Why do single moms have to ask permission?

Categories: Best Practices, Missing Parent


My phone vibrates on my desk, and a picture of my son on a mossy tree stump lights up the display.  It’s my ex, my son’s Father, calling.

“Hello?” I say warily, bringing the receiver to my ear.  My friends all tell me they know immediately when Nolan’s father calls, they say a wary tiredness overtakes my voice.  I’m working on that. “Hi!” I try again.

“I’m going away next weekend,”he informs me,”Friday, back Sunday night.”

“Oh,”I say,”Well, OK.”

But it’s not like he was asking my permission.  He was informing me: he’s going away for the weekend so I’d better swap out any plans I may have had: I’ll now have our son for the weekend.

I am silent, willing myself not to be petty.  I don’t ask where he’s going, why he’s giving up his weekend with Nolan.  Our son is not a chore, after all, and I shouldn’t feel any resentment about spending extra time with him.  And yet I’m irritated because it’s not like I could ever do the same thing, be afforded the same luxurious spontaneity.  If I were to call my ex to tell him that I needed a Girlfriend Roadtrip and that he’d better put the bike and the rugby cleats away for next Saturday and Sunday - he’d sputter in disbelief and hang up the phone on me.  And then text me to tell me: no way in hell.

As a single Mom, I’m deemed the Permission Asker.  I don’t ever “tell” my ex I’m going away for the weekend, nor do I assume he’ll assist if Nolan needs to be taken to the Doctor, or kept home from daycare if he’s feeling under the weather.  If I need a slice of time for work, my friends, myself - I need to ask permission and hope I’ll be granted it.  It’s not a given, not as simple as a phone call to say: hey, I’m going away for the weekend.

I’m not an anomoly: every single Mom I know is in the same boat.  Their exes can float in and out at will, taking time for camping trips and week-long vacations, while Mom is left holding the bulk of the responsibility.  If she wants a camping trip - she’s going to have to plead a little - and even then, it’s not a given.  I wonder why this is.


My best friend is getting married this summer.  She is 34 years old, and never thought it would happen for her.  Her fiance is beautiful and committed and amazing, and I’m blazing with hope and happiness for both of them.  She’s asked me to be at her wedding, of course, and I want to be at her stagette, too.

I ask permission: can I take off for a weekend in July?

The answer: “I’ll have to check my schedule.”

I don’t expect to hear back anytime soon, and I think my son might be accompanying me at my best friend’s wedding.  I can juggle, of course, and accomodate and make it happen, because that’s what we must do, as single Moms.  But sometimes, honestly, I hate the double standard.  And wonder if there’s anything I can do to negate it.

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37 comments so far...

  • I experience many of the things you are talking about and I am a married mom.

    Sharon  |  June 17th, 2009 at 6:36 am

  • I’m technically not a single mum any more, as I’m in a relationship. However, I am a ‘mum no longer in a relationship with the child’s father’ - and I totally, utterly, completely know where you’re coming from. I could have written this myself. :o/

    Anji  |  June 17th, 2009 at 7:56 am

  • Wow. The story of my life…
    My ex is absent in mine and my son’s life…I find myself pleading for help from my parents. It gets old..especially after they preached they would be supportive and help out when I was expecting my little one.

    Stacy  |  June 17th, 2009 at 8:40 am

  • hi K….I’m really not in the same boat…because I’m not a single Mom…I am however a big fan of yours, I think I’ve told you before!

    What struck me in reading this….is that I think almost ALL of the women I know…married or divorced (seperated, etc..)..with children are deemed the Permission Asker. I’m not saying my husband is a bad guy…in fact he’s a pretty good guy. We’ve had our problems recently but we are working through them productively, I hope. My husband is also sensitive, does the laundry, most of the cooking, etc…he’s really quite progressive…BUT (there’s always a but) One thing remains….I am the defacto parent….always. I am in charge of food, clothes, fevers and gifts…

    I *used* to think that I somehow got the short end of the stick…that other partners couldn’t be like this…I was educated, strong and independant…but what I seem to be noticing, is among my other educated, strong and independant friends and acquaintances….it is the SAME THING.

