Ask A Single Mom: I’m The Only Single Mom At My Kid’s Snooty Private School

school

Were you invited to a Moms’ Night Out Holiday Cookie Exchange that demanded you bake 72 homemade cookies and don’t know how to say no? Ask a Single Mom. Thinking about divorce and want to know what life is like on the other side? Ask a Single Mom. Have no idea how to make time for yourself or hate the other mothers in playgroup? Our resident Single Mom has the answers and clarity that can only come from hustling the parenting gig solo. 

Dear Ask A Single Mom:

My husband and I divorced a couple years ago, and I am now happily a single mom to our 10-year-old son. For the most part, I feel confident in my role as a single mom — my son is well-adjusted, gets good grades, and has lots of friends. The one place where I feel judged and unsure of myself, however, is at his school, an uppity private school in a Los Angeles suburb, where I am almost certain I am the only single mom. I’ve caught other moms talking about me, and how they assumed I was only able to pay for the school because of my divorce settlement (which is 100% false). When they do speak to me directly, it’s as though they feel sorry for me, or worse, feel sorry for my kid because he doesn’t have two parents under the same roof. But we’re both doing great! 

I know I shouldn’t let their judgment bother me, but it does! Is it possible for any single mom to shake the ridiculous stereotypes that come with the title? And how can I prove to everyone that we’re both happy and deserve to be there?

Sincerely, 

Embarrassed Single Mom

 

Dear Embarrassed Single Mom,

The only advice I can think of is: FUCK THOSE BITCHES.

But that’s not all that helpful, or practical, so I’m going to dig a little deeper.

Did you watch “Big Little Lies”? I know you did, you live in L.A. One of the things I thought was the most unrealistic, but also really really loved about BLL, was how Reese Witherspoon’s character Madeline befriends Shailene Woodley’s Jane. Jane’s a single mom, she’s young, she’s an outsider, she can barely muster the energy to brush her hair. And Madeline is sleek and fabulous and the queen of the school.

But here’s the thing, that shit doesn’t happen, not in real life. The beautiful, rich, queen of the private school does not befriend the downtrodden (or perfectly together) single mom. At least not in my experience. COUPLES are a very big part of private school life in my experience. My kiddo also goes to a swanky school and at the new-student-welcome-ice-cream-social, all the couples told me how they were all best friends, spent all their time together, how the school was such a community, and where was my husband, and I just held a cup of melting cookies and cream like ugh wanting to shout I’M A WIDOW so they would feel as badly as I did. (I am not a widow.)

At my kid’s school all the new families have to meet with the director of fundraising. So I go in for my meeting and she asked me, “What can we do to make you even more of our community?” and I said, “I would love to meet some other single parents,” and she said, “Huh…” and leaned back in her chair thoughtfully, “I can’t think of any other single parents…but there are some women whose husbands travel all the time, I could introduce you to them!”

NOT THE SAME, GIRL.

So now when I get in the carpool line in my 10-year-old Honda CRV (once with a loose heat shield so I was rattling around like Uncle Buck) and I’m encased in a sea of Teslas and Range Rovers, I’m overly aware that I’m the only single mom here and that I don’t belong. Sigh. Obviously that’s not true. You belong anywhere you 1) choose to be and 2) pay a heavy tuition to be.

But what’s true and how you feel don’t always match up.

I always feel sort of embarrassed to be with all these “successful” and well, rich, families. I feel like these women have all these ideas about who I must be. Am I a gold digging harlot come to take away their husbands? Am I a drunken party girl? Am I a mess? And I’m too tired to try and change their ideas, and really they’re probably not thinking much at all because they’re tired too. I work like three jobs and am raising this kid and trying to keep my house clean, I do not have time to be worried about this! But let’s be real, I am secretly worried about it and I act differently in this space than I do in any other area of my life. Less confident. Embarrassed. Ashamed. WHAT. It’s real crazy, girl.

Honestly, you sound like you handle it better than I do. Obviously whatever bothers us about this experience exists because it pokes at whatever insecurities we have about our own choices and the way life has played out. The way single moms are portrayed in, like, all media reinforces these weird stereotypes and probably reinforces the way we’re interacting with the married moms. And I’ve always sort of felt that when you tell someone you’re a single mom, you’re tacitly revealing that there’s something wrong with you, or at least that something in your picture-perfect fairytale went very wrong, and have to steel yourself for the onslaught of judgement.

All of this is bullshit. All of it. We are hardworking, smart women who do not need a partner to validate us! See, I’m back to my earlier advice: FUCK THOSE BITCHES.

Here are the only two options as I see it:

  1. I talked to one of my good friends, who raised her girls as a single mother, about this and she was like, “What the fuck are you talking about, I don’t get it?” And I said, “You never felt out of place?” And she said, “Who the hell has the time to worry about that? I was working and raising my kids. Single moms are badasses.” I love her. (Shout out EG!)

or

  1. Be a warrior for all single mothers everywhere and befriend the coupled-up parents and change the world’s perceptions about who single mothers are. I have another girlfriend who is AMAZING at this. (Shout out KH!) I asked her about it once and she was like, well of course I do this, otherwise I wouldn’t have a community at the school. Oh. Duh.

So there it is, kid. You either don’t care, or you get over yourself and your insecurities and dive right in and charm the hell outta those bitches. Also, please tell me which approach we’re going to take because I feel like we’re in this together now.

Adrienne Gunn is a writer, editor, and storyteller and has published in McSweeney’s, PANK, TriQuarterly, Five Quarterly, among other journals, and has a one-woman show called Mother of the Year!

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