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.