    Granted it IS more complicated when you are seperated from your child’s father and, I think, more difficult…because I think that there are much greater chances of being turned down, etc…but the fact remains that I (along with countless others) still have to ask permission….which is kinda fucked…and I’m not sure how to change this….

    wn  |  June 17th, 2009 at 8:40 am

  • Well, so far all of us seem to be in the same boat, married or single. I don’t know if that should make either party feel better or worse.

    I’m with wn, it’s fucked, and I’m not sure how to fix it. Hang in there.

    Heather  |  June 17th, 2009 at 9:15 am

  • Wow, I thought I was the only one this happens to. Would love to read all the advice on this one.

    loly517  |  June 17th, 2009 at 9:45 am

  • Your ex’s choice to value rugby or whatever over time with his son cannot be negotiated. He’s amazingly short sighted not to realize that the window of opportunity to spend time with our kids before their own priorities, peers, and schedules are the overriding factors is incredibly limited.

    Just to acknowledge a truth: There are many dedicated dads out there who value time with their kids no matter what has caused the relationship with the “other parent” to crumble.

    Your ex’s choices do not have to dictate your plans. If your friend’s wedding is not a “kid friendly” event, swap child care with another single mom, and have a great time!

    And, if hearing is voice is upsetting, set some boundaries. Ask him not to call you at work or at all and e-mail instead.

    Dr. [email protected] www.singlemommyhood.com  |  June 17th, 2009 at 10:00 am

  • This double standard makes me sick. There’s just no gray here. It’s as black and white as anything I’ve ever heard of. This is wrong. Period.

    You’re a great mom, an incredible mom, and you deserve to get away without having to ask permission or feel guilty. I’m so sorry your son’s father doesn’t respect that.

    She Likes Purple  |  June 17th, 2009 at 10:40 am

  • What would have happened, if, when he pulled the “I’m going away…” line you had said “Okay, have a nice time, who are you leaving our son with since its your scheduled time and I can’t cover for you”?

    I’m honestly curious. My only experience is secondhand, and to say that her relationship with her exhub is acrimonious would be polite. He pulled enough of this crap (this crap = taking off on his weekends and leaving her high and dry and needing to scrap her plans at a moment’s notice) that she started documenting things with the legal system. Granted, it is not a polite nor pleasant way of handling things…

    CV  |  June 17th, 2009 at 10:51 am

  • A single mom friend of mine started doing just what CV asked about above, and it was the only thing that finally got the father of her child to stop this kind of behavior. He’d call and say, “Sorry, I’ve got this thing on Wed. night, I can’t take E.,” and she’d say, “Huh. Well, I guess you need to find a babysitter.” I think she did start by giving him names of sitters she knew/trusted/had used before (b/c otherwise it might be scary to leave that decision in the hands of someone so irresponsible). But it was REALLY interesting.

    Shannon  |  June 17th, 2009 at 1:30 pm

  • I haven’t read all the comments, but I don’t think I’m alone in saying this. I don’t think this a single mom phenomena, I think it’s a men vs. women thing. A few years ago I noticed that my husband was really good at making sure he got all the time he needed for himself. While I always put myself at the bottom of the list. I was always asking permission and he was just informing me. I think the difference here though, is that my husband and I talked about this and have made some adjustments. I realize that’s a lot easier when we both care about making the other happy. Quite different with an ex. My best single mom friend has this all the time too. Only her main issue is with her ex’s wife. She is constantly dictating how ex will spend time with his daughter. Age old question, not sure what the answer is except that as my mom was always fond of saying, you can’t be a doormat unless you lay down in front of the door. I know that may not always apply, but perhaps you’d be surprised at the results if you took a little more charge of the situation.
    Good luck.

    Kim  |  June 17th, 2009 at 3:07 pm

  • You know, I never thought that this was an issue with married Mom’s too. Interesting to see that it seems to happen with both married and single Mom’s. It’s sad really…and I wonder why it is that way?

