Marjorie Brimley ordering food with her children after becoming a single mom and a widow
New Perspectives

It’s Easy to Judge (100th Blog Post)

I was at a store the other day and the man helping me was very chatty. He wanted to know everything about me, and since I’m a talkative person myself, I started telling him about my life. I hadn’t yet mentioned that I was a single mom, and it was clear that he thought I was just another suburban wife with a handful of kids. “It’s great that since you’re a teacher, you get to spend so much time with your kids after school,” he said.

“I’m lucky,” I said.

“You know, there are just so many moms out there making bad choices,” he said. This came a bit out of nowhere and I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. I paused.

“I mean,” he continued, his voice rising, “I don’t understand these women who mill about in my neighborhood with their kids late at night. They are just hanging out on the sidewalks downtown, right around all the buses and other traffic. Those kids should be in bed!”

“Well,” I said softly, “maybe those women just got off work or need to get groceries. Maybe they are single moms.”

“Maybe,” he conceded, “but I just want to go up to them and tell them that they shouldn’t have kids out that late!”

I had to be blunt here. “Don’t do that,” I said. I tried to make my voice even and soft. “You don’t know what someone’s life is like, you know?”

He smiled at me. I’m sure he thought I was just some good, Christian woman who tried to think the best of everyone.

But that’s not it at all. I have always tried to give people the benefit of the doubt. But if I’m honest, I didn’t ever really get it. Now, I have just a small peek into the imperfect lives that many single moms live.

It’s not easy.

I’ve seen other single moms out late with their young kids. Usually, the mom is waiting for the bus, or carrying groceries in one arm and a toddler in the other. She’s probably spent the day cleaning someone else’s house or taking care of someone’s else’s kids. She usually looks impatient and exhausted. I’m sure she IS feeling impatient and exhausted.

I feel that way too, sometimes, except my job is a white-collar teaching job where I make a decent living and get health care. I feel that way too, except that I drive my car to and from the grocery store. I feel that way too, except that I have an army of resourced friends and family members that help me.

I see women doing too much without the help of a partner all the time. And do you know what I think when I see them now?

What a fucking rock star.

I’m serious. I am barely hanging on, and then I see someone with far fewer resources who’s still managing to make things work and I think, “wow, that’s incredible.” Yes, her kids are up too late and yes, they might be eating McDonalds for dinner. But I see that same mom put her hand on her son’s back and braid her daughter’s hair while they wait for the bus.

That should be honored, not criticized.

As I left the shop that day, I finished talking to the chatty man. “I do some writing as well,” I said. “In fact, I wrote something in the Washington Post a few weeks ago.”

“That’s incredible,” he said, beaming.

The article was about parenting and how hard it is now that I’m a single mom. My husband died earlier this year and even going to the grocery store can seem impossible.”

He was stunned into silence for a minute, and then said, “I’m so sorry.”

“Thanks,” I said. There was a pause, so I said, “one thing I’ve realized this year is that being a single mom is harder than you can imagine.”

He smiled at me. I’m not sure if he understood that I wasn’t just talking about my experience. I was talking about that woman at the bus stop, the one with the groceries and the toddler.

I was talking about someone who deserves respect.

Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.


  • Sarah-Jane

    BRAVO! I love this post. Too many people judge others with no understanding of what their lives are like, what kind of day they are having, or the day-to-day challenge of just getting through the day.
    I really hope this guy went home that night and realized what exactly you were saying to him!

    • Marjorie

      Me too. I tried to keep my voice even instead of crying or screaming, and thought maybe – maybe! – he heard me.

  • Melissa

    After my grandson was found to be on the autism spectrum, I developed a new understanding and empathy for those parents whose child has a public meltdown. Too many observers might scowl and say under their breath “That kid needs a good spanking,” when they have no idea that the child is probably bombarded with stimuli that can be terrifying and is only reacting to that and not “acting out.” The parent, usually a mother–because, of course–needs compassion and perhaps a little assistance, not scorn. My grandson, by the way, is seventeen now and doing great, thanks in part to people who were willing to give him a chance to show what a terrific kid he is in his own right.

    • Marjorie

      Exactly! I’ve actually started thinking more about the people I see in public places now, when it appears that they are acting badly. Maybe, I now imagine, they’ve suffered terrible loss or injustice. Maybe not. But that “maybe” keeps my heart just a little more open.

