The most recent non-controversy ginned up by the political media involves comments by a Democratic “advisor” Hilary Rosen (and who, exactly, defines “advisor”, and to whom does she advise?) regarding the fact that Ann Romney has “never worked a day in her life.” The Romney camp and its surrogates responded with outrage, claiming that this was an affront to stay-at-home mothers, and was, therefore, an attack on Mothers.
I have the rare distinction of having experienced all three of the categories of motherhood: as a stay-at-home mom, briefly, in the early 80s when my first two children were still in diapers; as a working married mom living in a two-income home; and as a single working mom. I can tell you without hesitation that the hardest of these three positions is the single working mom. Hands down, no contest, have a nice day.
The easiest was when I had the toddlers at home, could watch Sesame Street, linger over the menu for dinner, take walks with the kids in a stroller, and look forward to reading or socializing when they went to bed, sometimes as early as 8 pm. These were simple days, compared to what came next: sudden single motherhood.
When I was thrust into the working world (while the youngest was still in diapers), and I had to live on about $800 a month and woefully inadequate child support, my budget was tight. I got up at 6 am, prepared the kids for daycare, drove to the daycare, parked, hopped on a bus downtown (I couldn’t afford to pay for parking); if I was very organized, I packed a lunch. I also went to college at night to finish my degree, so finding babysitters and time to study was a constant challenge.
Even when I had a better job, the years when the kids were in middle school were difficult. They were too old for day camp and too young to stay home alone. I had to hire a series of babysitters who were at turns terrifying, terrified or terrible. There were sporting events, scouts, church events, and other social activities that competed with my work demands; not to mention my love life. The guilt! Oh, the guilt. Guilt, guilt, guilt. I sincerely doubt stay-at-home moms even understand the guilt under which we working moms are buried.
One year I was so broke all the time, I had to live on one meal a day: a baked potato, a salad and a chicken breast. Sometimes I would even get a Frosty from Wendy’s as a big treat on payday. I was so broke, I had to pack snow on my license plate so cops wouldn’t notice that I hadn’t renewed my tags. (I got away with it for 6 weeks until I could afford the renewal.) My kids never went hungry, but I did. Looking back, I wonder how I managed. Maybe I should be a Budget Director!
It’s a little less stressful when you have a partner/spouse to share the economic and domestic burdens. At least someone else can take out the garbage, shuttle a kid to an event, or babysit when you want to hit a few tennis balls once in awhile. Having a partner also eliminates the desolate singles scene (usually), and you might even have enough scratch to buy a house or pay for remodeling, or take a trip. It’s not ideal, but it’s a heckuva lot better than single parenthood.
I’m not disparaging any of the choices women make when they have children. Many of them keep a dozen plates spinning at once, and I have had my moments. However, there is no contest, no comparison, no planetary equivalent between a woman with means raising kids at home with a husband who provides amply versus a single mother reluctantly letting the Village raise her children as she struggles to survive on below-average wages, worrying endlessly about the next time the car breaks down or if the kids get sick and she has to take off work, or how much she can pay on her credit cards that month. Or when her male co-worker gets the promotion or the best accounts because her male boss thinks she is going to have another child or have to take off too much work for her children. The pervasive sexism in the workplace facing single mothers is encyclopedic.
This life is the one that most single mothers, and many working mothers, experience. This is the life to which Ann Romney can never relate.