You've heard it. I know you have.
Those barbs about being a single mom that dig in and deflate you – probably just moments after you've canceled a hair appointment because the school fees are due or you've been up all night with a sick kid or you've triple-locked the front door so your little family can finally get a restful night's sleep.
I have certainly heard the shame and the slander and the judgment for who I am or what kind of single mother I choose to be.
"You're pretty great at the single part but not so good at the mama part."
"You didn't try very hard before you left, did you?"
"You'll get back together. You should get back together. What about your child?"
"Why won't you let me meet your son? You're way too protective."
"You definitely shouldn't date for at least a year after your divorce."
"You're not a very good friend now that you're a single mother."
I'd like to tell you that I raised my Wonder Woman shield and deflected them with ease, standing tall in my high heels, a slight smile of determination and triumph framing my face.
But I didn't. I let these comments hurt me, get down inside the tender spots. Most of the time, even in the stress of divorce and the anxiety of parenting even more on my own, I was doing my very best. And when I failed, locking myself out of our new apartment three or four times in a row or screaming in the courtroom or dating some jackass who didn't deserve my time and affection, I went to therapy and self-help books and memorized prayers and music and close friends to find the lesson in it all.
I scripted responses for these kinds of moments so I wouldn't be caught by surprise.
"I think you will understand that every day, I am trying my very best, working my hardest."
"I don't come into your marriage and tell you what to do, so please don't come into my divorce and get all judgy."
"I hate that you think that. It hurts that you feel that."
But none of my words felt right. I wasn't conveying the emotions I had, a combination of fierceness and fear, anger and humility, sadness and hope. No matter what I said, I never sensed the other person really heard me anyway.
When I realized that these moments were not a conversation, when I saw that even if the other person didn't have malintent that they were trying to make a point rather than serve me in some way, I got that no response would be good enough for either of us.
And so I stopped responding. No expressions of kindness or reframing, so sage words stolen from Maya Angelou or someone far wiser than me. I held my tongue, even from biting back with a barb of my own.
Instead, I let those awful comments hang in the air, awkwardly. I let the tension sway between us. I gave the silence room to breathe.
Just for a moment. Complete quiet.
Something interesting happened – the other people started taking the pain back. That doesn't mean they always apologized or even realized that what they said was hurtful, even harmful. But they did often squirm in the quiet. They did stumble for more words to justify or explain. They did pull out the arrow and stand there with the blood dripping on their own hands, wondering what to do next.
I haven't been perfect at this tactic. Sometimes, I cannot help myself with rationalizing or slamming back at assholery. Like always, though, I try my best, this time to not make the injury of someone else's words even worse. I lift an invisible shield. I stand tall in the truth I know.
Being a single mom is powerful and demanding, exhausting and exhilarating. I don't have the time or energy or interest in anyone else's judgments about how I am doing it or should be doing it differently. And now, I don't have the words.
What would happen if the next time someone shot an arrow into the way you are as a single mom, you deflect that judgment with your own silence? What if you practiced raising your invisible shield in response rather that elevating your emotions?
What if you met criticism with nothing at all?
Need more reassurance? I get it. Here it is: Stand strong, single mama. You're doing beautifully. Even if those other people can't always see it.
If you want to hear more about avoiding conflict and hard conversations with an ex (or co-worker or former friend), here's my quickest, simplest tip for shutting it down before it even starts.
Want to work with me on-on-one? I'd love to meet you and tell you how I can guide you to and through divorce to the bigger, happier, healthier life you deserve.
Fakesgiving. Here's the fake holiday even my married mom friends say they're implementing this year.