I have a confession.
My husband used to travel a lot. He’d sometimes be gone for nearly a month at a time. More than once I found myself saying to friends that I was “single momming it” for that period. It always made me uncomfortable to say that, but I couldn’t think of a more efficient way to succinctly express my anxiety about juggling two kids plus all their stuff, work, household stuff, and being lonely. I was raised by a single mom and I knew that my experience was nothing – NOTHING – like hers. Although to be fair, my grandmother did live with us and took on a lot of the childcare, household, and cooking responsibilities for my mother. Still, I knew that my being on my own for a few weeks at a time, a few times a year paled to the challenges real single moms faced.
Whether as the result of a divorce, the death of a partner, or because they’ve been doing it on their own since their child was born, single moms are responsible for every meal, every shopping trip, every decision related to their child or home; all the homework, discipline, and inevitable conflict with kids gets carried on their shoulders. Whether the burden is financial, material, physical, or emotional, single moms must deal with it alone. And for many, especially those who do not live near family, life can become tedious and lonely.
When I stood on my own due to my husband’s travel schedule, I still had just one job to go to in addition to caring for kids. I still had my husband’s income. Even if we couldn’t talk daily, I knew there was still someone on my team that I could reach out to. Saying I was a “single mom for the month,” though, was my way of signaling to friends that I might be reaching out to them a little more for help with rides or that I could use a dinner invitation, or just to have someone to talk to about my day. I was comfortable signaling that I could use a hand because it wasn’t my ordinary life. For single mamas who live that everyday, I imagine it would be quite uncomfortable to ask for help. In fact, depending on their personality or life circumstances, I’m sure many would rather just plug along doing it all themselves or let things go undone rather than make themselves vulnerable to the judgment or inaction of others by asking for help. One single mom I know has repeatedly said she doesn’t want people to pity her. Another believed she had to do it all on her own due to her “bad choices.”
I know my own mother tried to drive herself to the hospital the night she had a massive heart attack rather than ask our neighbor who was an EMT for help. (Thankfully, I was able to get him on the phone before she got out the door.)
So, how can we help single moms?
Rather than assuming the single moms in our lives have it all together and don’t want or need help because they’re not asking, or simply ignoring their existence, why don’t we take actions to help support them (and their kids) and remind them they have people in their corner. And do it in ways that are truly supportive and empowering rather than pitying or judging in any way.
Take a look at the five ideas below and think about doing them for the single moms you know.
1. Reach Out
Being on your own gets lonely. Give a single mom a call to chat and catch up. Let her know you’re thinking of her by her inviting her to have lunch, grab coffee, or go for a pedicure. If childcare is an issue, bring a bottle of wine and come over after the kids are in bed for a movie night; or bring bagels and coffee over on a Saturday morning and catch up over breakfast. If your friend can afford a sitter or if you can afford to share one, make sure she gets invited to girls’ nights out or other events. Extend the invitation even if you don’t know her situation. Most women will appreciate being included even if they can’t go.
2. Help Tackle Her To-Do List
There are always lots of projects to be done and little time to get them done, and sometimes few resources. If you know a single mom who is struggling to keep up with lawn care, or other household maintenance tasks, get a crew together and help her tackle some of the items on her to-do list. This can be especially helpful for newly divorced or widowed moms who may be unable to deal with anything other than caring for themselves and their children due to the fog of grief.
3. Make Their Kids, and Them, a Part of Your Village
Single moms have a lot to juggle. Make sure they know when soccer or band tryouts are scheduled; pass down your outgrown uniforms, gear, and sports equipment; help out with rides to and from practices. Sometimes single moms can’t be at every event because they need to work or they have to be at another child’s event that happens at the same time. Let her know you’ll keep an eye on her kid and take pictures of her kid being awesome so she can share in the moment, too.
4. Give Mom Some Time Off
When you literally have to do it all on your own, every minute of time is valuable. And any time you can catch a break is treasured. Give mom a little time back by inviting her kids over for a no-strings-attached play date. She can have a few hours to herself to relax, watch TV, read, or run errands and catch up on chores kid-free. If you’re close enough, invite the kids for a sleepover and really give her a few extra hours. Even dropping off a dinner gives a friend back the hour or more she’d spend cooking and cleaning one evening. And even though inviting mom and kids for dinner doesn’t exactly free up her time, it will take the burden of cooking and cleaning up off her plate, and break up the monotony of her day-in/day-out routine.
5. Remember Single Moms on Holidays and Their Birthdays
If you don’t do anything else…do this. Even the most clueless partner usually manages to get it together enough to help the kids make mom a card or buy her a small token of affection on holidays or her birthday. Unfortunately, single moms often get forgotten at these special times. The kids may remember, but having another adult who remembers and shows them how to thoughtfully choose a gift is a powerful example of how to love. And without anyone to take them shopping or provide financial support, there’s not a whole lot kids can do on their own. You can make mom feel loved and appreciated by remembering her on special occasions. Send a card for Mother’s Day to tell her she’s doing a great job! Drop off flowers or cupcakes on her birthday. Make arrangements to take her kids shopping or come to your house to make a special craft and have them keep it a secret until the special day. Everyone wants and needs to feel special, appreciated, and loved. Unfortunately, many people don’t get to experience that, especially if they don’t have a partner in their lives. It will take a small effort on your part, but the impact it will make on your friend – and on her kids seeing love and kindness in action – will be huge.
So, there you go. Five simple ways to offer support to your friends who are single moms. What may not seem like a big deal to you, may make a very big difference to a mom who is hanging on by a thread, feeling alone. Of course, I left out one pretty basic way to help…just ask her how she’s doing and what she needs.