Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Single Mom's Open Letter to President Obama

After a recent spat of nasty comments on a very old post of mine, I got very frustrated. And upset. I know I can't change everyone's mind, but there has to be more we can do. Whenever a single mom posts a rant about her ex (or at least every time I've seen it), someone inevitably comments that maybe she's not doing right by her kids by speaking her mind. Or that she shouldn't have left him anyway. Or that she's a whore because she's frustrated that her deadbeat ex hasn't paid his child support. So I wanted to do something.

I wrote First Lady Michelle Obama a letter. It's four pages long, and I snail-mailed it. Then Mindy wanted to write an open letter to our President, and welcomes every single mom to do the same. I snail mailed my letter because it contains things that I have already deleted from this site, so I don't want to post that letter here. But here's another version to share with the world. I no longer accept anonymous comments. I hope that I don't have to shut comments down here, but I'll do so if I deem it necessary.

While this letter is specifically about the life of a single mother, I am aware that many single parents are dads now, too. Dads that care about their kids and try to do right by them just as much as I do. Still, my experience is that of a single mom. So I'm sticking with what I know.

Dear Mr. President:

I'm tired. I'm a tired single mom. Not unique, I confess, but it's the truth.

Oddly enough, it's not the parenting of two daughters that makes me tired. Well, okay, maybe sometimes it is, but that's not why I'm tired right now.

I accept my responsibility as a parent to these girls. I accept responsibility for marrying a drug addict and having two kids with him. I accept that I bought into a myth that a bad boy could settle down. That love would be enough. But I will not regret it. Because that time gave me these girls that mean the world to me.

These girls get me up every morning. So that I can get them up every morning, so that I can remind them to brush their hair and teeth, get them breakfast, make sure they have everything they need for their day, get them to school, and go to work every day.

I work, I go get the girls, ask them about homework, make them dinner, help them with homework, set the timer for their reading time, get them into the bath/shower, wash the dinner dishes, wash their lunch boxes, kiss them good night, make their lunches, set my coffee timer, watch a little TV, go to bed.

And do it all the next day. And those are the easy days.

The harder days are when we have a PTA meeting (I serve as the Secretary), or when I take my older daughter to therapy, or when she comes home crying because her dad never returned her call. Or when an unexpected bill comes. Or a school fundraiser packet. Or a notice about the $150 choir fee.

My ex-husband was ordered to pay $400 a month in child support. It's not enough for me to live on, clearly. It's not an amount that even covers our monthly grocery bill!

I'm not a gold-digger. I didn't leave my husband so that I could sit home and collect his money. I'm not scouring the dating sites, looking to land them a new daddy.

I just would like to be able to take my daughter to buy new shoes when she needs them, and not have to wait until my next pay day. I just would like to not be still playing catch-up from my summer child care costs. I just would like to let my daughter buy any book she wants at the school's book fair.

I'm not on welfare. I pay rent in full every month. I'm not on food stamps. And my income is such that we don't qualify for the federal lunch program. We're not starving. I know I'm one of the lucky ones.

But the only part that luck has played is that I haven't been laid off. Everything else, I have worked for and earned. I went back to school, finished my degree while working full-time and raising two girls. I got promoted at work because of my own accomplishments.

I take my daughters to the dentist, the doctor, the eye doctor. I volunteer at my daughter's school. I try to keep informed on what's working (and what's not) in education, and give my daughters the opportunities that they can't get at school. I go to multi-cultural nights and cheer them on at their soccer game, their choir performance, their talent show. I let my daughters talk to their dad whenever he calls, or whenever they want to call him. Even though he has not met the conditions for visitations, I've let them see him with his family. I've sent his sister's kids birthday presents. I've sent his parents school pictures and art the girls have made. I'm friends with most of his family on Facebook!

I am not the bad guy.

And yet, I read about chapters in books that read that victims of crime should blame single mothers. I'm bombarded with "statistics" that say my children are destined to a life of unhappiness, even when you, a child of a single mom, managed to become the President! Even when a recent study has shown that children of single moms can do just as well as children raised with both parents. Politicians tell me that the key to my children's success in school is all about parental involvement, which has turned into teaching my children what they should've learned in school. If my child has trouble in any aspect of her life, I can't help but wonder if it's because she's lacking a father in the house. Because everywhere I turn, people are telling me that single moms can't do it. That no matter how hard I try, no matter what I do, my children are destined for failure.

I refuse to accept that. I will do everything in my power to ensure that doesn't happen.

Still...I wish that people would stop saying it. And when I write that I'm frustrated that my deadbeat ex won't pay his child support, I shouldn't have to defend my children's right to that money. I shouldn't have people tell me that I don't care about my children - that somehow that $400 a month makes me a c**t.

