Back to School Night. Alone

by singlemomseeking on September 23, 2009

Tomorrow is Back-to-School Night. I’ve gone every year solo — and it will be no different this year. Jeesh, it sounds like I’m getting ready to host a pity party. The truth is, going alone one isn’t as hard as it used to be. (If you’re a new single parent, it really does get better. Really.)

I’ll never forget that first Back-to-School Night: how I squeezed into one of those tiny plastic chairs with my ballpoint pen and handouts. I was surrounded by couples. I didn’t want to look up from my photocopies and see how she was smiling at him, and how he nodded back. Later, on their way home, they’d share beginner reader’s tips and wonder how the transition into kindergarten was going.

chair classroom

As much as I’ve gotten used to going solo, some part of me imagines having that very sweet Lucky Guy join me at Back-to-School Night someday. We’ll sip carbonated water in the hallway before the teacher calls us in. I’ll introduce him to all of the other parents. It’s too early now, although I do think he’d be open to coming if I asked.

As I sat alone yesterday, thinking about all of this, my Dad knocked on the door: it’s his day with his granddaughter. When he walked in, I smiled. What’s with all this feeling-sorry-for-yourself? Sure, I might be going to Back to School Night solo, but my Dad really is the man in my daughter’s life. Right now.

“Hey, Dad, want to see what M is doing in fourth grade?” I said.

“Sure,” he said.

I handed him the thick Back to School pamphlet, which was filled with details about the entire curriculum for the full year. We had a great talk about homework and what his role should be as grandpa: tutor? friend? He knows every important detail about my kid: which graphic novel series she is reading, and which spelling words are stumping her this week.


Do you ever think about what it would be like to have a partner at your side? As I filled out the Back-to-School survey tonight — the teacher asked us to let him know any concerns beforehand — I wanted some reminder that I’m not alone. So, I put the word out on Twitter, and heard back from a number of single moms.

Staying Home with My Son, IrishAMom Speaks, and Spark Wisdom Tweeted right back that they’d gone to Back to School Night solo recently. Funny how the Internet can give you this sense of instant community with perfect strangers. Thank you.

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Monica October 4, 2009 at 12:34 pm

So I attended my first back to school open house for my kindergartener. It was nerve racking enough, but then 15 minutes into it, my uninvolved ex-husband decides to show up with his girlfriend. OMG! I stood there trying to stay focused and I did as best as I could. It’s so complicated, but the reality of it is that she really loves my son and I appreciate that, but I do not believe taht she should have been there. I want to draw a boundry on this, but I’m not sure how to. My ex and I do not speak—really- not at all and when I think we can, he automatically starts a fight about child support being too high. I do speak to her, but I do not know how to approach it. It’s done and over with, but what other school function is she going to show up for. Maybe I am just being difficult and instead I should appreciate that she wants to be involved. Any thought?


xanmom September 29, 2009 at 9:13 pm

all your notes have been comforting to read, been divorced 7 yrs and always find open houses/curriculum nites kind of lonely. now have two kids in college, one still in middle school, and finding it a tad better. now go to parent’s weekends at colleges as a single mom. its true we need to embrace that we are single, also true we compare our insides with other people’s or family’s outsides. we never really know how those couples are together. I still romanticize all married couples as having that “partner for life” but I realize many can’t stand to be in the same room w each other.


Dora September 24, 2009 at 4:12 pm

This is fascinating to read. As a “choice mom” to be, I really related to Kat’s comment. Although I do understand Helen POV. Some people do just get left. Partners walk out, partners die. Marrying and having a child with someone is no guarantee that you will raise that child together. Maybe I just know too many unhappily married or divorced couples to idealize it.

I have a while to go before I have to deal with school functions, as I’m still cooking my daughter (28 weeks now!), but as a single mom by choice (to be), this is exactly what I signed up for. I guess after all the injections I gave myself to get and stay pregnant, all the tests and procedures, all on my own, meeting with my child’s teacher doesn’t seem daunting or sad at all.

Rachel, M sounds like an awesome girl. Remember that when you go to talk to her teachers, YOU can take credit for that.
.-= Dora´s last blog ..Eight Years Later =-.


SDMktg September 24, 2009 at 1:47 pm

Kat’s comment really depends on whether or not there’s a co-parent involved or not. My ex certainly isn’t “doing it all by herself”. We have joint custody and the kids live with me about 60% of the time. When I was a kid we “visited” my dad at his place. Now my kids have two homes where they “live” and where they are very much loved and missed when they’re not home.

The funny thing is I pretty much never find myself wishing I had a partner in parenting. My mom never had one and she made it work. I could use a maid and I enjoy spending the rest of my life with my girlfriend but when it comes to being a parent I think I’m doing ok.
.-= SDMktg´s last blog ..Review: Top 10 Tips for Awesome Tailgate Parties =-.


