School supplies for blog by DC widow writer Marjorie Brimley

School and Single Parenting

Every single parent I know is obsessed with what’s going to happen in September. Will schools fully open? Will we have to continue to home school our children? Will we do some sort of hybrid model?

There are so many questions and no good solutions. Consequently, everyone is freaking out.

I was talking to an acquaintance the other day and we were lamenting what the fall might look like. She and her partner are able to work remotely, but noted that without school, she gets very little done. I commiserated with her, because I get it.

But do you know what I was thinking?

It may be bad for you, partnered mama, but it’s a Hell of a lot worse for all of the single mamas I know.

Because what are single moms to do right now? There is actually no way to perfectly isolate from everyone else while simultaneously working full-time and raising kids without childcare. The impossibility of this situation grows exponentially if you have to work outside the home, as many single moms must. It is simply untenable.

So you have to break the rules.

You have to decide to send your kids back to day care when it opens, even though you know your 2-year-old is terrible at social distancing. You have to let your middle schooler play Fortnite for 8 hours a day, because that’s the only thing that will get him to leave you alone so you can work from home. You have to team up with other parents or relatives and shuffle the kids from house to house, knowing that you’ll be asking for much more help than any of your partnered friends or family.

But you cannot stop working. That is not an option. You have to keep your job if it’s at all possible. You need to pay the damn bills and since this is America, you have to have a job if you want to be able to go to the doctor. Which, of course, is something you’re more likely to need to do if you have to send your kid to day care or work outside the home. All of these choices increase your health risk as well.

But that’s the option. If you’re a single mom, these “choices” about school openings can feel not much like choices. The parent survey asks: “Do you want your kid to go to in-person school 1-2 days a week or full weeks every third week?” And every solo parent thinks, “how am I going to do this?”

To be fair, every parent in America thinks this same thing. It’s just amplified for single parents. And sometimes I hear comments or see posts online that tell me that many partnered parents really don’t understand how much harder it can be if you’re doing it alone.

Take this post that I saw the other day – a married mom meets a single mom at the waterpark and realizes that the single mom really needs childcare in order to survive. In many ways it’s a lovely post, and it shows how one (married) person changed her point of view. It’s been shared over 20,000 times, so clearly it hits a note with other people.

But it made me think: really? You hadn’t imagined that scenario – the one in which you have no other adult support – until you met this single mom?

I mean, I get it. There’s a lot I didn’t understand about loss and parenting before Shawn died. I was able to imagine that it must be harder to parent alone, for example, but I didn’t really get it. It’s often hard to understand something we don’t experience ourselves. (Yes, it’s hard for me too, on a host of other issues!)

But I’m here to say this: whatever difficulty there is for partnered parents, it is often much, much harder for single parents. Especially right now.

So what does this mean for opening schools? Listen, I’m a teacher too, so I don’t want to be cavalier about sending teachers out on the front lines without a good plan. But maybe this means we need to prioritize certain kids over others. Maybe we need to look at each family’s situation and say, “what does this family need?”

Maybe that’s untenable and maybe there would be too much pushback from parents. I don’t know. But I do know this: we can’t expect single moms to work full time with no reliable childcare plan.

If schools stay closed, we all need another option for our kids. Especially if you’re trying to do this parenting thing alone.


  • Sarah

    Thank you for bringing up all these points! I am an emergency nurse and solo parent and widow. I don’t believe in opening schools until it is 100% safe. I deal with so much guilt about all the time my 11 and 13 year old spend at home alone. I have help from friends and family and they are taking a risk spending any amount of time with us. It is mentally exhausting to figure it all out.
    -In solidarity, Sarah

    • M Brimley

      It’s exhausting! I totally get your point of view, and to be honest, I don’t really know if schools should be open or not. But we need a solution for people like you! I’m really glad you have help – it’s vital. Hang in there. And than you for your work!!

  • Katherine

    Thanks for recognising this Marjorie. I’m a widow with a full time job and 2 kids and I was beginning to think I was precious and entitled because it’s so frustrating hearing all the married parents complaining about how hard it is for them. Yet another complex and unexpected consequence of death and grief. My own boyfriend who is a widower with adult children said to me it’s hard for everyone all working parents are facing the same problems. I just don’t agree and was disappointed with his lack of insight. Thanks for validating my feelings. Take care.

    • M Brimley

      I think it’s really hard for everyone, I do. But I think that the solo moms I know are having the hardest time, as you note. My heart goes out to you! Hang in there.

  • DMV Widow

    Couldn’t agree more. It’s like you read my mind. This post is so timely. It’s been hard to hear from other people about their choices with respect to this fall, when widows or widowers generally have no choice. And, as with many things, I think it becomes jarring or even triggering based on how people express themselves regarding this issue, and whether they try to consider or at least hear the other point of view, and how hard this could be, versus simply glossing over it to get back to what would be best for them.

    So, thank you for writing this. I hope that it brings awareness to those who are not in our shoes. Hoping for good outcomes for the fall!

    • M Brimley

      I think it’s hard. I really don’t know what schools should do, and I think there really aren’t any good options. But I do think that some families are higher need than others (there are certainly families who are higher need than me) and I think we may need to figure out how to help those with greatest need. Hope you are able to figure out things for the fall!

  • Kelly

    Thanks Marjorie for a great article. Just last night our school board meeting was headed towards opening until some very brave teachers spoke so eloquently and factual against the plan. Fortunately, we have a superintendent who gets it even after working hard all summer on a plan. They are re-evaluating and taking into account all of the concerns, sending out a new survey and yes they are thinking of us single parents. It’s hard but know it’s the right thing. My kids would be forever changed if they got CV19 and gave it to me. After losing their dad to cancer, losing me is their worst fear.

    • M Brimley

      That’s true. My kids also live in fear of every single time I’m just a bit ill….and I think being a widow makes you more aware of the realities of improbable death. Thanks so much for your comment – it’s so important!