Michelle Obama Calls Herself a “Single Mom.” In Many Ways, She Is

p040413lj-0245When my husband got an airline job, I felt completely without a tribe.

Even though he was still a military officer, I was completely disconnected from the base. And as many military wives know, Guard and Reserves can be the bottom of the barrel when it comes to family support anyway.

There was no pilot widow’s club, no one I could really talk to about the challenges of parenting and running a household completely alone for weeks at a time, especially with friends and neighbors whose husbands came home at dinnertime each night, were off on the weekends, and could take off from work with a simple request.

For all intents and purposes, I was a single parent when he was gone.

So I started describing myself as a sometimes single mom.

Of course, the moniker pissed a lot of people off, mostly by single parents themselves who were offended by my “flippant” use of the term. Then there were other single parents, who actually thought I had it harder than they did, because they got financial support and the ability to pass their kids off every weekend (or more).

We all know that a woman who calls herself a “chef’s widow” or “medical school widow” doesn’t have a spouse who has passed away. And we know she’s not trying to take away the experience of an actual widow.

You get the sense that she’s left alone for many long days and nights because the life of a chef, or doctor, or pilot (in my case) requires extra work, many times solo work on behalf of the other partner and co-parent.

And the same goes for Michelle Obama calling herself a single mom.

We’re all fooling ourselves if we somehow think that the Obamas split their parenting duties 50/50. And we’re also not helping any parent out there if we criticize the First Lady for accidentally calling herself what I can only imagine she feels like on a daily basis.

Instead, we should, or at least, those of us who have carried the brunt of parenting and house management, pat her on the back and say “We totally get it.”

Actually, I don’t totally get it, because I’m not sure I can fully imagine how it would feel to be married to the President of the United States.

Probably like a single parent.

This certainly doesn’t mean she has no empathy for actual single parents out there and the struggles they face.

I’ve used the term “sometimes single mom” not as a way to take away anything from actual single parents out there, but rather to explain, describe, and perhaps elicit empathy from other married folks who might not understand the unique challenges I face personally on a regular basis.

By acknowledging her challenges, by saying she probably acts like a single parent to her kids as in THE ONLY PARENT, we’re not taking anything away from single parents in the world.

I, like Michelle Obama, am not a single mom, but sometimes, many times, I feel like one.

Kristen Chase is writer, author, and mom of four who lives in Atlanta.

Image via WhiteHouse.gov.

  • Liz

    You may feel like one, but you’re not, and it does irritate this single mom (by choice, so there’s no support – financial or otherwise – from any other parent) when partnered women try to compare themselves to what I do. You (and Michelle Obama) may be holding down the fort at home, but that doesn’t make you the only parent – especially when what takes your husband away from home is something that pays the bills. Unless you are 100% responsible for the financial, emotional, physical, educational, and all other well-being of your children 100% of the time, you are not doing what I do as a single mom. And I do think comparing yourselves to single parents does minimize what we do, because it makes it seem like single parents only have to worry about what’s going on at home – try doing all that AND holding down a job that pays enough to support a family, then talk to me about being “just like a single mom.”

  • I’ve spent a lot of time parenting my kids on my own while my husband was away on business, or commuting to a different city 4 days a week. I used to call it “single parenting” on those days/weeks he was gone… then I realized that’s not an accurate or ok term to use for my situation. While it is very difficult to suddenly have to parent on your own when you’re used to having a partner, it’s a completely different world from being a true single parent, without even that emotional support of a spouse. I now use the term “solo parenting” for when I’m parenting alone. I think it is much more accurate and respectful of actual single parents, while still conveying the challenge of parenting by myself (for particular periods of time)

    • I think “solo parenting” is much more accurate than “sometimes single” parenting as well. There is a world of difference between the two.

  • I’ve never been a single mom or a widow, so I can’t know their realities. I do know that much of our household logistics depend on my schedule and my husband’s schedule, and that I would have to set very different priorities if he traveled frequently (like Kristen’s husband) or he was gone permanently (death or divorce). I think it’s that difference in household priorities and logistics that Kristen illustrates well in her use of the “single” descriptor, as did the First Lady.

  • M

    I’m sure the Obamas have a Nanny so i seriously doubt she does everything.

  • Phil

    “In Many Ways, She Is”

    But in another, far more accurate way, she is not.

  • This single mom is not okay with it, either. You (and Michelle) have the moral support of your husband. You can talk openly about your own concerns as a parent about your children with someone who loves them as much as you do, and actually regrets not being able to be there every day. It is SO not the same thing.

  • Amy

    I have been a single mom in the past and now I’am a married working mother with a husband who is gone\working most times 7 days a week. I don’t consider myself a single mom. I KNOW what that entails. I’m self employed and work over 11hrs 5 days a week. I don’t have a house keeper, cook or a nanny or a personal assistant, which I can only assume the first lady does, besides her mother in house also. I think it was a poor choice of words on Michelle’s part and we can all be guilty of that. I have NO IDEA what her world entails, but even with help I’m sure it is hectic! The difference IS, she DOES have the luxury of not cooking, cleaning, running errands, and a whole host of life’s mundane chores that drag us down. She DOES have time for herself more-so than the average mom, look at her arms! I don’t begrudge her. She made her life choices and reaps the benefits and the crap like we all do. I wouldn’t want to be scrutinized in the public eye constantly or have bodyguards following me wherever I went so, I think we are even!

  • Danielle

    The words that come to mind regarding Mrs. Obama’s and Ms Chase’s views are: ignorant, self-absorbed, self-righteous, oblivious, out-of-touch, shallow. The statement in itself is an attempt to illicit sympathy for one’s own temporary situation by dramatizing. “Oh woe is me.” Give me a break! It would be nice if these women could honestly look beyond their own mirrors sometime for more than just a few minutes. A little more humbleness and real respect for others might be gained.

  • I, like many moms here and elsewhere, have a problem with this. I wrote a response on The Broad Side here: https://www.the-broad-side.com/the-sometimes-single-mom-situation

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