I just read one of my favorite bloggers' very well-worded rant about how insulted she is when parents crow/complain about being 'single parents.'
I'd like to add my two cents.
I commented on her post and mentioned that a lot of people tend to lump all single parents into the same category - that of 'unwed mother' as if the only way a parent could possibly be a single parent was to find themselves pregnant "by accident" and then not marry the child's father.
I have five children. They have three different fathers. I was married to two of those men. I have made some pretty poor (crappy, actually) choices in men over the past couple of decades. However I like to think that perhaps now I have my head on and pointed in the proper direction, and while I'm as sorry as I can be that my poor decisions left my children without a 'traditional' family in which to grow up, the fact remains that I am, and must continue, to do it on my own.
(Minor clarification: I did not get to raise my eldest for several reasons, and my second eldest hasn't been a member of my household for several years now as we are estranged. But the three youngest have been 100% my responsibility for about the past seven years; the father of children #4 and 5 is prohibited from any contact with them).
Now that my youngest child is 10 years old I don't need a sitter, but from the number of people who were willing to help out when I needed one, you'd think I live my life under a rock. Exactly one family was 99% always willing to watch one or more of them when I needed to take another to a doctor appointment or I had some child-prohibited activity I had to do. There were three other families who watched them......once or twice each. Those other families, by the expression on their faces, the tone of voice as they (obviously reluctantly) accepted my pleas in need of a sitter, made it perfectly and painfully obvious to me that they were REALLY doing me a favor.
The end result of all this? I haven't been to the doctor since I fully recovered from my very necessary carpal tunnel surgery three years ago. I haven't been to the dentist in about 5 years, I think. I got sick and tired of ALWAYS having the same (large) family watching my kids so I just decided I wouldn't do that any more. My kids have been 'sat' in their own home exactly ONE time by someone who wasn't their grandmother. Every other time someone has watched them, they've been at the other family's house. When I go away on a retreat my mom comes and stays with them - she got terribly offended the few times I had them stay with the same big family who would watch them for short stretches - but now she says she isn't going to do it any more. No, I have no idea what I will do now. Most likely not go on retreat until they are old enough to stay at home alone.
I realize that the majority of single parents do have a pretty decent support system (heck, I know single parents who actually have social lives!), but there are those like me who don't. (I think this probably has something, if not a lot, to do with the fact that I and a good many of my 'real-life' friends are Catholic - and I'm sure even my non-Catholic readers know that being Catholic and divorced is not the most friend-attracting combination).
So if you're married, thank your lucky stars. If you're married and know of a single parent who could use a break now and again, how about OFFERING? And if you happen to have the ability to actually sit those kids in their own home, how about OFFERING to do that? Married couples have sitters out the wazoo, and the last I checked the sitter came to the kids' home the majority of the time. Maybe that single mom you know would love to not have to load her kids into the car and schlep them to your house so she can go to the eye doctor/job interview/gynecologist (I once took my three youngest kids with me to a mammogram appointment, because I had to. I changed the appointment five times in an attempt to get a sitter and finally just told the appointment nurse that I had to bring them with me).
Oh, and you might have to OFFER several times before that single parent you've decided to help out will actually accept the offer. We single parents get used to the idea that it's all us, all the time, because usually it is.