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Balancing Act

Sympathy for single moms? Sure, when Angelina's asking

Heidi Stevens

Balancing Act

12:35 PM EDT, May 23, 2014

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When Angelina Jolie told the New York Daily News this week that single moms have it tough, the reaction was swift and positive.

"I actually feel that women in my position, when we have all at our disposal to help us, shouldn't complain," Jolie said. "Consider all the people who really struggle and don't have the financial means, don't have the support, and many people are single raising children. That's hard."

"A woman who has her eyes wide open to the plight of women who live in real life," went one comment on nydailynews.com.

"Refreshing!" went another.

"BREAKING NEWS," joked Time.com. "A celebrity said something about motherhood and nobody is upset about it."

So Rachel Simmons, best-selling author of "The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls With Courage and Confidence" (Penguin) and an actual single mom, can be forgiven for expecting a sympathetic audience when she, too, noted that single moms have it tough.

"Having a baby on my own is a dream come true," she wrote Friday in a Slate.com essay. "But in my world, there's no sheepish spouse on his way home from a work trip to offer me a stretch of alone time."

Her essay, headlined "You Are Not a Single Mom: Just because your husband is away this week does not mean you are single parenting," was an attempt to remind us that solo parenting while your partner works late or travels is an entirely different beast than solo parenting all day long, all year-round.

"I have slept in approximately two times in the last two years," she wrote. "Every day of every month, there is no one to ask if what my child just plunged into her mouth was stray food or a fridge magnet. No one to soothe her from the passenger seat while she bellows in back. No one to clean after I cook."

She's exactly right, of course. I've been a single mom; I got divorced when my kids were 2 and 6. I've also been a temporarily solo mom; I'm remarried to a husband who happens to be covering a 12-day film festival in France even as I type this.

Both are challenging. The first is infinitely more so.

Nobody wants to hear it.

From the Slate comment board:

"I get it. It's hard being a single mom. But this article makes the author come off as really unsympathetic."

"We all have our crosses to bear and it sounds like the author's upset because she wants the corner on sympathy, not an attractive road to follow."

"Ms. Simmons, you seem to have a thinner skin than you used to, and I hate to say it, you've become a scold."

These wildly disparate responses (Yay, Angie! Boo, Rachel!) reveal our uncomfortable relationship with Single Moms, the category, versus single moms, the humans.

We're happy to hold them up as deserving of our sympathy, as Jolie did, as long as they don't directly ask for our sympathy, as Simmons did. We prefer our complaints to come from people who are doing things the way you're supposed to: Straight, married and posting on Facebook.

Simmons had an inkling her essay would raise people's ire, I'm guessing. She revealed as much in the following paragraph:

"Yes, I'm complaining about being a single mom by choice. Just because I chose to have a kid on my own doesn't mean I can't be occasionally annoyed by it. If we couldn't complain about anything we actively chose, straight women would have nothing to discuss over drinks."

Excellent point. I'm sure she'll be pilloried for it.

hstevens@tribune.com

Twitter @heidistevens13