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The Challenges of Being a Single Mother

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“So does your son go the bathroom sitting down?” This question will forever top my list of “Things Not to Ask a Single Mother.”

I’ve been shocked by how many people still seem to believe that a boy growing up in a female-run household will automatically behave in an overtly feminine way—apparently even in his most basic actions.

If anything, I think the situation has brought out a more stereotypically boyish side in me.

I’ve learned to play soccer, basketball, and a variety of other sports far better than I ever did growing up. I memorized the Friday night kiddush years ago. I've also picked up some rudimentary skills in carpentry, plumbing, and various other household repairs. The first time I changed a bicycle tire or fixed a leaking toilet, I felt a real sense of accomplishment and pride in knowing that I could really handle things.

Though I’m stretching to fill two roles at once, it is not the same as having a man in the house

Every year I threaten to dress up for Purim in a costume which on one side is a pink dress suit and pumps, and on the other side is one of those long black coats Chabad men wear on Shabbat—and when people ask me what I’m dressed up as, I’ll answer, “A single mother.”

Still, though I feel I’m stretching to fill two roles at once (I’m trying, at least), I know, and my six-year-old son knows, that it is not the same as having a man in the house. There is a certain type of energy that’s missing. Yet there are also moments when I sit down and cry, without knowing why or for whom.

I think the response of most people, after the divorce, has been non-judgmental and very supportive. Friends generally start calling around Rosh Hashanah to book a chance to dance with my son in shul on Simchas Torah—something that began when he was so young, and we were so new to the community, that the idea of asking anyone to take him to the men’s side for the traditional dance with the Torahs didn’t even occur to me.

And when I called someone once to cancel plans to eat at her house on Friday night because I had a fever, she sent over a delicious Shabbos meal—out of sensitivity to the fact that I didn’t have a husband to pitch in and defrost anything. The hardest thing, actually, about being divorced in an Orthodox community has been convincing people that sometimes we really do prefer to eat at home and it’s okay.

The first time I tried it was for the second Passover Seder after the divorce. All of a sudden, I felt this urge to create our own traditions and not tag along with anyone else. So we dodged one invitation after another, finally just telling people, “Oh, we’re already planning on having Seder with a family” (“our family,” I would think with a grin). We made it as far as the hard-boiled egg—singing songs from my son's kindergarten, reading the Sometimes we really do prefer to eat at home and it’s okay Haggadah in funny voices, dancing around the living room, and gradually getting through the Seder like any other family out there—with giggles, hunger pangs, eyes blurry from weeks of cleaning, and countless questions to add to the traditional four.

After my son fell asleep in my lap, I hurried through the rest and went to bed early. He woke up in the morning, delighted, and raced straight to the dining room table demanding “more Seder, more Seder.” So at seven AM we started all over again, without certain prayers, but full of joy.

Since then, I’ve tried to go out for Shabbat less and less and have guests more often, and balance that with Shabbat at home with just the two of us. I want him to have as normal a childhood as possible, and memories of his own to draw on when he makes his home someday—G‑d willing, with a partner who will always be his.

But it is not easy. For his part, my son has pointed out that other Abbas (fathers) come home at night. And there’s no way that hearing something like that from your own child won’t cut into you. He went through a stage where he wanted to know why his father and I were divorced. Instead, I explained why we were married. I explained how he needed to be born, we are the parents he needed, but that we weren’t meant to stay married, and it isn’t something that makes complete sense or that can be understood. But there are advantages to how things are, as well as some difficult aspects which are part of every life, and the collection you get is as unique as your soul.

As young as he is, I sometimes get the feeling that he understands what I say better than I do. And the truth is, more often than not, we both feel as if we have the most incredible life.

I will not toe a party line and say that my divorce was simply due to a lack of maturity on my part

The verbal feedback I do get, and it’s never in short supply, coupled with his overall personality and attitude towards life, shows that he gets it at least enough to handle “the situation” and to not feel held down by it. And that, in turn, is an enormous source of strength for me—as is his obvious appreciation for the things I do for him.

I remember one night when he woke up at two in the morning with a horrible stomachache. He doesn’t complain often, so I took it very seriously. Getting him to the health clinic meant bundling him up in blankets, putting him in his stroller, and jogging fifteen minutes straight up a dark mountain (we live in Israel with no car, and taxis are impossible to find in the middle of the night). In the end it turned out to be just the stomach flu, and the doctor prescribed plenty of rest and fluids for my son.

As I pushed the stroller down the mountain, listening to my son’s breathing as he fell asleep, I wished there was another adult in the house waiting up for us, to ask me how it went, to tell me I hadn’t panicked, maybe to offer me a cup of tea. My neighbors and friends have been enormously helpful and supportive, but you can’t knock on your neighbors’ door at three AM and ask for tea, even when they are as sweet as mine. Especially when they are as sweet as mine.

