Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Beyond Labels

My girlfriend is out of state at a week-long worship conference. The only way she'd consider attending was if her ex-husband moved into her home during her absence. Her oldest child is a son starting his junior year of college. Her daughter is going to be a senior in high school and her youngest will be a sophomore.

As a divorced mom, my friend's life is vastly different than mine. Her ex sees the kids twice weekly and takes them on three week vacations over the summer. He attends their sports events and has been there for the oldest, helping him find a job in the city, assisting with dorm moves, college costs etc. When there have been "problems" with the kids, my girlfriend has been able to seek the input and guidance of her ex. He has been there to advise the kids when they have sought his counsel.

I relate this now because of the conflict I have being lumped into the "single mother" category, which is the same one my girlfriend is in. When I first became widowed, I described myself as a "widowed mom." It wasn't a conscious decision but one made because that description seemed to be the one that fit the best and I was most comfortable with. I will admit that I didn't want it to be assumed that I was divorced by those who didn't know me because I had always made such a strong effort to work at my marriage.

Over the years, I've preferred the label "only parent" to "single parent" when referring to widowed parents. We are not the same as divorced parents that still work together as co-parents. Yes, I know there are some parents with limited involvement with their kids after divorce. But I am talking about those that do remain actively involved with their kids' lives and who do interact with their ex-spouses for the benefit of the kids.

There is no comparison between the lives of my friend's children and my own in regard to still having their father actively in their lives. Yes, they have faced hardships and emotional hurdles due to the divorce of their parents but what my sons would give to be able to have their Dad in their life.

My only point here with this post is to release some of the feelings I have in regard to being lumped into a group that isn't descriptive regarding differences. I think people just assume I'm a single mother and don't go beyond those generalizations. But only parents deal with a wealth of issues that aren't shared by the divorced. There is no ex-husband that can be called on to watch the kids for a week. No parent to discuss Junior's struggle in math class. There is usually another parent in the life mix who loves and cares for the kids. On the other hand, only parents are out on their own doing the parenting job of two by themselves. Some people might assume that it is great to be able to be the one making all the decisions. But it ends up being wearying not being able to get any input from another. And at least for me, I'm always worried about making mistakes because it is only what I decide.

I'm not trying to say that divorced people have it better than the widowed. But in terms of shared parenting there are advantages to having two parents still alive vs. only one. I also think the term single parent needs to be changed. Perhaps to "divorced co-parent." I guess I don't consider my girlfriend really a single parent because her kids do have their dad around. The kids live during the school year in her home, but she is certainly not parenting just by herself.


  1. WOW...I am so in-touch with this. As a matter of fact, I was just talking about this with a friend of mine who, though she is divorced, has sole custody of her child with a restraining order against her ex, the kids dad. I agree, it is very hard to be the ONLY parent and I have the same fears you do, about being the only decision maker and the only financial provider. It is very, very tough. I wish you the best of luck always....I certainly know how it feels.

  2. Having been both widowed and divorced, I have to say that my ex was no help at all with the kids, who were elementary school aged when we were divorced. I don't remember calling him ever, even in an emergency, and if I had, he would have been totally uninterested. Can't speak to being a widowed parent as my kids are grown and parents themselves so they are the support system for me now.