An Open Letter to Michelle Obama

It was a slip up, I get it. We all make faux-pas, and it must suck always having to be on, with reporters, cameras and your every word being recorded.  I know you must not actually equate yourself with a single mother. But here’s the thing- the ease with which you let that roll of your tongue makes me wonder… There are a lot of thing the First Lady of the United States of America can be, but blind to her privilege is not one of them.

When you so casually drop the idea that you’re a single mom, it’s like a gut-punch to those of us in the trenches. This is very sensitive ground, and you are well aware by now- you’ve been taken to task by writers bigger and better than me. I’m not at all concerned for the state of the Obama marriage, as some have suggested, but rather for the flip manner in which privileged women conveniently don the mantle that some of us never get to set down. I frequently hear women I know, in church, in social situations, compare themselves— as casually as you did— to me, in particular when they have a husband with a busy job or who is traveling for business.

Your husband may work a lot. He may travel and be absent from the home for days on end due to career travel. You may be dealing with children, lives, lessons, tutoring, your own work, drama and potty training, and you may be doing it alone while he is gone. But make no mistake- you are not a single mother. Your husband may be away, but he’s earning money to pay your mortgage (in your case Mrs Obama, that might be different, but bear with me) to keep the heat on in the winter, to provide the funds to pay the tutor and for the ballet and piano lessons. You can reach him by phone, text or email if you need to vent, to tell him a pipe broke, or the washing machine just crapped out. You can receive emotional support and there is a date you can look forward to on the calendar when he will return, walk through the door and take part of the load from your tired shoulders.

It might be hard to be without access to your spouse- but you know he loves you and your children and that he is coming home.

Those of us who are really doing this by ourselves? None of that applies. There is not date to circle on the calendar when support will arrive. There is no one to call when an appliance breaks, or the car gets a flat tire, or a kid is sick at school and needs to be picked up. The rent, heat, water and electricity are my responsibility, and the child support check may or may not arrive. Again. Forget the ballet and piano lessons.

I’m not interested in painting myself as a victim. This is my life, and I get up every day and tackle it. I deal with three children and their needs, I juggle career and getting ready for grad-school, I schedule IEPs for my son with autism, and I fight the school district when they don’t measure up to the law in his support and care. I show up at school concerts with a smile and record my daughter singing so her grandma and grandpa in California can cheer with us. I find a way each month to stretch the budget just that much farther, and I do it all without a date on my calendar that any of us can look forward to.

So next time, Mrs. Obama, please be more mindful. You sit in a position of incredible privilege— not just because you’re the First Lady (that doesn’t hurt) but because the needs of you and your children are cared for, met and tended in a million ways every day. Never be so flip as to take that for granted. The rest of us can’t.

20 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Michelle Obama

  1. As a fellow single, working mother AMEN SISTER!!! It is absolutely NOT the same. I love your points made! There really is no “RESCUE” coming, I say I”m on a 10 year plan until my children hopefully are off to missions and college and I’m trying to enjoy every day, but its hard. The responsibility is stifling at times knowing its all on your shoulders to support your family financially, emotionally, spiritually and the day in and day out makes you weary at times. You’re fighting the good fight. I admire your strength and enjoy reading about your adventures. I wish you and your family the very best.

  2. As a fairly recently widowed mother of an adult disabled daughter, I have to say that just having someone who has been through it all and understands when I need to vent is the thing I miss most. No one to tell me I am doing the right thing or make an informed suggestion if I am not. I don’t mean the financial issues aren’t important, I just miss the moral support.

  3. Nora, that’s a huge issue. The lack of moral and emotional support cannot be overstated in its importance. It’s one of the things that ticks me off most (particularly at church!) when women claim to be “single mothers for the week”. I want to stand up and scream “YOU have no effing idea!” Every decision, every choice, every issue, rests squarely on my shoulders.

    And that’s after doing all the work of every mom, plus all the work of the dad.

    • Amen and amen. Having to do all of the childraising, housework, and providing, and having no date to circle when I can share the burden and the joy with someone …

      You nailed it. Thanks.

  4. Tracy, I hope you don’t mind I shared this on my facebook page. I’m a military wife with a long-time deployed husband, but you’re definitely right. It’s not the same. You rock.

  5. Deena, I have a lot of sympathy and love for military wives/moms. They do a lot of things alone, and often the husbands/fathers are out of reach at best, and in danger at worst. But…. it’s still not the same. He’s bringing in a paycheck. He cares about his family. He calls when he can. The kids know he loves them. He can listen when a heart needs to be poured out. It’s probably hard in different ways I cannot imagine. But yeah, they’re not the same. But I do tip my hat to the military wives and mothers I know.

  6. Tracy, for years I have said that I am a single parent during tax time. My husband is at work for about 16 hours each day. He is so busy that he cannot answer my texts or phone calls. I might get to have a quick conversation in bed if I wake when he gets home. Sometimes I remember what we talk about, but most times I do not.

    Sundays have become my most treasured day. He doesn’t work that day, well not at his job anyway. Following your blog and being so inspired by your words, I have really tried to make an effort NOT to say this year that I am like a single parent.

    You are so right! I DO NOT know what it is like to have to be everything for my children. I DO know that come April 16th, he is our daddy and husband again. I am so grateful that I don’t have to do this alone and wish that I could pass some relief off to you to ease your burden even just a bit.

    Thank you for reminding us all to watch what we say and to be truly grateful for what we have.