As I was carrying him into the apartment, my son woke up and smiled at me and said “thank you” in such a real way that all of my strength, and more, came back to me. Tea or no tea, I knew I’d get through this bout with the flu just fine.

Unfortunately, I can’t say that I always feel that strong or that sure of how I’ll handle things. Sometimes I’m not even sure how I’m going to pay the phone bill. Even so, I have no regrets. Nor am I willing to toe a party line and say that my divorce was simply due to a lack of maturity on my part (though it could be said about the fact that I went through with the wedding at all).

Part of the work of being divorced, which you don’t hear as much about, is the striving to be conscious of the good in your ex-spouse. When there’s a child involved, it becomes very important, because every child is a hybrid of both parents, and you see that as you watch your child develop. The strengths and weaknesses are both there, and you have to emphasize the child’s strengths and work with, but not against, the weaknesses. That won’t happen if you are covering your eyes emotionally to the humanness of the person you were once married to.

The One who gave us the Jewish laws of divorce is the same One who gave us the laws of marriage

You have to develop respect for him or her, and learn to bless him for the good he’s invested in your child, and see how the differences between you can now work together in harmony, encased in this one beautiful, little human being. I see that they do, and I marvel at it every time—how my son has character traits that are clearly mine and clearly his father’s, but in him, rather than creating a mini-war, it creates light.

Which is not to say there aren’t times when I'm still repulsed by his father’s behavior. But I try to look at the good in him, and when I can’t see it, I see it in his son. Because I’ve come to the conclusion that not only am I a part of my son and not only is his father a part of him, but how we relate to one another is also a part of him and how he looks at himself—and it can’t be with anger, hatred, or disdain.

Judaism is very much centered on marriages—the marriage between us and our Creator, the marriage of ideas, and the most sanctified of all, the marriage between a man and a woman. The perfection of these unions is the perfection of Creation itself, the whole purpose for which G‑d willed the world into being. So obviously, the decision to divorce is not one I entered into lightly.

Yet there are situations where divorce is not only allowed, but according to some, mandated. And the One who gave us the Jewish laws of divorce (gittin) is the same One who gave us the laws of marriage (kiddushin).

Ultimately, I sought a divorce precisely because I believe in the sanctity of marriage, and as much as the idea may threaten some, my home with my son is not broken and neither are we. But if I had stayed married, we would be. I was.

All divorces, like all marriages, are ordained in Heaven. When necessary, they effect, as described in the commentary Ramatayim Tzofim on Tanna D’vei Eliyahu, a redemption—comparable to our collective going out of Egypt, and a rectification of body, mind, and soul.

Whether I remarry or whether we continue as a family of two, I know that our lives—mine and my son’s—are unfolding, now, exactly as they were meant to, and that everything that has happened, including the divorce, is exactly what our souls need.

And while it isn’t an ideal situation, and things have been far from easy, I am so grateful for the love and friendship from so many around me. But most importantly, my struggles and difficulties have made me appreciate the good and hidden blessings in all aspects of my life. And I have a strength, faith and relationship with my Creator that I didn’t even know was possible. And when I know I have His support, then I know that I’m not a single parent after all.

By Anonymous
Image by chassidic artist Shoshannah Brombacher. To view or purchase Ms. Brombacher’s art, click here.
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Anonymous October 28, 2015

"If anything, I think the situation has brought out a more stereo-typically boyish side in me". This is quite true, I am not divorced but have to be the head of the family for most of the time due to our circumstances, and have learned many typically male oriented skills such as maintaining the car, repairing, using power tools (and saws)etc. It's the mom that becomes Tom-boyish out of necessity, the child does not become girlish.
Now I'm quite comfortable with my gumboots and shovel .
The best thing for a child is for the parents to remain amicable , fair and respectful of one-another no matter what the circumstance is. I learned this thanks to (thanks to chabad) reading "Parsha in-depth" regularly. Reply

Anonymous Toronto October 26, 2015

Single Mother ' s I honestley believe that I have been able to be a better stronger , more loving mother because I am a single mother. And , I know that my child appreciates and loves me for all I do. I think that even the biological father respects me, as well. And I certainly know that all the stereotypes about children from " broken homes " is untrue. Children of divorce have better than average problem solving skills , coping skills , listening skills ,persiverence , excellent negotiion skills , respect laws , do not approve of violence or destruction ( actually avoid violence & destruction )are very hard workers , appreciate their family & what they do have , and if anything ; are overachievers. They understand " positive thinking " more than most & certainly have survived ,B' H , heartbreak , disappointment , loss ( material & other ). Reply