    Christine  |  June 17th, 2009 at 7:39 pm

  • I travel for work, so that time away is not optional. However, I *never* go away by myself, and I never take time away from the family to do things by myself. I make hair appts during work time and take vacation hours. Because god-forbid I should spend any of the family time away from my children.

    My husband had a golf weekend about a month ago. We had a huge fight when he informed me that he was going away. I was furious.
    I told him that I was going to take a weekend just for myself. He told me to go ahead, but of course I haven’t done it!!

    So married, single, I think it is a woman thing, and a family-comes-first thing. As frustrated as it makes me, I kind of think our priorities are in the right place…

    spacegeek  |  June 17th, 2009 at 8:40 pm

  • I love the idea of giving the dude a list of recommended babysitters for the times when he wants to shunt his kid off. However, the flip side of that is that this makes it even less likely that you’ll hear “OK” when you “ask permission” to go away yourself.

    I know your ex isn’t the easiest person to reason with. But to me, this is more about what he wants his relationship with his son to be, rather than how he wants to schedule his leisure time. Personally I’d rather take 100% of the responsibility myself than try to negotiate with him - but you are doing him a favor by facilitating the dad-son relationship. I think you just have to convince yourself to change your attitude. Repeat: you are doing him a favor, not the other way around. How do you think he would respond to: “if you don’t take the responsibility you have negotiated, I can no longer plan his and my life around the negotiated visitation schedule. If it comes to that, he will be with me 100% of the time until I notify you otherwise.” Put him in the position of asking your permission, and see how he likes it.

    SKL  |  June 18th, 2009 at 10:55 am

  • I’ve taken to being fairly resigned about the Friday noon call that says, “I told you I was going to wedding in Ohio tomorrow, right?” (As if).
    But then if I need the time, I’m forceful and I do bring up the fact that I never quibble when he needs the time off. It was easiest because it started with work (”if I don’t go on the retreat I’m fired; you really want to have to renegotiate the child support with me not working?”).

    It got easier from there. Occassionally there’s a little bump but for the most part, I get the time I want & need. I do still “ask” more than I should but I get a lot more yeses now that realizes how “helpful” people are to the single dad with kid (I couldn’t walk into the dentist office and have the receptionist offer to watch my kid; he can).

    Mich  |  June 18th, 2009 at 11:30 am

  • I think we all experience this as moms but single moms definitely have more of it. I have had many single mother friends whose ex’s cancel plans with the children for a “hot date” or go out and party on a regular basis. But even with a partner it infuriates me because I still take the bulk of it. If I have to work on a weekend, he will have no problem with watching our son but it comes with a price. Either later that day or the next day, it means that he gets to go out and do whatever he wants to do all day and have the day to himself because he “helped” me out. The last episode of this ended in a huge fight as I was attending a class one weekend so that I could pass a state licensing test that I had to take for my career. Geez - sounds like a blast, huh? So the next weekend he decided that because he was “stuck” the whole prior weekend, that I had to stay home with our son who happened to be sick on “my” weekend while he went canoeing. Why he couldn’t have fun with our son on his weekend ans stayed trapped in the house, I have no clue.

    Oceans Mom  |  June 18th, 2009 at 1:25 pm

  • Having been on of the 14% of single parents who are men, I can share from my experience that it wasn’t a gender issue in my case. My ex was out of state for 4-6 months at a time and when she was local she was undependable. In fact, I more than once paid the air fare to make sure my son was able to spend time with her, time she had been promising hi9m since their last visit.

    Having said that, I agree with CV - you get what you let other people give you. Just because they (ex’s) make a statement that they will be “unavailable” doesn’t put the responsibility on you. In fact, the ex will respond and you train them to respond.

    Things didn’t change until I said enough. And then, miraculously she was able to afford child support, and keep her promises and obligations. Who knew!


    Richard Baum, Seattle Career Coach Examiner  |  June 18th, 2009 at 2:28 pm

  • I am a single mother in a relationship and yep, same happens to me. My ex will go away all the time which is fine because I don’t like sending my son to him on weekends anyway so it’s extra time for me. But when I want to go away I send an email and ask, ask nicely if he is available to have the kids that particular weekend. Of course, I NEVER get a response from those types of emails. I always have to email again and ask him to his face. “oh! did you expect a response from that email? Sure, I think that’s ok, can I get back to you?” ?Sigh. And grrrrr. Hope you can work it out. I know we all love our kids, but sometimes it’s nice to go away without them and know that they’re being looked after. Peace of mind.

