I was recently approached about submitting an essay on single motherhood to a magazine. I sent the editor a précis of my motherhood to date: began trying to conceive when I was 36, unexpectedly conceived identical twins, babies contracted twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome in utero. Had experimental surgery. Babies survived. Had tons of help from friends, sister, and Mom. Moved half a country away when my daughters were four. They’re now almost nine.

The editor asked some follow-up questions. Could I talk more about my support network? In what ways is it harder to build one versus having a built-in one, i.e., a partner? What do I do when I want to brag to someone about something “awesome” my kids have done? And whom do I talk to when I want to tear my hair out?

I thought about this for a while before I responded. The editor seemed genuinely perplexed. “But how do you cope?” seemed to be the subtext of most of the questions.

Having never been married or otherwise in a long-term, committed relationship, I don’t know any different. How could I possibly articulate how parenting is harder or easier as a single woman? Sure, it would be nice to have another adult in the house when I’m facing a deadline and I need a couple of hours of uninterrupted work time. If I need to run to the drug store at 9:00 after the girls are in bed, it would be terrific to just be able to go. There are lots of logistical things that would be made much easier by having a man around the house.

On the other hand, it’s a relief sometimes to not have to put the work into keeping a marriage healthy. One of my friends was undergoing fertility treatments at the same time I was, only with a husband. Their daughter is just a couple of months younger than my girls. And my married friend is just as likely to feel that I have it easier, because I’m doing it alone.

In this Internet age, it isn’t hard to share my pride and frustration. I can snap pictures with my phone and send them instantly to family and friends. The girls are old enough to chat on the phone, to text, and to email. My mom and my sister are still a big source of moral—and occasionally financial—support. We miss their physical presence. The emotional support is there even at a distance.

But the one thing I’ve learned about myself on this road is that I’m much stronger and more capable than I ever would have believed. It’s not easy, not by a long shot, but most of the time it’s hard in a way that parenting itself is hard, or at least hard for everyone who wants to do it well.

So I told the editor all of these things. I’m still waiting to hear back. It’s possible that they don’t need my contribution for the issue after all, or that they’re still deciding. But sometimes I wonder if it’s easier to sell the story of single parenthood as martyrdom.

by Holly Vanderhaar:


5 thoughts on “Martyrdom?”

  1. I, in fact, HAVE been in long term or otherwise committed relationships (including marriage) and decided to have a child by a donor after all that, while remaining single. You say you don’t know any different, but I do, and I say you NAILED it. My relationship with my son is way easier than any relationship I had with my ex’s (and yes, it is possible I was picking the wrong men), and my struggles are no better or worse than those of my married women friends (who also support my choice). For that matter, my single male friends (my son’s “uncles”) are also wonderfully supportive. But that doesn’t mean I want to marry them and have them move in – it is WAY easier this way. For me, anyway. Thank you for writing this!

  2. I really relate to this – my eldest’s dad left when he was 3 months old, and my youngest is donor-conceived – so I’ve never known any different, and when I listen to friends talk about their relationships, I do genuinely think that apart from the logistical stuff, its no harder. Also, I have to say that it is much, much easier with my youngest being his only parent, rather than having to deal with my ex in making arrangements for my eldest. Single motherhood by choice is definitely a blessing!

  3. As a single adoptive mom, the assumptions of martyrdom and nobility only get worse. I find it so frustrating that people automatically impose the ideas that (1) an adoptive mom is performing some act of charity through adoption, plus (2) the same old “how do you cope without a husband?” My daughter is not a charity case, and I resent that assumption being imposed on us. Single parent adoption is just another way of becoming a mom, I tell them. And I agree with you Holly – there are days I realize when having a partner right now would be a lot easier (like this coming weekend when my best girlfriend’s husband is throwing a girls-only party for her 50th birthday, and has stated in the invitation “let your husbands watch the kids”, which means I will need a babysitter ASAP). Single motherhood by choice is a blessing for which I am grateful every day.

  4. Oh you bet. “It must be so very difficult,” they say. I say no, I have to stay organized, and I do a lot to ensure our security, but I have no major complaints. My life is arranged in a way that works for me and for my son. We have a blast and I very seldom feel overwhelmed and kvetchy.

    I sometimes perceive actual hostility. Many of my male friends’ wives are not great fans of mine. I am apparently referred to occasionally as an example of someone who does more than they do, working full time and parenting solo, but has fewer complaints. Thanks guys!

  5. Being only 10 days postartum, I’m finding that people are exactly expecting me to say that this single experience has been miserable for me. Most are quite surprised at how fast I’ve recovered. And though I’ve had help these 10 days, I have mostly done it all myself. I suppose it helps that so far, he’s been an easy baby (knock on wood), but you’re right, as a single person, I don’t know any difference. Single has been my life for the most part. It’s the only way I know how to live … So now it’s a single life with a child. I don’t think a child should necessarily make this single life a hardship.

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