Anonymous Toronto October 26, 2015

To All the Single Mother's I am so moved by all the comments made by single mothers. ' B' H. I feel such a closeness to all of you. Thank you so much for sharing. It means so much to know one is not alone in a " situation ". But , when I think of it ; everyone is in one situation or another. It seems we left our marriages for a safer life of our children. I hope the process has been successful for our children,and , they are able to have safe, happy , long , successful lives due to this. Our children certainly do deserve this ; all the trauma , heartbreak , loss ( homes , money , stature, as well as the break up of their families ). Our children have been able to have the unconditional love of both parents. .. We certainly did our best to ensure this ;and that their quality of life has been enhanced. B' H . While being a single mother may not always be easy ; no situation is. There are many resourses for single mother' s & children . Our children are able to grow up to become well balanced ,& productive . B' H Reply

Andrea October 25, 2015

Thank you!
Makes me cry... Your words touched my heart. .. I am separate from my husband now and I don't know if keep married or not. He committed adultery and he came back "repented " but it is hard to believe him. .. I have forgive him but I can't be married him anymore. ..but it is hard for me to take the desicion because I have 2 kids one with special needs. . So I feel like I have to keep married him.
I wish I could be strong enough to proceed with the divorce. .. I am still praying that G-d change his heart for sure and that what he becomes a trustworthy men.
Todah rabah and shavua Tov Reply

Anonymous toronto September 21, 2015

I think it is very important for people to know & understand the process of becoming a single mother. The Courts take this very seriously and it is a extreamly costly process. Single mothers must be 200% committed to their child, responsible , loving , non abusive ,loyal. dedicated , and be cabable of loving our children unconditionally. Single mothers obtain full custody because they are concerned for their child ' s safety & well being. There are many meetings with Lawyers , Judges , Physgologists , Teachers ; and anyone involved in the life of our children. Physgology test' are administerd to both parents & children. The mother must prove to the Courts that she is cabable to be a single mother. It is a honour to be given full custody of your child & be a single mother. Single mothers are to be respected. And no one has the right to take our children away from us. Reply

Elena May 11, 2014

Single Mom I was moved by your words and the feelings you expressed !! I too am a single parent yet my children are all grown up . You put into words what I felt when I first divorced and as I tried to support my children alone with no support from their father !! Unfortunately due to abuse my son, daughter and I had to go to a shelter for battered wives and as I had no job I went on welfare !!
I went back to school and raised our children alone yet I remember the question my children asked as they got older .I told them that their father had problems and was unable to be with us . I too wanted to them to know the good part of him , so when I was asked what he was like I talked about his good qualities , and when I felt they were old enough I explained why we left ,
Thank you and may Hashem bless you !!
Reply

Anonymous July 9, 2013

Single mothers Oh my! you have spelled it out exactly how I feel The crying for nothing, the feeling I hope I did the right thing (Although at the time I lived together with my husband I felt that my boy can grow up crazy if I go on like this) I try to be a good mother always smiling and hoping he grows out better than his father while at the same time respecting him. It's a little tough to balance these feelings.
it brought me tears. I'm inspired and uplifted.

Thanks Reply

Meghan Phoenix, AZ May 27, 2012

No community I read this because I was looking for support and to know I was not alone in my outrage, confusion and frustration. This encouraged me so much. Thank you Reply

Anonymous Stockton, Ca April 15, 2012

Very touching All of your comments and especially your story is very touching. I am a single mother of twins and when I say it is hard, its really hard. Sometimes to the point of no return and then its like my girls can feel it and they look at me with there big beautiful eyes and I know I have the strenght to keep going. Not for me but for them. I will sacrifise any and everything I can for them. I have felt everything you said in your story and its not a good feeling. But to be able to stand here and say you overcame gives me confidence as well. I know that I am not alone and it will pay off! Reply

Anonymous North Hollywood, CA March 7, 2012

Thank You for sharing your feeling I am a singel mom who gave whole life and love to her only son.I played with im soccer,football and many other games that uselly father's do,I try to proteced him from bad staff.I was mother and father for him.I love him so much,and I'm so thankful to G-D for giving gift to me to be a mother.It is so difficul to be single mom,but we are so strong for our kids love.I blive, that everythik happening for same reason.My husband started to use alcohol and drugs and he was abuser.This is why I choose to leave him,because I don't want my son to grow up in abusing situation.My life was not easy,but now after many years of suffering, I feel strong, and loved by my son and family.
My respect to all good single moms. Reply