    Jennifer  |  June 18th, 2009 at 8:02 pm

  • I think your first mistake was answering “Oh, Okay”. It should have been “And…?”.

    Make him say the words. Make him say that he needs you to take Nolan. Make it awkward for him. Your ex has it too easy.

    joyce  |  June 18th, 2009 at 9:08 pm

  • I’m a married mom to a man who is extremely involved in our children’s lives. But, I am still the one who always finds the childcare and is always arranging things so that I can get time alone. Sometimes I don’t do things for myself because it’s just too much trouble to make the arrangments. Like another commenter said, I don’t think it’s a single vs. married mom issue, it’s a men vs. woman issue.

    Sharon  |  June 19th, 2009 at 7:10 am

  • Hmm…

    Although this might, indeed, be the rule, for the sake of fairness, I have to point out that there are exceptions. My husband would be one of them.

    His ex was abusive–both physically and emotionally–throughout their relationship and by the time he finally left, they had created a beautiful little girl.

    They have had 50/50 custody, and for the first few years, my hubby had his little one much more frequently because of moms vacations and various emergencies (oh, the drama). This was fine with us, he would take ANY opportunity to see his daughter more often. We never once asked her to take their daughter during our time and instead, spent the time we had with her *with* her.

    One day her mother decided that–despite the fact our households had equivalent child related expenses and that we were already paying her child support regardless of the fact that we had their daughter most of the time–she should get child support from J. And though we did not go into court looking for support from her, the court decided that *she* should actually be paying *him* and ordered her to pay ALL the court expenses.

    Things got even uglier. Of course, she never paid a dime in ordered child support, and she began withholding access to their daughter in order to change the balance of custody so that the child support decision would be reversed. She threatened to bankrupt us by way of a lengthy court battle. Her selfishness and pathological inability to be reasonable overshadowing her daughter’s well being.

    In the end, her continuous (and increasingly creative) harassment and my fear that she would follow through on her threats and that we would find ourselves in financial ruin (with my own very young child with special needs to care for, at this point) led me to ask my husband to consider giving up the level of custody he had so that we might move away and find some peace.

    Almost two years later things have been much less stressful without the ex and her bullying in our everyday lives, but now she is able to heavily restrict J’s access to their daughter. He phones her several times a week, but her mother will only allow him to speak to their daughter every couple of weeks, and then she has the nerve to say “you don’t care about A and don’t even know anything about her”. All the while, she trashes us to their young child in an attempt to undermine our relationship. This, A talks about with sadness, obviously aware that it is inappropriate.

    A comes to see us several times a year, and it is heartbreaking for all of us when it comes time for her to leave. She’s never ready to go, begging to stay and, of course, we would prefer she was able.

    If we had the means, we would fight for full custody, but we don’t and by contrast, J’s ex is quite well off (both she and her third husband make a good living). For the time being, we have to enjoy the time we have with their daughter and hope that we’ve made enough of a positive impact on her early on, so that when she is able to choose, she will decide to come live with us, just as her older brother (from her mother’s first husband) chose to go and live with his father.

    This is WAY longer than I intended it to be. Obviously this is a painful topic for me. I know and really resent the stereotype of the deadbeat dad or the absent father and I feel the judgement every time I mention I have a step-daughter. The assumption that my husband must be “one of those” men, and he is not.

    I am SO very sorry that your ex is this way. I can’t imagine how hard it is on you and on your young son. I’m sorry that so many other men are like this as well and that because of them better men are cast in the same light.

    Bee  |  June 20th, 2009 at 10:20 am

  • Ok, I’m not a single mom, but I can relate to this on another level. IMHO, women, particularly mom, have ALWAYS put themselves LAST and everyone else first. Because of that, we have somehow got it into our heads that it doesn’t matter what we want, it only matters what they want, and only when they’re satisified, is it ok for us to even want something for ourselves.

