Single Mom Stories: Not knowing the difference

This month we celebrate the many experiences, lessons, missteps and triumphs of single mothers for Single Mom Stories September. Join us by reading, sharing, commenting and -- if you have your own story to tell -- contributing here as we strengthen the circle of support of mamas. 

Contributed by Dresden Shumaker; originally posted on

I have recently been answering some questions for people about things that I seem to be a bit of an “expert” on. Mostly the questions center around either becoming or being a single mother.

One of the things I realized as I was answering these questions was that people seem to want to know “what is it like to be a single mom?” My gut answer is, “as compared to what?”

I have been single for years. Many, many years. I have been single for so long that the idea of NOT being single scares the crap out of me. (wow. I totally said that out loud.) I don’t know how to be attractive to a man, I don’t know how to date a man, and I certainly have no idea how to be romanced by a man – not any more. It’s been too long and I feel like the cereal box in the far corners of the shelf of the grocery store. You know – the box that is slightly dusty on top, a bit faded in color, probably soon to be expired, and certainly no prize.

I have been in the back of the shelf because I put myself there. It is quite nice and cool back here. No one bothers you. You don’t have to worry about getting a date or impressing a date or getting a man to call you back for the 2nd date. You just watch the other products in front of you get carried off and away to their life. And suddenly you realize that you have been not dating in your adult life longer than you were dating.

So the single part of the “what is it like to be a single mom” question is not new to me. I am not suddenly single or recently single. Being the person in charge of my life and making my own decisions has been happening since (brace yourself, seriously grab a heavy piece of furniture) 2001. That’s a decade of being on my own. Ten years since I was in what I would call a real relationship.

[Obviously I have some issues about this so be gentle, ok?]

Being a single mom is the only way I can see myself. But I don’t feel like I am any more or less experiencing motherhood than my friends who are married or partnered mothers. Oh sure, I imagine there are some moments I miss out on – but I don’t know what they are. And I don’t say that with smugness, I say that because I have been single for so long I genuinely do not know what I am missing. Therefore I do not know what W is missing. I say this as a daughter who was raised by a single Mother and I have no real reference points in my childhood where I can look back and say, “oh man, W is totally missing out on ______” because I didn’t know I was missing anything.

Asking a person who has been single for a long time what it is like to be a single Mom then asking a person who was once a married or partnered Mom and is now a single Mom is a planet of difference. Forgive me if this is a crass analogy – but it is like asking a person who was born without a leg and a person who had a leg amputated, “what is it like to walk?”

If you don’t know that there is a difference then you really don’t know what the difference is.

When W was very little I used to get a bit offended when I would hear people remark they were going to be “single Moms for the week” as their husbands went away on business trips. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why it bothered me at the time, but now I know it is because it seemed being a single parent was something a person could try on for size and interchangeably be.

Now I recognize how I parent is a lot like parents who find themselves alone by circumstance: those parents who are single parents for the week or month or year as the other parent is busy with work, away on a trip, or away serving our country. We all hope to have a support system in place, we all hope that we can afford to make a healthy dinner, we all hope that we can provide a secure and stable home.

Is this a different kind of parenting experience?

I know I am missing out on experiencing a partnership in parenting. I know there are many days where I wish I could ask W’s father to take him out for the day. Instead I ask my Mother and am so lucky she often says yes. I do wish there was someone who I could share this experience with – and I guess that is where my blog comes in. As ridiculous as it sounds, and some people may never understand it, so many of you play a role in my parenting. I turn to you guys for advice on pretty much everything – even the stuff I am kind of OK on- I just like knowing that I am on the right track.

I don’t know what it is like to be a married mom, but I also don’t know how to raise a child without the internet.

Dresden Shumaker is author of the blog Creating Motherhood. She contributes to and her writing has been featured on Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, BlogHer, AimingLow, Parenting and Type-A Parent.