Anonymous Bala Cynwyd, PA September 15, 2011

Thank You For Your Gift I was so moved by what your wrote. I am a single mother living in an Orthodox community, I have a 6 year old little boy and share custody with his father. His father has made a decision to no longer follow a religious lifestyle. Half of the time my son is being raised in a non observant household which showers him with fancy trips. In the next 6 months he will have an official stepbrother who is 3 years older than he is. The woman my ex is marrying is Jewish and unfortunately has not interest whatsoever in implementing any Torah values in the home. My son comes home and tells me that her "stepmother" told him dont talk about Hashem because kids will laugh at you", on the weekends he is with Dad, he is out doing fun things.. I am doing everything I can to raise him with Torah values and have a nice shabbos when he is with me. It is becoming harder and harder as he gets older. I have turned everything over to Hashem and know that my son has his journey. Hashem is in charge Reply

Anonymous San Antonio, TX May 31, 2011

Going through a divorce I'm going through a divorce and found this article inspiring. It's been very hard and we are still going through it. People tell me that if I leave it will damage the children, even though I see it the other way. They don't live or see what I see. I've felt G-d wanted me to leave but my family tells me to stay for the sake of the kids. We are going through counseling but I think its more for me to be able to do what I know is the right thing to do. Divorce. I know the children will be better off. I just need strength to do what is right according to what G-d wants in my life. It has brought me closer to G-d each day and the truth I find each day inspires me. Reply

Rachel Selby Jerusalem, Israel April 21, 2011

I have linked to this article I was inspired by this article, as a single mother myself. I have written about it in my blog and linked it to this page - I hope you don't mind, it's all positive. Thank you Reply

Chai Machli Rochel Manchester, U.K February 15, 2011

Have Happiness From Your Children I went to see the Kaliver Rabbi last night for a blessing and an audience. Initially, I was disappointed because he did not have time for a private audience; there were so many people their all expressing their needs and wants.To all the women with children he said ;"have happiness from your children" which I thought was strange because I DO have happiness from my children.Today, I saw that for ALL normal women with children the linchpin of their lives is their child/ren. Motherhood motivates us.It dictates our hopes and dreams for the future. The reverse side of this is that our children can give us the most pain. Because we care so much about them;want the best for them/ them to be the best/ have the best,etc, that relationship holds the most potential to hurt, pain, worry, disappoint, try us. Most " issues" that we have focus on them. We have the power to focus on the happiness rather than the negative. That way we (and by extension them), WILL have only Simcha. Reply

Anonymous Paris, France February 11, 2011

G-d Bless you Dear anonymous,

Your story touched me most deeply.

I am the son of divorced parents. In my case, the little war inside, between the two personalities of my parents, raged through all of my childhood.
As I grew to be a man, my priority task was to make peace inside. This I acheaved mostly, but at times, I am still hunted by melancholy.

I found profound comfort in your text, knowing that single moms (oh how I respect them) inspired by the Divine teachings of Torah, are breaking bounds to let their child grow without trying to weed their former partner's personality.

One thing I can say, though, is that being raised without my dad at home did not prevent me from becoming a man. Instead, G-d gave me teachers, men of Torah, to look up to.

Now that I am married with a son, standing by my beloved wife throughout all the rough times is my tender revenge.

May you and your son be blessed more than I can count and thank's for sharing your experience. Reply

Ziva S. New Orleans, La/USA February 10, 2011

right timing thank you for this article. I am a single mother (never married) and I often wondered if anyone else just cried after the little one was put to sleep and not know why or for whom... especially on the most awesome days. i appreciate your candor. Reply

J.G MANCHESTER, ENGLAND February 10, 2011

Single mothers I felt the same emotions as the other commetators on his article. However, what struck me was that there would be no single mothers if the fathers of these children had more love for their women and children. As a mother of 2 sons, how can I ensure that they do not turn out to be like their fathers? Reply

Anonymous London, England February 9, 2011

THANK YOU I am a single parent myself and had always said to my son that there is a “perceived” impression that children raised by a single parent are no good and “statistics” suggests the same, but ALL that remains under “statistics” & “perception”.
He is just 22yrs old now and he is a parents joy, pride & delight as an extremely intelligent and well behaved boy. Reply

Anika Chicago, IL February 9, 2011

A beauiful piece, thank you. Your son is lucky to have you. Chazak v'amatz!
G-d bless. And always surround yourself with good and wise people. Reply

Alison February 8, 2011

I always enjoy reading the emails form chabad. I am not divorced but have many dear to me that are. I have found your words encouraging to me that as a friend I must also look to the good in the ex-spouse even though loathing seems better. I share the same Father as you and though I am not Jewish, I have uncovered great treasures of love and joy in this and many other Jewish devotions

Thank you Reply