    About 12 years ago, I myself went thru a very hard period of this while having to deal with my parents and their illnesses and subesquent deaths. I am an only, as is my daughter. Hubby was a retail manager. At that time, he never offered once to take care of daughter while I was away or had to go somewhere. My MIL couldn’t do it and we didn’t have extened family in town to help. It was left up to me to do litereally everything. So, like you’ve stated, I ended up dragging her along with me into situations that, in reality, she had no business being in, but I simply had no choice.

    After my father died, and I was left to take care of mom (who lived 360 miles away), I finally had had enough. Instead of “asking permission” for him to take care of daughter, I simply started saying, “I have to go….. You are in charge.” I have him no option, no further “Can you?” There simply was no one else to handle things and he HAD to be forced to pick up the slack, regardless of whether he wanted to or not.

    And you know what? Once I did it, I no longer felt guilty or conflicted. He helped create this life; by hell, he could damn well help take care of it.

    It worked.

    I guess the moral here is - do NOT feel guilty if you DON’T ask for permission. He obviously doesn’t, so why should you? You have a RIGHT to your own happeniness and time alone. TAKE IT.

    I simply gave enough advance notice (when I could) that this “let me check my schedule” bs was irrelevant.

    What it also comes down to is this - if you allow yourself to be a doormat, that’s EXACTLY how you’ll be treated.

    JD  |  June 20th, 2009 at 10:56 am

  • Perhaps the way to negate it is to stop accepting it yourself. I obviously don’t know the whole story, but when he called and said he was going away for the weekend, you could have said: “Where are you taking Nolan? Because he’s with you this weekend.” or “Then you’ll have to swap Thursday with me.”

    We women, sometimes we are subjected to double standards: there’s certainly a long way to go in terms of equality of the genders. But sometimes, we women, let double standards happen because we don’t stick up for ourselves. Stick up for yourself. And have no guilt about it. Just tell him no, put your foot down, keep your weekend, and make him take the next sick day.

    SIngle Mom with Tiny Tot  |  June 20th, 2009 at 9:06 pm

  • I know exactly what you mean and I go through the same thing! After I get off the phone I think, “GOOD LORD why do I feel like I need to ask his permission”. But the fact is, I do. He’ll go away for the weekend and not even tell me (sometimes I get called when he’s already left). However, when I see how fast my baby girl is growing, i’ll take every minute with her I can get. On the other hand, I can’t deny that I would love to take off for a girls weekend on a moments notice once in awhile. But, at least he’s a great dad and loves her immensely. I wouldn’t trade that part for the world.

    Colleen  |  June 22nd, 2009 at 9:53 am

  • totally unfair and totally the truth. i already suffer in this area being married. i get WAY less “free” time than he does.

    krystyn  |  June 22nd, 2009 at 12:18 pm

  • I’m married, so I don’t pretend to understand your sitch. I’m sorry it is so hard for you, though, Kristen.

    I just wanted to say, as a married mom, BOTH of us ask. Because it is respectful. “Hey, I wanted to make plans with so-and-so to see a movie Saturday night. Is that cool?” “Sure, honey. Have fun.” That’s generally how it goes… for both of us.

    Robyn  |  June 23rd, 2009 at 11:49 pm

  • Oops. Kristin.

    Robyn  |  June 23rd, 2009 at 11:49 pm

  • Yes, this is the way it is for me too. I have bagged out of work for a week (a week she was scheduled to be at his house) to take care of a sick kid while dad drops in for five minutes after work on his way home to his fiancee and boys. I work half time to maximize my time with our daughter. I think that its not just about asking permission (and therefore given some sort of an upperhand to the other parent) but I’m the one making sacrifices (even when that is just an afternoon off work to take her to the doctor).

    I don’t hold out really high hopes that this will chage at somepoint in the next fifteen years. And I don’t make an issue of it to my kid or her dad. Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way than to be the one who is ‘in charge’ of her important stuff and the one who gets to comfort her when she is sick.

