By Lisa Barr
Actress Bonnie Franklin, famous for her portrayal of Ann Romano, the lovable divorced Single Mom of two teenage daughters in “One Day At A Time”, passed away last week at the age of 69 from pancreatic cancer. I saw her pert red-headed photo, that infectious smile, and I felt sad inside. Her world was once mine. And of course, as a young teenager I had a major “Girl Crush” on Valerie Bertinelli.
Like Mary Tyler Moore’s groundbreaking role as the single thirty-something Career Woman, Franklin shed new, true light on the plight of the Single Mom trying to find herself while raising at-times difficult teenagers. She showcased the humor and the heartbreak in the many challenges of juggling parenting, career, love, and strong feminist convictions. Not to mention dealing with the offbeat-overprotective-dripping with sex on the brain-“Schneider” — who in his own way reminded Ann Romano on every episode that she was still a woman.
Earlier this week, my husband took off for a rare business trip, and I had a tiny pit in my stomach, that Single Mom Revisited feeling; that fear of what if he doesn’t come back (especially due to Le Snowstorm). As many of you know from my other blogs, I had a tough go as a Single Mom, which in my book is simply the hardest parenting job in the world. At the time, almost 11 years ago, I was left with a three and five year old, no money, no job … and had to survive, while trying to keep up “the face” of Fun Mommy.
Being a Single Mom is not One DAY At A Time — it is One MINUTE At A Time, One BREATH At A Time …
The upside of Singlemommy-hood is Total Control of your kids, your home, rules, religion, financial security, education, sex life, and choices — no one tells you what to do. The downside is Total Control — you have no partner with whom to bounce off major decisions. It’s a lonely, scary road at times — full of second-guesses, and hoping for the best. In a weird way it was probably easier for me because my kids were really young — there was no talking back, no teenage defiance, or off-the-wall hormones, rather total dependence on my decisions. And at the time, social networking was not at all on my Single Mom radar (which cuts in half all the problems I now deal with).
The one major weapon as a Single Mom that you definitely do not have — is The Threat: “Keep this up … and wait ’til your father gets home.”
You are Mom/Dad/The Heavy AND The Lightweight rolled into one.
And your kids don’t have that Other Go-To Parent when YOU are in a crap mood. There is no Mom Cave, no “YOU Deal with the Kids”, No Me-Time.
Single Momhood, especially if you don’t have help or enough financial security, is all about sidelining your own needs for survival’s sake.
It wasn’t that I didn’t have people who could help me — but I could only utilize those “favors” sparingly, and only for emergencies.
Now I’m married, settled, happy, and I always have another person to depend on … plus a wonderful network of Go-To family and friends. I do know and see women about town who ARE married, but whose husbands travel a lot for business or work crazy hours, who seem to bear all the domestic responsibilities on their shoulders … and who FEEL like Single Mothers.
For some, this is really hard, and there is resentment — feeling alone and single WITHIN a Marriage. For others, they have learned to get used to this lifestyle, and it is almost EASIER when hubby is away and their household runs like clockwork.
When husband “re-enters” her world — walks into the house after a few days of work travel — as one Mom I recently spoke to says with a loud laugh: “Oh My God, when he returns home it ruins the JUJU!”
These women with Husband Travelers say that they have the security of their husbands, and secretly welcome the absences … the house runs on their terms, dinner is what and when they decide, the kids have to follow their rules, their say is final, no sex pressure, work-out when they choose, they get total “clicker” control and watch all their favorite shows. AND they get to say Good-Night-I-Love-You (via phone) — and it’s all Guilt-Free.
There is also the other Not-Single-but-FEELS-Single-Mom who resents the travel, the crazy work hours, and having to deal with tough kid issues solo.
These women truly yearn for more togetherness and in-put from their husbands. They hate that at times he feels like a “guest” and not a “participant” in their family.
And then of course there is The Combo. Those who are totally fine with a short business trip, and believe that mini-separations actually make their togetherness hotter, sexier, and give each spouse the space in life to be both Single (Independent not On-the-Make) and Securely Married.
For me, when my husband is away, the bed feels colder, the house feels scarier, the kids seem more difficult, the decisions feel weightier.
And again, it’s all in the interpretation; the type of woman you are, your marriage, and your needs.
No matter which category you fall into — the key is how to make it work for you.
Again, and underscore this: One of the biggest problems for any type of Single Mom is finding “Me Time” — it simply doesn’t exist. If you have a friend who is divorced with kids — and she keeps up a smiling, positive demeanor — don’t be deceived. KNOW that she is working to her full capacity to do this. Go out of your way for her. Offer to take her kids for a few hours, on the condition that she does not do an errand or something for her kids — but Just For Her. I promise you — it is, as they say in Yiddish — the Mitzvah of Mitzvahs (the greatest Girlfriend Gift).
If your friend is a Mom whose husband travels a lot — KNOW that even if she IS making her Hot Yoga class, her day is still 24/7 in motion. Tell her this: Get a babysitter for two hours, and we are going out for a good glass of wine.
Believe me when I say Cabernet will taste like candy, and you will have recharged her depleted battery.
If your friend is a widow — and especially if she has children who are still living at home — that’s a whole different category — loneliness is magnified on every level. Loss of love or partnership too soon is probably the most difficult of all in the world of Singledom.
That wine, that coffee, that dinner, that movie — will remind her that she still has another lease on her life. It’s not over; it’s a different beginning.
As Suburban Moms, we are all running bases, racing to get to home plate … Take a moment to look around you, at the women you love and ask yourself: What lies beyond that smile? She seems to have it all together — but does she? What does she really need? What can I give her?
Friendship is all about The Little Things … what we give and what we see … I guarantee even the smallest of gestures for a “Single or ‘FEELS-Like-Single’ Mom” will go a long way. It may just help her achieve the message conveyed in Ann Romano’s TV theme song: “This is it! This is life, the one you get, so go on, have a ball!”