  7. MeliaS, thank you for your kindness. I want to make sure I don’t understate that there are many ways for life to be difficult- there’s no doubt having an absent husband for weeks or months would be hard. I’m thankful when other women do see the difference.

  8. I have had these same thoughts rolling around in my head for over a week and almost wrote a post on the same thing after having a friend casually comment (multiple times) that because her husband just got into a busy school program that she was going to be a single mother.

    In my mind, it feels a lot like someone comparing a weekend of the flu to the struggles of a cancer victim. It doesn’t mean that your flu didn’t suck, but you also knew it would end. There are different levels of true single mom-hood, but the same defining factor is the lack of back up, whether it is emotional or financial (or both). I know that people who refer to themselves as single moms don’t mean any harm, but they say it with kind of a perverse pride. In my experience, the title of single mom is the loneliest one in the world. If people knew what it was really like, they would never want to claim it. Some days I would give almost anything to not be leading my little family all by myself. Some days, I would give almost anything to just not have to be the one to figure out why the lawnmower won’t start again, or the sink is plugged up or the kids are punching each other (again), or just to have another adult to digest the day with and plan things with.

    Being a single mother isn’t something to be ashamed of, but it is definitely not a term to casually throw around either. It’s surprisingly hurtful to those of us who have no choice but to do it. Good thing you voice my thoughts better than I do. :-)

    On the other hand, you have survived being a single mom fo so many years, moving to DC the same year as the 17 year cycle of cicadas (??) should be small potatoes, right? ;-)

    • Cynthia, I really like that comparison. Yes, I have sympathy that your husband is not home much, but by definition, you are not a single mom. It’s demeaning to those of us that are (were) single moms.

  9. My husband travels a lot, but is usually home on weekends. I don’t complain because my SILs husband is in the navy and she sees him twice a year if she’s lucky. When your husband isn’t home you learn to do a lot for yourself and your kids, but it’s not the same as doing everything and bringing in the paycheck too. And Michelle should be ashamed of herself, she has a full time staff that cleans and cooks and does everything that most women have to do for themselves, and the taxpayers are paying for it. She has no grounds to complain at all.

  10. Tracy, you hit the nail on the head. I was raised by a single Mom and understand all that you say. Mrs O has no idea what it is like to have the responsibility of being a single parent with help available all times, isn’t that one of the reasons her mother is living in the White House also to help with the children? My hysband was gone a lot of the time for his work, but I never considered myself a single parent.

  11. Here is a comment I made on another thread this morning, and I wanted to record it here, too, because it really encapsulates some of what I was trying to say:

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but to the women who are missing their husbands while he travels or is away on church responsibilities (it’s own problem, honestly, for a church that proclaims the sanctity of the family, imho) I would say:

    Think of how tired and ragged you are when he’s away for yet another Sunday, where you’ve wrangled the kids alone, yet again, and then come home to hungry kids, laundry, meal prep and all the stuff needed to keep kids and family on keel. You’re aggravated he’s not there, and you’re exhausted. Now… imagine that every. single. damn. day. But… add to the top of that that all the “chores” your DH does (sexist division: yard work, garbage, oil change, car maintenance, moving things, a nice paycheck) and they are ALL also on your shoulders. Then imagine trying to add full-time college to that bundle. Then, imagine not receiving any child support- not ever. Then imagine getting up each Sunday to go to church, sit through Sacrament meeting with your kids, alone, again, and hear another talk about failure in the home, or the dangers of broken families, or listen to someone boast about how wonderful and vital it is to “have the priesthood in the home”. Then go to RS, already pushed to the point of a chest burning with exhaustion and pain, feeling like your heart is broken glass, and have yet another woman stand up and cheerfully (ignorantly, painfully, wretchedly) say “I’m a single mom this week…!” Then go home and imagine “…for this week!” might actually mean… for the rest of your life. And. See. How. You. Feel.

  12. As someone who was raised by a mother who was widowed when I was an infant. I was grateful to read this letter. Nobody can take the place of a husband or father. Those who have both have no idea what it’s really like. I have never taken my husband for granted. In fact, because of my past experience, every time my husband travels, I’m afraid he’ll be killed in an accident before he can return. Single parenthood doesn’t just affect the parent, it affects the children, as well. My mother is an amazing person, and I’ve never heard her complain. She is the best mother I’ve ever seen, but I still missed having a dad. Thank you for your thoughtful letter.

  13. I have often read your posts and thought of this. You do it alone. Always. You amaze me with what you accomplish day to day. You have so many obstacles to climb over and though you have lots of internet hugs and encouragement, the fact that you don’t have a live hug from the partner that should be walking this road with you must be so hard. I am sorry, but gosh you are amazing.
    I am not a single mother and I am stunned that Mrs. Obama would ever think that she could compare herself to one.
    Rock on Tracy :)

  14. I can’t help but comment here as I have seen all sides of this coin. I have been a military wife, with my husband gone up to a year. And sorry no financial support during that time as he had taken ‘a dead horse’ to move me across country to be with family, while he was gone to Okinawa. Military folks understand that when you take a dead horse it is a pay advancement and leaves you without funds until it is paid back. This spouse died at 37 and left me wiith 4 children to raise on my own. Being a single Mom is tough, no two ways about it. I also, went back to school and got my BS and then on to Masters degree. Was I lonely and frustrated at time? Of course. Going to Church alone was not a picnic either. But I can tell you there was purpose in all that I went through. I am a stronger, better person because of it. And I am now married to a wonderful man. That would have never happened if I had not believed in myself and had a can do attitude.

  15. Pingback: “Single Mom for a week” | Single Mormon Mommy

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