    I think too, (or at the very least I hope hope hope) that the end result will be that she takes notice of it. That she knows that mom was always the one who made herself available. I think it will all pay off in the end.

    NotCarol  |  June 24th, 2009 at 2:05 pm

  • Fabulous post! I feel the exact same way you do! First it was seeing my son every weekend and some week days…now it is down to 2 days a month. Ya know what, I still get..”umm…I have to work…go somewherem etc” from him on weekends he is to be with my son. Then I have to tell my son the bad news. And a lot fo the time…I did have plans. I know if I did that he would flip. I get on the pity pot sometimes about it because not only do io work full time and feel like mom and dad, I go to school at night to get another bacholers degree! UGH…maybe some day things will be different. But I am totally with you on this one!

    Kate  |  June 24th, 2009 at 3:32 pm

  • Great post. I usually just lurk here but had to chime in. I know just where you’re coming from, with feeling like you’re asking permission all the time, whenever you make/change plans. I have always felt this way since I’ve had children, even though I’m married. My husband has numerous weekends away with the guys, and I’ll never get even, though I do try to get away on my own for an evening with my friends here and there.

    I agree with those who say, don’t make it so easy for him to dump on you. Could you pleasantly ask, “Which weekend would you like to swap instead?”

    It doesn’t seem right that courts hand out these custody agreements, but if you as the custodial parent didn’t allow your ex his visits, he could take you to court. What about him not living up to his end of the agreement, could you take him to court and try to get something out of it, like more child support in exchange for fewer weekends? What’s the recourse for a single mom, I wonder? I’m not saying you should go through the stress of taking him to court, but I’m just saying it’s unfair that he can just shirk his responsibilities without worrying about the consequences.

    By the way, I’m happy for you that you got away from this guy. Enjoy your three-year-old boy - that is my absolute favorite age! If you do take him to the wedding, I’m sure you’ll have a blast.

    Kathy  |  June 25th, 2009 at 9:13 am

  • I think this is a common phenomenon whether you’re married or single. My marriage is a bit unbalanced when it comes to housework and cooking, but when it comes to going out I never have to ask permission, and neither does my spouse. Of course we’re courteous in considering the schedule of the other, but if I want to go out, I go. And I don’t feel guilty.

    Sheryl  |  June 25th, 2009 at 9:41 am

  • Heart is with you on this, Kristin. I was a single mom for 11 years, and my ex- moved away as soon as we split up, so there wasn’t any occasion for me to ask (which I wouldn’t have anyway). But the few times he was in town or had the kids visit him almost invariably resulted in tears and a need for healing time.

    Everybody has good points in the comments–man vs. woman, unassertive vs. assertive. But when this phenomenon occurs because of pathology, even appropriately assertive behavior can backfire on your kids.

    Here’s to good mental health and strong self-images for all of us!

    BarbaraSWWAN  |  June 25th, 2009 at 1:05 pm

  • “let me check my schedule” - classic

    im glad this phenomena doesn’t go unnoticed

    anothersinglemom  |  July 8th, 2009 at 4:21 pm

  • Just thought I’d let you know this article has been featured in today’s edition of the Carnival Of Feminist Parenting. :)


    Anji  |  July 12th, 2009 at 4:32 pm

  • I am the late son 37 years old of a singgle mother, who negleted her resposiiblilities, I would only advise you after reading your email that the proetection of your son is important…. and if you are the only one to give it comfort (by the sounds of your email to give your son, love comfort and protection)..

    that’s the price of having a child.

    ps. they might not be the best but I can provide ideas (being a boy) on cheapish presents that your son might like..



    Adam Banks  |  July 26th, 2009 at 7:03 pm

  • I get a little bit emotional when reading your post…i’m upset…not for me…but for my children…and how their relationship with their father is only available when its convient for him.

    i blogged about your post on my blog. thanks for sharing. i hate feeling like the only one and no one understands.

    christa elyce  |  November 2nd, 2009 at 11:28 am

  • I read this book entitled ‘why women don’t ask’
    Is to do with career - but can be applied in this situation also!

    NK  |  March 11th, 2013 at 3:06 pm