The next stranger who tells me how hard it is to be a single mom gets punched in the throat

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

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,, 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.

12 thoughts on “The next stranger who tells me how hard it is to be a single mom gets punched in the throat

  1. I get where you are coming from, although im not a single Mom. I am a married mother of 5, and people who don’t even know me come up to me and say how hard my life must be, and that it will get better when my kids are grown. I had someone in my home a few weeks ago, say at least you still have a smile on your face. I didnt mention my life was hard in any way, my kids are just home playing, and it’s almost disgusting what comes out of some peoples mouths. What do you say to that, and they make you be defensive with the rude remarks.

    1. Lord knows I’ve been guilty of saying inadvertent rude things to people – maybe I should be more gracious about these single-mom comments — it is really more about them and their insecurities or fears than me and my (shit)show.

  2. Hmmmmm I’m very sensitive to criticism and to people trying to lord their perceived superiority over me but I must say I do not get annoyed by this comment. I take it as a complement actually. My son is a wonderful child and he excels in all of the ways we would like our children to excel. So, when someone says this I take it as acknowledgement that I’m doing double, triple, or sometimes quadruple duty and still doing a great job.

    But then I am an underpaid nonprofit worker who commutes three hours per day to make sure her child goes to a good school and like many many others cannot afford some of the perks that make life a little bit easier. So when I’m frazzled. at my wits end, and feeling guilty about all the things I’m NOT doing this comment reminds me that in fact I’m accomplishing quite a bit.

    1. Hi Zakiya – Thanks for this comment. A married mom friend messaged me upon reading this post and pointed out that maybe I’m feeling defensive and angry about being a single mom, which is why I’m testy about such comments. She said she doesn’t pity me, but admires me and thus sometimes says thinks that make me want to punch her in the throat :) It seems you have a healthier attitude about being a single mom…. something I need to chew on.

  3. Some of those “you have it hard” -comments can be sincere, you know. I think it’s rather sad outlook on life to think that people say that kind of phrases only to belittle you and feel better themselves.

    I can’t remember a time that anyone would have said that to me, though, that I have it hard. Most people who know that I am a single mom also know that it’s by choice.

  4. Emma, I just discovered your blog and I’m enjoying your views. Although I am a stranger, I have to say that I pity you for having had to write those equities blurbs. Now please don’t punch me in the throat :)

  5. I agree; it can be annoying.

    When someone gives me the “I don’t know how you do it” line, I get perplexed. It doesn’t seem that hard! I don’t know any other way. Plus, there’s a LOT of joy in being a mom, single or otherwise.

    Thanks for the blog.

  6. I am so happy to find a blog that I could run to in my time of frustration.

    I just left a lunch meeting with my co-workers(Attorneys) and one of the women that I dislike the most said in the front of everyone that her husband left town and she was so stressed out this morning and She didn’t know how I did it being a single mom. I was in shock because there were other people around the table who don’t know me and quite frankly I wouldn’t want them in my business.

    My problem is this is the 2nd time that she has mentioned it. I have been hesitant about saying anything because I felt well Its sort of a back handed compliment. But today I will be speaking to her privately about it.

    I am a single mom by choice. Life or Death in all literal terms. And she would be to if she knew my story!!

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