It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Sometimes, Saying Nothing is the Kindest Response; or, People Can’t Read Minds

“Here she is. Gotta go. Boys have to get to their bus. Philip’s away for a few days and I’m a single mother and it’s just so hard.”

All this is delivered in her usual quiet but rapid-fire way. She’s looking considerably harried. I smile sympathetically and ask when Philip will be back.

“He’s gone for three days. He’ll be back on Sunday evening.”

A few seconds more commiseration and off she flies, secure in the sympathy of another woman.

Except she’s not getting it. Not really. Not from me.

Not her fault. She doesn’t know.

She’s on her own with three kids for three days. That’s all. Not a cakewalk, but not verge-of-desperation, either. She may complain about her husband, but it this is telling: she misses him when he’s gone.

I’m now in a wonderful long-term partnership (we’re getting married next month!) but I’ve been a single mother of three. I’ve also been a married single mother of three.

What’s a ‘married single’? A married single has a husband in theory – and we will not discount the advantages of having someone to pay the bills – but really, he’s an absence, not a presence. He’ll work 70, 80, 90 hours a week. Because he’s tired and stressed, he’ll be short-tempered when he is home. Because he works (while, presumably, you sit at home with the three kids watching TV and eating bon-bons) the children have to be kept quiet when he’s around. And there can’t be any mess, because that interferes with his ability to relax.

And you can’t expect him to assist with cooking or cleaning. And he doesn’t have time “right now” (and it’s always “right now”) to talk with you. And he’s too tired “right now” to play with the kids. And when the children wake at night, you deal.

And even when you get a ‘real’ job, and are also working outside the home, all this remains your job. Of course you’re the one who found the caregiver, and who interacts with her, who gets the kids there and picks them up. And you’re still getting up in the night with nightmares and wet beds, and you’re still keeping them quiet because daddy is tired from work. And it’s never a good time “right now” for him to leave work when a child spews all over the caregiver’s living room floor.

(And sometimes, if you’re truly unlucky, when things are really bad, he may even find it necessary to express his tensions not just with shouting but with pushing, slapping, kicking, and punching.)

That’s a married single. Did I miss him when he travelled? Not so’s you’d notice, no.

Nope. My harried client has nothing to complain about. But she doesn’t know that. And you know what? I hope she never does.

April 27, 2007 Posted by | parents, random and odd | 14 Comments