Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Reality of Being the Odd Mom Out

I adore the show, “Odd Mom Out” for its cunning wit and sharp sarcasm in the depiction of the relatable feeling of not fitting into the phenomenon known as a ‘mom group’.  The show focuses on microcosm of a group of wealth moms from the Upper East Side who mostly have the same environmental variables. The hilarious difference is in the moral grounding of the main character, Jill Weber, that leads to conflicting parenting priorities as compared to her head-in-the-clouds socialite family and extended circle of friends.

However, despite the hilarity of the high-pressure parenting expectations of New York’s social elite, 
many single moms experience the true reality of feeling like the odd mom out on a daily basis. Single, working moms are the minority, usually not heard from because we are too busy trying to keep our kids, career and home afloat without missing a beat.  We are underrepresented and inaccurately portrayed on television; I’ve never met a single mom as relaxed as Lorelai on the “Gilmore Girls” and there are few, if any, other referenceable examples of starring solo mom roles.   

Unlike on television, in real life single moms set our own expectations that we need to fill the rolls of both mom and dad, resulting in a self-imposed a bar requiring 200% effort at all times so our children will be minimally impacted by a two-household lifestyle.

I’ve been a single mom since my daughter was an infant and I’ve spent the last five years feeling like the odd mom out. At first, the feeling of being the odd mom out manifested itself at birthday parties, where I was the only single parent (I don’t know where the 50% divorce rate statistic exists, but it is not in the Pre-K set).  I thought the other moms assumed something must be wrong with me that I didn’t have a husband in tow. Or worse, if my daughter got a ‘boo boo’, I was terrified of being judged for not successfully preventing every possible scrape or bruise.  So I kept to myself in a nice cozy corner and spent the time mindfully examining my piece of birthday cake as if I were a pastry-obsessed Sherlock Holmes.

During the course of raising a five-year-old, many special occasions have presented an opportunity to do cutesy things for holidays, teacher recognition, birthdays, etc.  Pinterest has provided a platform for resourceful DIY moms to construct adorably creative crafts, gifts and accessories for all occasions. If I had a dollar for every time someone said “you should check this out on Pinterest”, I would have enough for my daughter’s college tuition! Despite my lack of culinary expertise, I once attempted to make “easy pizza twists” which turned out looking like a volcano had melted down on my stove top. Being craft-challenged and time-restricted, every birthday in my house has been filled with store-bought goody bags and each teacher appreciation event has been accompanied with a gift card; and I have a Pavlovian-level cringe response every time I hear the word Pinterest. 

The one thing single moms have is time to themselves. Many married moms tell me are jealous that I have ‘time to myself’, but I’m sure if they had legally obligated time away from their children, they would not covet this ‘free time’. Either way, I made single friends who like to go out, see some concerts, and check out new hot spots.  But I quickly learned that singles go out on a whim, and many nights I had my daughter and couldn’t drop everything to hit up the cool event that evening.  I enjoyed single-life gossiping about dating successes and hilarious failures but my stories were also peppered with the saga of losing baby teeth and the funny things my daughter would say at dinner. 
Feeling disheartened and disconnected, my odd mom out sensitivity reached a breaking point when, at an elementary school fair, my daughter’s feelings were hurt when her two friends hopped on a ride that only allowed two kids at a time. Despite my continual efforts to reassure her that they did not leave her out and they did want to play with her, that it was purely the bad timing of the break in the line – she melted down and sat on a hill, sobbing with hurt feelings. I sat down next to her and my eyes welled up with tears because I couldn’t honestly say I felt any differently. I looked around and desperately wanted to find another single parent at the event who could empathize but it was clear this was solely on my shoulders.  I started to wonder how I was going to be enough support her for the next 13 years of her grade school life.

And just when I was sure the evidence was damning enough to prove I was, in fact, the odd mom out, my daughter’s friends’ parents came over and reached out to us. They shared stories of how they helped their children with similar sensitivities. They repeatedly offered help anytime I needed it, telling me that I can’t be afraid to ask when I need a helping hand. And they talked about future fun things for our kids to do together. That night, we all walked home together in a group of giggly kids, babbling toddles and ever-tired yet jovial adults. 

At the end of the evening, I stopped to observe the scene and I realized I was never the odd mom out. Just because my situation is not the same as other families, as parents and children, we were no different.  Moreover, the same parents who reached out to me at the fair were also at those initial birthday parties. It wasn’t just me who was worried about being judged for what might happen to my daughter – it was every mother.  And the Pinterest moms who have enviable creative skills, resources and time – well they have told me they don’t know how I do it. They don’t judge my store bought party favors, they are impressed I pull together a fun party for my daughter year after year.

Although single moms frequently feel like the odd mom out, not fitting neatly in with any one social circle, the fact is that we fit in to all circles. We have the spirit of being single and active and we have the worries that come with being a mother.  I will be forever thankful for that night where I realized we are all in this together, raising our children to the best of our abilities and offering a hand when someone needs a little extra help.

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