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Can a Single Mother Village Be Natural?

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Four years ago, after a decade of living with the father of my children, our separation morphed from an ominous event on the horizon to a terrifying reality.

women on a play date

Dr. Wendy Walsh: My biggest fear ever was to become a single mother. My mind owned no model for it. My own parents stayed together for 35 years until "death did them part." And at the time, I didn't know that many one-parent families.

But I was shocked to see what happened. I was welcomed into a village that was so supportive and loving, it reminded me of my mother and her sisters, whose admonishments seemed to have come from a shared vested interest in me. Single mothers are quite a girls' club. We dine together, we vacation together, we laugh together -- all with kids in tow. No kid is barred from a single mother's home because we know that the pressure on us all to earn a living and be a good mother means we don't like to cut into family time. Yet, we've also learned that family time is so much more fun when there is another adult to share an eye roll with when chocolate milk hits the carpet, or to exchange a smirk with when a 6-year-old innocently asks an X-rated question.

More important than the community and laughter, the single mother village is crucial for our survival. When the stock market crashed in 2008, child support payments shrunk, mothers lost jobs, and household downsizing was epidemic. That meant a lot of movement. My own guest room sheltered the odd single mom-in-transition, and indeed, my kids and I even had an opportunity to couch-surf when this mom got creative and rented out our beach pad to vacationers with solid Euros.

Then there is the crucial care needed during sickness. A single mother can't leave a sick child alone to run to the pharmacy, so it's an unwritten hard rule that the village stands at the ready for such errands. And if a mom is sick, her wards become wards of the village. Two years ago, I was seduced by the wisdom of my kid's skating coach, who claimed that ice skating was the single best way to have a high-and-hard butt, and embarked on a clumsy attempt to learn figure skating, much too late in life. One attempt at a double twirl and my dizzy head slammed to the ice with my hand losing the battle to catch me. While I waited four days for the young hand surgeon to tack my hand back onto my wrist (really), I floated in a half-life of painkillers, and an army of single moms drove my kids to school and made sure they were fed. I can't tell you how grateful I am for my village.

At times there is talk of men. An incoming one. An outgoing one. An irritating deadbeat dad. A MILF hunter exposed, or a cougar's prey snared. But no weddings in my circle -- at least not yet.

As I look around my world, I see some similarities in today's times to what I imagine a hunter/gatherer village looked like. Women build elaborate communities, and in our hunter/gatherer history, those encampments were the backbone of the species. Men hunted and dropped in with protein, but women still gathered more calories and maintained a multiaged moving "settlement" where babies, toddlers, teens, aunties, mothers, and grandmothers all had vital roles in the nest. Women's power as a gender includes intellectual, emotional, nurturing, creative, and sexual power -- and it has kept our species going for thousands of years.

I'm wondering if a single mother village isn't more "natural" for our biology than an isolated nuclear family. Of course, no sooner do I have that thought than I also remember how wonderful it is to have a warm, snoring man in my bed -- a protector of the family. Who knows? But for now, the single mother village is crucial to our evolution.


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13 comments so far | Post a comment now
Rachel January 21, 2010, 9:57 AM

I’m not a single mother (officially anyway) but I’m a part of a group of women who’s husbands work crazy shifts, hours, and out of town for weeks or months at a time. We have formed our own group just like your’s. These women have become my rock. We jokingly refer to ourselves as our “wives”. The schools know that we can pick each others kids up, the drs know that we may bring our own kid and 2 other moms’ kids in with ours. When I had to have a hysterectomy and was on light duty for 6 weeks, it was my “wives” that did my laundry, cooked meals, picked up my kids, and brought me books and wine. I am ever so thankful for them!

Single Mom Seeking January 21, 2010, 2:53 PM

LOVE this post! Thanks for the positive message re: your own army of single moms (I call them my “tribe”) who are there for each other when the going gets tough.

Lauren January 21, 2010, 8:20 PM

Wow! How timely for me to read this post. Yesterday, I wrote a post on my blog called “Parental Job Sharing.” And today, Twitter led me here. My was from a different angle, but the theme was the same. It looks like there are single moms out there, doing this already, and I’m just missing out! All my friends are married moms. Not that they can’t partake as well, but really - WHERE’S MY VILLAGE!?!?? :)

In truth, I just signed up for a Meet Up group of single moms in my area. I’m excited to meet some women and make some single mom friends. Currently, my single mom friends are here in cyberspace.

Anonymous January 22, 2010, 1:38 PM

love this.

Anonymous January 22, 2010, 5:18 PM

Stick one man in their and people will call it polygamy. Which is essentially the whole idea of having more than one wife: creating a mini village where responsibilities are shared, and having moral support from the other women. For example, if one mom is more nurturing, the kids might go to her with a scraped knee, or advice on a crush, and on the other had if she’s more intellectual, they might go to her if the need help studying, or having a difficult time figuring a problem out. I know I just tread on a lot of toes, but really it isn’t a bad idea.

Joan January 22, 2010, 7:48 PM

wow! I wish it were like this here. Single parenthood in my community is difficult at best and excruciatingly lonely most, if not all, of the time. How/where do you find this kind of support?

ME February 16, 2010, 4:42 AM

No, just because something exist doesn’t mean it’s normal. Kids need a Dad in their lives [or a surrogate figure].
******************
That being said….
Girls Night Out is normal and refreshes your spirit!

Credit Card December 22, 2010, 2:21 AM

abso-freakin-lutely

Manie Kleffner January 22, 2011, 3:57 PM

that’s what i’ve been trying to say all this time

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