I recently had a conversation with a new friend who is a single mom and has just started to work as a Director of Religious Education. She spoke to the envy she felt for married women, as she didn't have any help with her kids or back-up when she had to go to work.
We talked about that, and I asked her to specify each of the things she imagined I had better than she did: someone at home to watch the kids when I go to work - NO, someone fixing me breakfast on Saturday mornings - NO, someone helping with house and car maintenance - NO. The only advantages I had over her were that I don't have to deal with a custody battle with an Ex and I don't have to worry about money as much as she does.
It's all so much more complicated than labels. When I was in grad school, some of my classmates would complain that they had trouble keeping up with the work load and being single parents. Not to belittle their struggles, but I secretly envied them the simple label. I also envied them their every other weekend free, as they could and would go out and party and have fun with all the single and unencumbered students while their Ex had the kids.
I compared this with my situation: married to a National Guard soldier deployed to Iraq and mother to a 9 month old baby. I had no family of my own in town, and the baby kept me isolated from my classmates because I wasn't free to hang out in bars or at their non-child-friendly houses. I spent grad school feeling horribly alone and just doing it all by myself.
After my husband came home from Iraq, we had a short period of time that felt like we were equal and happy partners. Then I got pregnant, then he got depressed. We've had some years of difficult relationship, and it seemed that it was all he could do to just be here with us. Now he is a commuter with a demanding job at a start up computer company. He can't guarantee being home, so I have to arrange childcare for all my evening work commitments (luckily I have GREAT arrangements, but still ...), and he doesn't have the time to do anything outside of work.
I don't want to bash my husband or our relationship - this is how we have worked out our partnership. It's not perfect, but no relationship is. I can get by, and I can do this. And, I know I am not alone. There are plenty of people who have a loving relationship that does not include childcare help or housework.
This is a long way of saying that we can't label or judge others' circumstances. Single parents, married parents, single folks without kids - everyone has their responsibilities and their challenges and somehow they are all getting by one day at a time.