Published on October 3rd, 2016 | by Tara Dorabji


Single Starts with Sin by TARA DORABJI

Do you consider yourself a single mom? A friend asks. My blood boils.


Reaction 1: Rage (need I say more?)

Reaction 2: Justify (do I really have to offer evidence that I am a single mom?)

Reaction 3: Investigate (what is the cultural significance of this?)


The word SINGLE starts with SIN. Single motherhood is considered shameful. Your children come from a broken home. It is a stigma.


I embrace being a single mom. Single with kids, never been married, and proud.

Do you consider yourself a single mom because the father still helps out?

I want to break these words. I imagine my fingers pressing into the trachea to stop the questions. Just because I make this shit look easy, doesn’t mean it is. Still helps out. A man shows up once in awhile, and the world applauds.

I swallow words like oversized pills, hoping they will dissolve in my stomach.

There are the facts. (Don’t worry, I don’t claim neutrality. Gravity exists, and I am the gravitational force of this piece.) My twin daughters were four when their father left. Walked right through the door. Once he got a place, he had them one night a week. Let’s pause, here. A man can walk out. Not pay a dime. Get with a new woman within days. Beg and plead to come back. Have the kids one night a week. Not buy clothes or pay for health insurance, or participate in the selection of school, or arrange for daycare, but this one night a week is progress. This is what equity looks like.

According to a United Nations Report, “In every region, women and girls do the bulk of unpaid work, including caregiving and household tasks such as cooking and cleaning. Women report that on average they spend 19 per cent of their time each day on unpaid labor versus 8 per cent for men.”

If it’s already taken care of, why bother?

So I took it to the other end of the spectrum. I dropped the man, do all the work, and get two nights off every week. Now, other women call me lucky when they hear me planning for my night out. The men in my life lean in and ask, Do you consider yourself single?

After a year and a half of my daughters asking their dad for more time with him, he went up to 1.5 nights a week. Now that he has a new baby, he’s at 2 nights a week with occasional weekends.


How on earth could I consider myself a single mom? After all, he participates! And I have the one commodity that most moms in America can’t begin to imagine – “me time.” Two nights a week “off,” where I can work late, produce radio, happy hour it up, vacuum, or enjoy the mediocrity of online dating.

When my kids are sick in the morning, I stay home from work or if work is hectic enough and I already spent two days at home that week taking care of sick kids, I send a pleading email to their dad, Please can you watch them today? I have a really important meeting. Or I call my mom, who has my back. My mom participates in raising my kids. Does that mean I am not a single mom because she will drive an hour on a Monday morning and watch my puking kid while I enjoy the privilege of showing up at work?

When my girl was so sick and she couldn’t keep anything down, she said, I need to stay home with you. I can’t go to Papa’s like this.

I get it. When shit gets hard, I got her. No matter what.


“Motherhood” by Crazybananas / Flickr Creative Commons

Some days, I send my kids to school sick and tell them if it gets bad, they can call me. One morning, my daughter said, “I’ll have them call Papa if I get sick. He can take care of me.” Later that day, he texted me (after the school called him), I have to go to work.

I didn’t text back, I am at work. I left work, picked up my daughter from school, bought Tylenol, and made her soup.

It’s simply normative that women carry the heavier load.

Some of my favorite people, amazing mothers in wonderful marriages, tell me, “I am jealous of you.” What they mean is, You spin such a damn good illusion that I’m drunk on you.

It is true: I have more time off as a single mom, than I had in my nuclear family. That just means my partnership was unhealthy. That calls into the question the healthfulness of the nuclear family as a building block for society.

But spare me the jealousy. The grass isn’t any greener. It’s just my grass. When the house is messy, it’s on me. I fix the leaking sink (or let it leak), paint the cracking paint, and let my garden grow with weeds. I either make it happen, or I don’t, and I guess there is simplicity in living like this. I don’t have anyone to blame, but myself.

The strongest part of me is the mom. Like when I get the flu, hurl, and still cook dinner. The part of me that when broken, devastated, and at the end of my rope, has two kids ready for school on time and they have their homework in their backpacks. Sometimes, I pretend that I am made of steel. Sometimes, I go in my bedroom, lock the door, and bawl. Sometimes, I curl up in the fire escape at work broken.

But, I always get back up.

I will dry my tears. I will package up my pain. I will come out and sweep the floor. I will try to shut down the endless sibling bickering.

I will probably yell.

I yell more as a single mom. Does that make me “justifiably” single? My children roll with pants that are too short, hair tangled, and strawberry jam smudged on their face. Everything is sticky.

At work, my boss mentions that it is a tough week because his wife is sick. I say I don’t have a wife and I’m sick. I get the job done and still pick up my kids on time.


Researchers found that the health risks of diabetes, cancer, arthritis and heart disease increased significantly more for woman with long workweeks than men. “Women generally assume greater family responsibilities and thus may be more likely to experience inter-role conflict and overload compared to men.”

I will find myself pressed up against a concrete wall and then ask why I built the wall.

I will search for my lover who might not exist. My lover. I will wish that he were holding me. I want for a moment to be cradled. I seek refuge.

My head will burst. My sinuses will be infected. I will yell because I want to be taken care of so bad. My children will visit me in bed. They will make messes. They will make dinner for me. They will give me a massage.

I think of the type of partnership I want them to witness. The type where I am still able to sacrifice, give, and receive without becoming depleted. This becomes a unicorn.

I delight in the brilliance of my children. They make good company. We are a family. My daughter leaves me a card that says, I love you with all my hart. Thank you for creating me. The other calls her 97-year-old great grandmother and reads to her when she cannot get out of bed. When my mother is hospitalized and gives me a list of things to bring her in the hospital: her make-up, ipad, foot cream, it is my daughters who run through the house, knowing the intimacies of my mother’s life, finding her most needed possessions in cabinets. At moments, when they have fallen asleep, and I can sit in silence, I become stunned by their thoughtfulness. They have learned empathy.

In this moment, I am whole unto myself.

I am not broken, but I am carrying a heavy load. I try to walk not run.

I go out “single” on a Thursday night. I am in boots. I radiate heat. I appear magnetic. I might have a drink. I will laugh. I will seem at ease. I will appear balanced and whole.

The word SINGLE starts with SING. Joy. Heart. Magic.


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About the Author

Tara Dorabji is a writer, strategist at Youth Speaks, mother, and radio journalist at KPFA. You can read Her Single Mom Secret in the bestselling new release about motherhood, So Glad They Told Me. Additional work is published in Al Jazeera, Jaggery, Tayo Literary Magazine, Huizache, Good Girls Marry Doctors (Aunt Lute 2016), Center for Asian American Media, Mutha, Censored 2016, and Midwifery Today. Tara is working on novels, set in Kashmir and Livermore. Her projects can be viewed at dorabji.com.

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