spouses and to experience continued disappointment and betrayal.

I remember thinking two things: that it was a mistake to have combined a group of widows and divorcees and that even if their contact was bitter and disappointing, at least the divorced moms had ex-spouses still alive to have contact with!

I have just finished reading Theo Pauline Nestor's book on her divorce, "How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed, A Memoir of Starting Over." While there are many similarities to being divorced and being widowed, there are differences and these seem to go unnoticed because everyone single just gets lumped into the group "Single Parent." I started to describe myself as a "Widowed Mom" and then my therapist introduced me to the descriptive label "Only Parent." As a widow there is no ex-husband to talk to about report cards and the defiant behavior of your son to his math teacher. He is not around to take the kids on Friday nights or the weekend to provide a much needed break from the drudgery of never ending housework and attending to the needs of the kids. Ex-husbands usually live somewhere nearby and can be called upon to fix a leaking sink or some other matter if necessary.

Theo very accurately describes the tensions and struggles of parenting and forging ahead on her own. But she is not truly alone or as alone as those of us who are widowed. She talks about all the finagling necessary so she could go on a trip or to visit her new long-distance boyfriend. There is an added step for only parents in this process, especially those who do not have family to rely on. She relates scenes in which she has to comfort her grieving daughters. For our families, grief is more profound. Not only has the family been forever changed, now the kids have lost their father forever. Theo's ex comes over to make minor repairs in her home, he helps her pack up the house and to help her move. On the nights he has the girls she treats herself to a massage, browses bookstores and has dinner out at a favorite Chinese restaurant. I have never had a massage, nor gone out for dinner on my own. I unfortunately browse bookstores way too often. The point being, however, that she did have a window of opportunity to focus on herself, whereas that is something I know for me at least has been an extremely rare commodity. When her ex has the girls for an entire week, Theo paints the house and moves the girls into their own rooms. She has enough time to even shop for new furniture at IKEA and hire movers and an electrician! Wow! A few years ago, I was so jealous of a close girlfriend whom is divorced because when her ex took their children on a three-week vacation she did something of the same in painting her home and buying new furniture. She also spent a lot of time at Starbucks and bookstores. I have never sat a Starbucks to wile away an hour. In my widowed life there has never been an hour to wile away!

So in conclusion what is my point? I don't think I have any specific one here. Just that there is a difference between folks lumped together in that "Single Parent" category and it is necessary for us to make distinctions between only parents and divorced parents. Most people out there don't realize or recognize the differences and we should inform them.

Today I am grateful:

1. That the sun is out again. What a difference this really can make on our moods and perspective.
2. There is that hint of Spring in the air. This results in feelings of hope, renewal and peace. (And cute Easter bunnies and flowers and lighter jackets.)
3. That we really made it through a challenging and difficult Winter.

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