The next time you see a black person on the street, approach him or her and say: “Oh my gosh! I don’t know how you do it! It must be so hard to be black!”
What’s that you say? No way? Makes you feel uncomfortable? Rude? Scared?
Welcome to my world. I frequently meet strangers who, upon learning that I am a single mother tell me that I have the hardest job in the world. They have no idea how I manage it. “It is so TOUGH to have little kids all by yourself!”
Yes, it can be stressful to be a single mom, just like it can be stressful to be a racial minority (according to studies! This is not my opinion!). But you know better than to waltz up to a new African American acquaintance and let them know you have their life all figured out — and that that life is worse than yours. So stop doing the same to me.
Here are 4 reasons all your overt single-mom pity is so, so wrong:
1. Pop psychology 101: don’t tell me how I feel. Did I say I had it rough? No way – I JUST MET YOU! In no other circumstance is it acceptable to open a conversation with a stranger with over-the-top empathy for feelings that have not been expressed. WTF?
2. You immediately put me on the defensive. I must choose from this list of responses:
- “Oh no way! Being a single mom is AWESOME! You should get divorced STAT and get on board!”
- “You’re right. My life sucks so bad I can barely get up in the morning.”
- “Go to hell.”
Clearly, none of these responses is appropriate (that’s not to say they haven’t been employed). I am not guilty. Don’t make me defend myself.
3. Don’t say that being a single mom is the hardest job in the world because that is just plain stupid. Sure, there are lots of tough things about being a single parent, but let’s keep things real. If you — like me — are a professional person earning a decent living in the United States, you have it better than 99 percent of the world’s population. Even if some days you feel like you will lose your mind trying to keep it all together, all while burning out one set of vibrator batteries after another because you’re so lonely. But still. Toughest job in the world? Bitch, please. Here are a few jobs that are tougher:
- Detasseling corn when you are 12.
- Waiting tables at Pizza Hut when you are 16.
- Writing 30 equities blurbs every single work day for the Associate Press’s Financial Wire.
- Being the spouse of someone with a brain injury.
I know. I’ve had each of these jobs. And they all sucked — but each was way, way, WAY better than a bazillion other jobs people do in this world. To my point: Being a single mom is way easier than all of those jobs — for me. Now, you may find the above duties thrilling or deeply meaningful. I did not. Again: The assumptions! Knock ’em off.
4. By telling me how hard I have it presumes you have it better. That you ARE better. Maybe you are. But by all outward appearances it doesn’t really look like it.
So the next time you meet a single mom (or a black person, for that matter), say, “Nice to meet you,” or “Where do you live?” Try: “What do you do for a living?” and “How about those Mets, huh!?” And then, if we develop a rapport and we’re laughing at the same jokes, go ahead and inquire — politely, with trepidation — about my family status. And then I may just tell you something that you don’t want to hear: That you don’t really have it so much better than me.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.