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Photo by Flickr user Sarah (Creative Commons license).

While I usually resist labels, sometimes the need to name things, to self-identify, is too strong.

I’ve been struggling with the term “single mom” and how the emphasis is not on mothering, but the status of the mother’s relationship. When I started this blog, it was single writing mom. I liked taking the phrase “single working mom” and changing “working” to “writing” because writing is my work. I liked how, at least for me, the acronym swm recalled “straight white male”—I was making a small joke about how many writing moms there are (dude, the other kind of swms seem to be everywhere, no?). Don’t ignore us. We’re here, working, mom-ing, kicking ass at the multi-task.

I changed this blog’s title a few months ago to another writing mom. I’m just another. I don’t claim to know any more or less than the other writing moms.

And I don’t want the emphasis of this label I give myself to position my relationship status as the most important thing about me OR what kind of mom I am.

I don’t want the word “single” to come first because this blog ain’t Tinder.

So I started thinking about the phrase a while back, and I came across ESME, which stands for Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere. Solo moms. What is this new (to me) “label”? Why differentiate between solo and single? Same thing, right?

Wrong. “Solo mom” is a lot more nuanced. “Solo” actually seems to modify “mom”—i.e., “I’m mothering solo.” This, as opposed to how “single” in no way modifies “mom,” but is an extra detail about said mom. She is single, and she is a mom.

Solo moms could be divorced, widowed, have partners who have been deployed for long periods of time. And most relevant to me, I think they could be moms who are not co-parenting with the father of their child or children, but who are in some kind of relationship. But you wouldn’t know that from the label, would you? Good.

To the Google. It was disheartening to search for “solo mom or single mom,” because as always, the intrawebz is a veritable shit ton of opinions on what moms call ourselves. Surprise, surprise.

Still, I found some great articles. Toi Smith wrote a good one for Solo Parent Magazine (“Not All Single Mothers Are Created Equal,” 2/22/15), and I’m glad she prefaces it by saying she isn’t trying “to discount any mother’s journey,” only tell “the truth,” because that discounting is already happening everywhere else. A mom can’t throw a rock without hitting someone who wants to throw rocks at her mom skills for one reason or another. But Smith, while she doesn’t use the term “solo mom,” points out that

Some single mothers have help. Help in the form of money, help in the form of time, help in form of reliability. These mothers can depend on the father of their child. He is involved, active, willing and able to be a part of his child’s life. These mothers are able to take a breather, relax, and experience some ‘me’ time. They are still able to be a part of the world. Their stress level is mitigated by the fact that they don’t have to do it all alone, and though they may be single in terms of their relationship status, they are far from single when it comes to raising their child.

I guess I would fall into this category (Smith calls them “co-op moms”), though not because I have what she later defines as “an uncontentious partnership with the father” of my child, or that he is “involved” and offers “reliability” or is an active, cooperative co-parent. But my son does have every-other-weekend visitation with his dad (which does provide a little me time, and one sleep-in day every two weeks), and I have help from some quality friends and family who live very close, are a part of my and my son’s everyday lives.

But Smith’s comparison still hinges upon the presence of the father. My son’s father is present for their visits and that’s it (ever hear of a Disneyland parent?). No matter how much non-father help I have, mostly I really am flying solo. I’ve been reminded of that fact more than once. In a blog post early last summer, I tried to explore this conflicted feeling, without self-congratulation, but with honesty:

But this is what I want to say the most, with both respect and humility: no matter how much your family babysits or runs interference for you when your toddler is trying to eat one of the dog’s Beggin Strips again, a single mom is a single mom. I’m the only one who wakes up with him when he’s sick. I’m the only one making appointments, yelling at doctors, reading the Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed book 12 times daily, obsessing over whether he eats his broccoli, coordinating childcare while I work (this alone is a feat), buying clothes every weekend because he grows like a proverbial weed, insisting that no one give him soda (WHY?), and planning elaborate outings designed to educate AND tire him out so I can sit down at some point in the evening. I’m the mom and the primary caregiver (Jax is with me 25 days out of 31 in a month); all the ‘help’ in the world doesn’t take the weight and responsibility of his development off of me. I’m not doing anything that any other single parent isn’t also doing, but I’m still the one doing it. Alone, but in a house full of people.

When I try to replace “a single mom is a single mom” with “a solo mom is a solo mom,” something is still nagging at me. In a post on divorcedmoms.com, an unspecified author said, “Being a single parent means that it’s me and my children. All. The. Time. Alone.” This blogger adds, “Solo parenting offers a light at the end of the tunnel, the return of your parenting partner.” Not for me.

Again, with the emphasis on the father/second parent.

How to identify, if you’re a mom who doesn’t co-parent with the father of her child, but years after separating from him, does have a significant other? That SO, no matter how kind, patient, loving, or wonderful with your kid(s), is not responsible for them—for the appointments, the coordinating, or the worrying. When you want to go out without your child, whether for a gallon of milk or a Pearl Jam show, you have to ask someone to babysit, even your SO. Of course, if you were living with your child’s father, you would mention such an outing to him, too. But the expectation is that you and the child’s father are a team. Ideally, you share the burden of responsibility, divvy it up between the two of you. Dads don’t babysit. Significant others might babysit. Significant others might do you a favor, if you ask; dads, if they’re good dads and good partners, won’t see it as a favor, but an opportunity to meet your need for some down time and/or to bond one-on-one with their kiddo(s).

How to identify, if you’re in a relationship but truly not co-parenting with anyone?

Let’s say I throw out divorcedmom.com’s definition of a solo mom as one who has “a light at the end of the tunnel, the return of your parenting partner.” Let’s say I interpret “solo mom” with broad strokes, the way ESME does. Let’s say I define solo mom not as a wifey waiting for her hubs to return from a business trip or tour of duty, but as someone who was let down tremendously by the father of her child and is at the present raising a little man in a one-parent household, regardless of who else lives in or around that household, or who else pitches in, or who might or might not eventually take on a step-parenting role; someone who doesn’t want to claim a hardship status (i.e. single mom) that doesn’t apply to her technically; someone who knows that her relationship status has nothing to do with her parenting, who might someday share a mortgage but might be solely responsible for starting a college fund; someone who didn’t directly choose any of this, who fled abuse and landed here and daily counts her freakin blessings, but is still the only one expending, not splitting, the mental and emotional energy required to raise this child.

Have I been properly labeled yet?

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