The truth is, I've given up on any hope that I'll ever get that child support. That doesn't stop me from getting angry when I know that the reason I'm having trouble paying for groceries this week is because I didn't get that $400 a month - which would've covered the extra costs in summer child care.

I'm a single, working mom. I can make a dollar stretch. I divide every bill I get by the number of paychecks until it's due. My girls know they can only buy the cereal that's on sale. The credit that my X skewered is almost completely repaired. I have not received a past due notice in years. I'm almost there.

I don't want my ex thrown in jail for not paying child support. That doesn't help me pay for the groceries. I don't condition his visitation on whether or not he's paid me, but whether or not he's sober. I want him to do well. I would be thrilled if he was the kind of father that could actually be a father to my girls.

I wish I had a better answer for them when he doesn't return their call. I wish that I didn't have to lower their expectations to keep him from breaking their hearts. I wish that he was there cheering them on at the soccer game, the talent show, the choir performance. But we all have to accept that he's not. That he doesn't show up at their birthday party because he's in jail. We've dealt with that, too.

I don't expect miracles. And hey, if he even sent $100 a month, and he sent it regularly, dependably, I would be okay with that. As hard as it may be for some to believe, I actually don't want to be able to honestly call him a deadbeat.

But he is.

Not just because of the support he doesn't provide financially, but the support he doesn't provide emotionally.

I tried. I tried to co-parent, but he wouldn't be there. Every problem that led to the divorce is still there.

No, they will never have the father that they deserve to have. And no, he won't send any money dependably ever. And there will be no consequences to that. And we will deal. And I truly believe that we will prevail. That my children will prevail. That they will not go through life feeling that they aren't whole somehow. They will know they are loved.

Still, Mr. President, there has to be something that can be done to make it just a little easier for single moms and their kids. Whether it's better child support enforcement, or more mention of the millions of kids raised by single moms that don't end up in jail, or health care facilities open on Saturdays, public education that supports a family's right to NOT spend their evenings on dioramas. Something to make it just a little bit easier.

Thank you,

*This post is written in conjunction with SingleMomMindy's Open Letter. If you'd like to share your own, please add your link in her comments.


Samantha said...

I love reading your blog, and have enjoyed your insight. I can relate to so much that you said, and thank you for this open letter.

I would like to make a respecful recommendations. I would say that twice in the posts I've read you've mentioned government support as though its a bad thing and as though those single moms that take it are somehow lesser or have less say.

I proudly admit that I paid taxes for several years and continue to still day. When I was left with zero support from my child's father, I did for a time get on government support. There is nothing wrong with it, I'm not ashamed, nor lesser for it. In fact I paid into the system for so long to have these services there for when I or any other citizen needs them. I would just caution you that in asking for less judgement of you as a single mom, that you also extend the same courtesy to those that have different circumstances.

April said...

Samantha - you're absolutely right, and I apologize.
I admit, it's an automatic defense I put up because of that image out there about single moms that are freeloading off the gov't and their ex's.
I was also on welfare (food stamps) when I first left my husband, and it definitely helped.
What a jaw-dropping statement about just how easy it is to fall into those traps.
Thanks for pointing that out.

liz said...

Amazing letter, April!!

Anonymous said...


What a great letter! I want to thank you for brining the recent study to my attention. I've been raising myt daughter on my own her whole life and I'm constantly told that she would be better off if I would just get married. I always felt that just didn't make sense since our little world works so great just the way it is. Now I have a study to back up my way of thinking.

Thanks again!

jenn said...

This letter is very inspiring and makes me proud of all of us single moms. Because we work hard and do more than most people realize.

MindyMom said...

Very well said April, as usual.

I'm so glad that you and I an join forces in getting the word out and hopefully encourage other single moms to do the same.

Our voices need to be heard!

Danielle said...

Wow! Great post. I found you through your comment on Mindymoms post and wanted to see what you had to say. I am glad I did. It is very powerful and I am now a follower.

Florinda said...

I can't say much from my own single-parenting experience, since it didn't start till my son was nearly 18, but I have followed your journey for awhile now and I think you're doing an amazing job. This letter is great and I hope it gets some attention.

I hope you won't mind my including it in my links-roundup post this week!

Meg said...

Yes, this is an amazing letter.

I think single moms, single dads, and the under-employed could use some sort of lift. Universal health care, maybe?

Cat said...

Fantastic letter.

Tara R. said...

Excellent point about the President being raised by a single parent. As a kid of divorce, I cringe every time something negative is said about single moms. I know how hard my mother worked, and how little support we received - emotionally or financially - from my dad. Any single parent, mom or dad, should be praised and not beaten down. I would love for you to receive a response to this letter.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely BRILLIANT.