Two Parents, One Child, No Unemployment

I was struck by it. How easy it must be.

Surely, they have worries – just not the same ones that I do. Or you do. Not the concerns of the single mothers I have known – the logistical nightmares dealing with an uncooperative or unavailable ex, the fatigue that never seems to dissipate no matter what, the legal dramas and financial issues that drag on, year after year. The emotions and excuses, trying to hide how hard it really is. Trying to stay positive. Hopeful. Trying to be a good example to your kids.

Two parents, one child. Never a period of unemployment.

Can you imagine?

I can’t.

The Life Behind the Face

We never know what’s real behind the smiles; the picture perfect family may not be so perfect when you get a glimpse inside. After all, most thought I was living the picture perfect scenario, and it was far from accurate. Still, when I ran into this couple I knew in my former life (as an ostensibly happy married working mother of two), I sensed that their lives were close to what they offered on the surface.

I hadn’t talked to them in awhile, though I see their child often enough. He’s a good kid, and doing well. He’ll be attending a great university in the fall, with a merit scholarship that will relieve about 80% of the enormous burden of the educational expense.

The Cost of Raising a Child

When they gave me that news, it hit me. How easy it must be. How different their past decade has been from mine.

I thought about the cost of raising children – not emotionally – I’ve loved being a mother, but the actual dollars involved and the financial consequences when you’re doing it largely alone. I thought about how much of the expense I’ve actually borne. About a year ago, Motherlode, the NY Times Parenting Blog, offered up the official governmental statistics which put the cost at $222,360 – a number I suspect is low in general. I am certain that figure is low when it comes to my sons, knowing the cost of their extra educational programs.

I estimate that I’ve covered approximately 90% of that, times two kids. Conservatively, that’s just over $400,000 – after tax, of course. Every dime I earned over many years + debt + liquidation of assets.

And here we are. Or rather, here I am – and how many others like me?

Oh – did I mention that figure doesn’t count college?

The Truth and Nothing But the Truth?

As for the couple and our conversation, we visited for a few minutes and it was all very pleasant. I put on my cheery smile, nodded and responded appropriately, then extricated myself from the situation as quickly as possible.

I could feel panic creeping up through my chest. The fear I keep stuffing down. The truth of my life, which is so different.

The truth of my life, which is so different.

Thank God for a little help from our friends, right?

As for those truths, do we ever really recognize and admit to certain aspects of our reality? And if we wish to, where do we feel safe enough to actually share them?

 

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Comments

  1. FWIW, you can always feel free to be honest with me about it. And thank you for allowing me to do the same.

  2. Ugh. That’s us. Two parents, one child, no unemployment. And we’re… umm… pretty happy.

    We’re still young enough that most of the marriages around us are still intact. Although, statistically speaking, I’m sure this will change over time. So, then, what’s a girl to do? If we remain as fortunate as we are today, what’s the best way to act around people whom I know are enduring hardship that I am not? I don’t want to avoid them, which I suspect would feel ostracizing? But I don’t want to shove any of my happiness (even inadvertently) in their faces.

    So, as someone who has faced lots of hardship with lots of grace, what’s your advice?

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      What a lovely question, Gale. I don’t recall anyone asking – and I do know that one of the reasons for married parents slowly distancing oneself from single parents is as simple as discomfort. Not knowing what to say, if anything. Most pretend nothing has changed, never ask, never even consider that things might be far more difficult than they think.

      Something as simple as affording to cover the expenses of prom – hundreds of dollars (for a son, not even a daughter) – is something most of the other parents don’t consider. So what does the single parent do, sitting on the reality that each $70 or $100 additional incremental expense is out of the question?

      As to your question, I would like to invite the other single/solo parents who live their versions of a double life to offer what they think might help. All I could suggest is never assume. Never assume that a divorced parent is receiving any sort of financial support. Never assume there are other family members helping. Never assume they want anything less for their children than you do for yours.

      Ask how things are going – and genuinely be willing to hear the answer.

      Might I add, Gale – I don’t begrudge others their happiness or good fortune. I am happy for them. It is the dismissal of the issues as though they could never touch them. The lack of concern – for the children if nothing else. And as you point out, 10 years from now, more than likely half the couples you know today as couples will have split.

      We should all be concerned about the costs associated with schooling – even public schools. We should be concerned with issues of health care and employment environments because these things affect all of us, and divorce plus unemployment = disaster, for any of us, unless we’re very very lucky. We should recognize that many who are working are engaged as contractors and consequently, have no benefits of any sort – which those who are “employed” may take for granted. Again, a reason that tying health care to “employment” does not make sense.

  3. I don’t know divorce, but do know what unemployment does. Even briefly. Though unemployment is experienced by many, it still carries a stigma. And hiding is often easier then answering the uncomfortable silences.

    I think your advice is good. I try to just stay friends with the moms I know post divorce. Offer helps I know I would like when I’m solo parenting, like help with carpool or an afternoon playtime so the mom I know can get a break.

  4. My male friends are the only ones that ask how things are really going and usually open it up with asking about specifics (legal,money,sex). They don’t ask all the time which is fine, usually it is at opportunities where they know I can be honest (i.e., not in mixed group settings). My female friends don’t tend to ask about anything which makes sense to me since they know my ex; there are some occasions where they do but they are rare.

    So advice for people, ask your divorced friend about something specific in their life; we need to know it is ok to talk.

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