Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Single Mommying is Not Military Mommying, and Vice Versa

I recently read a blog by an Army wife who was discussing her life as a “single mom” while her husband was deployed. This is a common comparison, and one that often annoys single mothers. Having been both a single Mom and a military Mom, I can attest to the fact that there are many similarities between the two, but there are also many, many differences.

Single Moms are parenting alone—physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially. Yes, they often have supportive family and friends. But, ultimately, their world consists only of them and their child(ren). As a military Mom, you may only be able to speak to your partner a few times a week, but you know he is there, and that he has your back, in good times and bad. You can, in small ways, share your feelings and stresses with him, albeit through a letter, email, or brief phone call. You are still parenting as a team.

At home, you can still say, “I’m going to tell your father"--both as encouragement when your child does something worthy of praise, or as a deterrent when your child has, or is about to, do something requiring discipline. I realize that the threat is somewhat diluted when Dad is halfway across the world, but it’s still effective--no child likes to be chastised by Dad, even over Skype. Single Moms have no such incentives or deterrents. They have to be both nurturer and disciplinarian, and I have to say, that the single Moms whom I know are doing so very well. But, that doesn’t mean that it’s not incredibly difficult.

Perhaps one of the biggest differences is that, even while your husband is deployed, he is still contributing financially to your home. While some single Moms are receiving child support (which is often a laughably small amount), most are supporting themselves and their children completely on their own. Single Moms have to work. And many have to work more than one job. So while many military Mommies (although not all) are able to stay home and focus on their children, the vast majority of single Mommies have to work all day (or all night) and still be able to handle all of the household chores and parenting when they get home. Every bill is their responsibility. Whether their children have dinner that night or their home has electricity is completely up to them. That’s a difference that should never be overlooked.

But, before you think I’m being hard on military Moms, let me point out a couple of key differences to you single Moms out there, as well. Yes, you are handling everything on your own. But, as I mentioned, your world revolves around you and your child(ren), which, at times, is a blessing. As a military Mom, you are dealing with everything at home while also worrying about IEDs, suicide bombers, and communication blackouts (times when your husband can't call because someone has been killed). You have to deal with the ever present terror that a car may pull up to your door and tell you that your husband isn’t coming home. You have to prepare dinner with children pulling on your leg, all while clutching the phone waiting for a staticy phone call, letting you know that, at least for one more day, he is safe. The sheer worry, panic, and insomnia make the day-to-day responsibilities of being a Mom that much more difficult.

Military Moms are also often living very far away from their support systems. Some choose to go “home” when their husbands deploy, but most stay at their duty station. This isolation contributes heavily to the depression and anxiety experienced by military Moms. It is also what makes having connections with other military spouses (and, I believe, other woman in general) so much more important. Single Moms, many of you have the luxury of living close to your family or long-term friends, which can make your daily burden a little more bearable.

To sum it all up: Single Mommying is like lifting a 2,000 pound weight by yourself. Military Mommying is like lifting a slighter lighter, 1,500 pound weight, with a strong wind blowing in your face: your load might be lighter, but other conditions make it just as difficult to carry.

But, imagine how much easier those weights would be to lift if we simply helped one another. I’m not here to tell you that either of these roles is easier than the other. All women carry immense responsibility. Single Mommies and military Mommies carry even more than most, and do so with an incredible amount of grace and strength. Rather, I want to encourage everyone to understand that their struggles are not the only struggles, and that we all need one another. Military Mommies, you can offer single Moms the emotional support that we are all so very good at providing. And single Moms, you can offer the strength that you have so skillfully developed.

Most of all, we have to stop playing the “my life is worse than yours” game. Single Moms, when you hear a military Mom say that her husband is deployed, don’t be so quick to say, “what's the big deal? I do this alone all the time.” Remember that she will be plagued by constant worry and sleepless nights. Be quicker to offer a hug than judgment. And military Moms, don’t be so quick to tell a single Mom that you know what she’s going through, because really, you don’t. But, what you can do is offer your help and your love. We can listen to one another and try to understand what the other is going through.

We need each other. We have loads that are far too heavy for any one woman to carry alone--even amazing, strong women like us. But, with just a bit of understanding and compassion, we can all make each of our loads a little more manageable. And, as a bonus: You might just meet some wonderful friends along the way.


  1. Pam, you hit the nail on the head! I have also been both a Single Mom and a Military Mom. My favorite: "Single Mommying is like lifting a 2,000 pound weight by yourself. Military Mommying is like lifting a slighter lighter, 1,500 pound weight, with a strong wind blowing in your face: your load might be lighter, but other conditions make it just as difficult to carry."

    Thanks for sharing your heart - because it just so happens to help heal mine.

  2. Thanks so much, Angela. I admire you very much, as a woman and a Mommy. So, it means a lot that you enjoyed the post. Thank you!

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Pam! Even though I'm not a mom, I always enjoy gaining a new perspective. And, really, it is so important for ALL of us women to support each other. I'm glad you are encouraging moms to support each other. Thanks!

  4. Very true. I believe we can learn something from every woman we encounter. We all have something to share and we all have something to learn, if we just take the time to listen.