Rise of the married single mum
If you ask some married women, they’ll tell you they feel like they’re living a double life. On the one hand, they in a married committed relationship where everything is supposed to be split 50-50 between both parents. On the other hand, they’re the ones showing up solo for parent-teacher meetings or shuttling children to various activities, including medical visits, attending events at school and basically doing all the parenting themselves.
These aren’t women who have chosen to stay at home. Many of these women work full time, but they’re finding that all the responsibility of raising a child falls squarely on them.
Being a married “single” parent means that even though you are married and live in the same household, only one you has the vast majority of parenting responsibility.
One married mother said her husband says he takes their son to soccer and “that’s enough for him to do. It’s like that absolves him of doing anything else for him because he takes him out one day, yet I have to do all the other days”.
This mother, who we will call Sonia, says she feels very resentful of her husband as a result of his stance.
“It’s as though he has no feelings for me and I have a demanding job,” she added.
“He makes no attempt to relieve me or even offer to help. It’s unbelievable.”
Timothy Arthur, director of Sozo Counselling Services, says: “Marriage is a partnership and in situations where you feel like a single parent, it cannot feel like a partnership. That’s why it’s important for you to articulate your expectations and then it has to evaluated to see if that expectation is realistic.”
The situation where married women who are stuck doing it all has become so common that several Internet support groups have popped up to help these women cope.
A recent survey by TheBump.com and ForbesWoman.com found that most women feel overwhelmed when it comes to parenting responsibilities. According to their co-parenting survey of 1 200 mums, 70 per cent of working mothers and 68 per cent of stay-at-home mums felt resentful toward their partner because parental and household responsibilities were divided unfairly. One woman said that was the driving force behind her decision to divorce her husband.
“If I am the one doing everything, looking after the children, cooking, shuttling them back and forth, and he’s not even lifting a finger, just sitting back waiting on me, then I figured I might as well be a single parent,” she added.
“I know my husband was surprised at my decision, but after six years I had enough. I mean, basically I was living the life of a single parent.”
What many men don’t realize is that along with the household chores and the parenting responsibilities, their partner can often feel overwhelmed and frustrated.
“That is where clean fighting comes in,” Arthur says.
“Fights very often can denigrate to name calling, but it’s important that you express how you feel rather than assign blame to one person. Talk about how it makes you feel and offer suggestions on what you would like and why.
“For example, say, ‘I would like some assistance picking the kids up two days a week because it puts pressure on me at work’. I think it’s important for the other person to talk about themselves. That’s the place to start, then you engage in dialogue and compromise.”
Some married women will say that their single counterparts are better off than them because at least they can get a sympathetic ear when they complain. Recently even Michelle Obama described herself as a “married single mom”.
But what often causes women resentment is the level of expectation married women have because they are married. They expect their partner to be there to help with the chores, help with the children, or give you a breathing space. When that doesn’t happen, resentment builds between couples – but it doesn’t have to be that way.
“Sometimes we have unspoken agreements where one party has not agreed,” Arthur adds. “Disappointment over an extended period of time can lead to resentment.”
According to education and clinical psychologist Dianne Holder, there are steps couples can take to work more as a unit and lessen the resentment that can arise from parental imbalance.
• “For women, it’s important that you reach out and have social interaction with other mothers who have similar situations where you can talk and it helps you feel less isolated.”
• Even though you may be busy with the children, try to carve out a part of the day for yourself so that you don’t lose your identity. This can be your exercise time, your “me time”, whatever, but it needs to be your time reconnecting with yourself.
• While you may be mad at your spouse, it’s still important to make couples-time. Yes, you made it through a hectic week, but make some time to spend with your spouse so you can reconnect and that lessens the feeling of resentment.
• Communication is key because your spouse may have no idea that you feel overburdened or resentful. It’s important not only to express the way you’re feeling but to listen to what he has to say. This way it helps your partner to reflect and this usually makes him change his behaviour.