Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Single. Mother.

Are there two words – aside from maybe "child molester", or "scooch down" (or the male equivalent: "bend over") – that cause society as a whole to cringe, pity, judge, or just rubber neck for a glimpse of gore – before cranking the radio and driving on?

I recall being in a meeting where marketing demographics were being discussed. Over the course of debate, someone suggested "single mothers" were the scourge threatening to bring down the economy – and definitely not their target market.

All eyes fell upon me, followed by the usual bumblings like – "oh, I wasn't talking about you... I was referring to stereotypical single mothers... you know... uneducated women, who keep having kids and leeching on the system". Or something along those lines.

Truth is – utter "single mother" and too many people conjure up the image of a crack whore with a kid on each hip, living off government assistance in a trailer down by the river. A chain-smoking victim of hard luck and poor judgement. A lazy leper who doesn't have the gumption to change her spots.

On the other hand – single "parents" and widows get a steady flow of casseroles, home baking, and more than a modicum of respect. Single dads are adorable, like blind puppies. Fuck, even divorcées are a respectable, hot commodity – likely because they're anxious for some good times, and maybe a little revenge sex on the side.

Single mothers – not so much. We made our bed.

Now, add self-employed to the single-mother mix – and you have a lethal cocktail that sends bankers, mortgage brokers, fashionistas, and dinner party hosts diving for cover.

And before I go any further – don't get me wrong – I'm not asking for pity, and I wouldn't have done this any other way. I left several well-paying jobs because I felt I had to choose between being a good mother, or being a good employee. Sadly, it is nearly impossible to do both extremely well when you're flying solo, and I didn't want someone else raising my child. Something had to give – and in my particular case – it wasn't going to be my one crack at motherhood. So I became my own boss.

Last week, I had a taste of what it's like to be a "stereotypical" single mother when we ran out of furnace oil. We ran out of home heating oil, at precisely the same moment we ran out of money. Cheques that were supposedly "in the mail" never arrived – and stupidly, instead of topping up the tank – I'd made a chunky payment to the Little Bastard's hockey team account – because I was too proud not to.

For three days in sub-zero weather, we relied on a tiny space heater and one electric baseboard at the back of the house. For three days, I watched for the mailman like a long lost lover. For three days, I sent out invoice reminders – and in one case – I'd simply had enough disrespect, and started a motion toward small claims court. For three days, we walked around in so many layers, we were one Zamboni away from a rink. And for three days – my kid never complained once. After all, here is a child who was forced to wear pants he'd grow into – three sizes too big with 8 inch cuffs – until he was old enough to protest. He knew I was embarrassed, and angry, and feeling like a failure. Best not kick the hungry dog.

For three days, I had a taste of what it must be like to be that kind of single mother. Making sure your kid's tummy is full first. Curling up and watching a movie together because it would be fun (and easier to stay warm). Wiping your ass with three squares of single-ply toilet paper instead of a fistful of Cottonelle. All the while – thinking of a way out.

I can tell you that it's really hard to be proud, and creative, and happy, and a good mother – when all you can think about is money. Or the lack thereof.

Of course, cheques eventually filtered in, and my bank account went from famine to feast, as it does from time to time. I filled the oil tank part way. A few bills got paid. My self-esteem dropped by for a visit. And the fridge got stocked. My shoulders relaxed a bit, and I called Discount Fuels to thank them for making a special, late afternoon delivery. We even went out for dinner – a nice treat after three days of humble pie.

So maybe I don't have a steady pay cheque, or a partner who brings home the bacon and assures me that everything will be alright. And I don't have RRSPs, or any hopes of ever retiring. But I do have a chosen career path that I love (most days), appreciative long-time clients, and an amazing kid who has grown up to be a brave, kind, funny, resilient, and compassionate man.

And as a single mother – I can take full credit for that.


* A friend originally told me to take this post down because it made me sound pathetic and depressed, so I did. But I just reread it and I must be pathetic, because it was how I was feeling... so up it does again. May 7, 2012

**Read John DeMont's Herald feature on busy single mom and business owner Julia Rivard. Hats off to her (especially for having the strength to do P9OX at 11 pm when I can barely get a load out of the dryer at 7:30) but her mommy guilt meter must be set differently then mine!