  • Bill

    I was introduced to your blog by mutual friends, and it really resonates with me because I was raised by a single mom after my father died when I was 6. I identify in particular with this post because my mom had to schlep my brother and me around for all sorts of things, at all times of day, because she couldn’t always find a babysitter. And it wasn’t until I became a parent myself that I realized how hard it was for her all those years, having to deal with kids, while grieving, with kids who themselves were grieving, and then, on top of all that, being on the receiving end of awkward stares and head shakes from people who couldn’t comprehend why a woman would bring children to the grocery store late at night. (Because she didn’t have time to go shopping between going back to school and working full time!?!?!) It was really hard for her but she did what she needed to do for her kids. And so I agree: single moms are rock stars. And, I’ll add, in ways 99% of the population will never know or understand.

    • Marjorie

      Thank you so much for sharing this story. And yes – it’s amazing what people can do when they have to carry on through the worst circumstances. But you know what I love about this post the most? How obvious your affection is for your mother. I hope someday my kids will talk about me like you do about your mom.

  • Melanie

    Right on, Marjorie. Right on. But you know what? When your kids are adults and you’ve lost your spouse, you’re also a single mother, and it’s tough no matter what age you are. Totally different issues and needs, but hard nonetheless. Like you, I now look at people and realize that everyone has a story, and everyone deserves respect and compassion.

    • Marjorie

      Oh yes, I know that’s true too. My dad had to parent me and my sister through our grief when we didn’t have our mom around for our weddings and other important events. It’s always hard. And yes – it does make us see the world differently. You are right – everyone deserves respect and compassion.

  • Michael H. Levin

    Dear Marjorie — I came to these blogs tonight courtesy of Michelle O our daughter in law & true daughter (known around here as Momma). I read 10 of them straight through in the last hour. We never met Shawn but saw up close the impact of his death & its aftermath on Michelle and our son. And were fortunate to spend a little time last spring with your lovely father. These blogs are amazing — brave, honest, totally without pretense, totally human in their uncertainty, anxiety & apparent randomness. Yet as structured as Swiss watches. Thank you for them. Please keep going. Despite all the alternatives, writing still maybe the most powerful medicine. I look forward to the 200th.

    Here’s something from a piece I wrote a long time ago about Poles still struggling with memories of German & Russian occupation before the Jaruszelski & Soviet governments collapsed. IMHO it resonates with much of what you’re saying, though it comes from a different place & is on a different axis of loss and recovery. Hope it helps.

    Trudging back to our hotel I realize I’ve misconstrued my book. I thought it was about resilience and survival, clenched lives exploding to an open future, a war that turned raffishness and respectability upside down. But it’s also about a special kind of courage: drawing the line around what’s acceptable, between what one believes and what must be fought with every fiber. Maria sneaking food to prisoners on pain of instant death, Aleksandra’s husband declaring he would not try Solidarity leaders as a career military judge because martial law was immoral . . .here was a sanctity of choice only fiction could address. Because fiction is more than getting to change the ending: it is the most democratic, and hence most subversive, art. It insists every life is not merely important but infinitely valuable, worth telling.

    • Marjorie

      Oh wow – this is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing your words and for reaching out. I love the idea of a “special kind of courage” – those words are really powerful. And thanks for reading!

  • Nicole

    I love this post so much. Thank you for trying to open this man’s eyes to that fact that single moms are rockstars, from all walks of life, and they deserve support, praise and empathy, not judgment.

    • Marjorie

      Thanks. I still wonder if it did anything, but at least I don’t feel like I stood there awkwardly and said nothing.

  • Cecile Phan

    Dear Marjorie,
    I came across your blog after seeing the link to it on my FB page. I haven’t been able to stop reading since. Your writing is so beautiful, honest, raw, real, funny…all of it. I lost one of my best friends in March 2018 after a 2 year battle with lung cancer. She was 42 and left behind 2 young sons. Reading your blog helped me understand better what her husband is going through, so hopefully we could better help him and the boys. Thank you for sharing a part of your life with us, and I pray that you and your wonderful children will continue to draw strength from each other to continue living a life full of love, laughters, and adventures.

    • Marjorie

      I’m so glad there are people reading my blog with the purpose of helping their friends! I think early tragic death is so hard to understand and to reach out to the people who are hurting most. But it’s always better to say something and do something, and I know your friend is so lucky to have you there.