MindyMom/Single Mom Says... September 24, 2009 at 9:43 am

Ya know? Even when I was married I went to most of that stuff alone. Yes, I do wonder what it would be like to have someone by my side – for many things.
.-= MindyMom/Single Mom Says…´s last blog ..Hot Yoga Hottie =-.


Kat Wilder September 24, 2009 at 7:22 am

SMS, you know I adore you, but I get disheartened when I read posts like this.

Forgive me for sounding harsh (I don’t mean to), but it smacks of the Prince Charming fairy tale we women never seem to get out of our head — that someone will come rescue us … or be by our side … and we’ll live happily ever after.

The reality is once we decide to be single moms — whether by choice or saying the words, “I want a divorce” — we must accept and embrace that we are alone and doing it all by ourselves (well, with a community of friends and family). Wishing and hoping and dreaming of a partner isn’t real — not to say that that doesn’t happen sometimes. But the more we wish and dream for it, the more we can’t be present in our reality; We are single. Period.

I wish more choice moms would read posts like this so they would absorb what they’re signing up for; if,even nine years after, the wanting and wishing is still there, do they really want that, too?
.-= Kat Wilder´s last blog ..All the good men are taken, but don’t let that stop you =-.


singlemomseeking September 24, 2009 at 9:44 am

@Kat: This is why I adore you, too. You keep it real. Thank you.

As much as I want to be the strongest, most self-confident single mom 100 % of the time… I do have moments in which I long for more. Call it what you want: neediness, a bit of desperation. I’m not proud of it. These moments have come very and far between lately. But they still arise sometimes.

You’re so right: in the end, this kind of fairytale thinking DOES take us out the present, doesn’t it? In the end, I am alone and only I can hold myself in these moments. Thank you.


Kat Wilder September 24, 2009 at 5:08 pm

I adore you, too. And, you know, those fairy tales are hard to give up …. 😉
.-= Kat Wilder´s last blog ..All the good men are taken, but don’t let that stop you =-.

Helen F September 24, 2009 at 11:26 am


I may have missed something as a newbie, but I certainly didn’t ‘decide to be a single mom’. My husband of 15 years walked out 5 years ago, leaving me with three small kids, no child support and no help. I started a small business and now manage well financially.

I live 800 miles from my family in a rural area, and loneliness is part of the deal. But being a single mom it’s not a deal I signed up for: I signed up to a lifelong marriage. So it’s not surprising if we dream of romantic love, partly because it’s a way to deal with a lonely, desperate reality.


Kat Wilder September 24, 2009 at 5:02 pm

That’s why I (hoped I) made a clear distinction — choice moms, and women who said, “I want a divorce.”

Those whose partners walk out or die are exempt from that sort of thinking as they did not choose it. Life, in all its randomness did.
.-= Kat Wilder´s last blog ..All the good men are taken, but don’t let that stop you =-.

Caryn September 23, 2009 at 11:30 pm

Ugh…I hate this time of year. I’m always the only single parent, no one wants to talk to me because I look younger than 30 and god forbid I take someones place on the volunteer list for the one thing I CAN do during the year…When exactly does it get better, especially with two kids 5 years apart?


SDMktg September 23, 2009 at 7:07 pm

My situation is sometimes similar to T’s where we go together and because we’re civil people assume we’re together. We took a co-parenting class together (I “made” her go) and people almost fell out of their chairs. I even had to tell one teacher to change our email addresses because we aren’t “Mr and Mrs”. The teachers figure out pretty quickly that it’s usually me following up on homework assignments or filling out paperwork so I generally don’t have a hard time staying on top of their work and so far I’ve had it easy because the twins have been in the same class so I only have to meet one teacher. Parent conferences are usually during an annual trade show I do so their mom goes to those and it all works out. I did wonder about so many couples when in Southern California the divorce rate is closer to 75%. I found out a lot of the parents are remarried. Our schools also have no children on back to school night so unless you have a sitter only one parent can go whether you’re married or not. I used to feel kind of strange about being the only single dad there but now I just think of it as doing what I need to do for my kids’ education and I really don’t worry about what anyone else might think.
.-= SDMktg´s last blog ..Review: Top 10 Tips for Awesome Tailgate Parties =-.


singlemomseeking September 23, 2009 at 9:28 pm

Love this SDMktg: ” I used to feel kind of strange about being the only single dad there but now I just think of it as doing what I need to do for my kids’ education and I really don’t worry about what anyone else might think.”



Legal Editor Mom September 23, 2009 at 5:51 pm

I remember you posting something on this topic a year or two ago, and I also remember saying that even though the divorce rate is over 50%, I felt very much alone and self conscious during these events since virtually all of the other parents were in couples. It definitely does get easier. I’m now in a much better place emotionally and with that mental strength comes confidence. I’ve had a lot of married moms reach out to me and want to get to know me, eventually commenting that they’re in awe of all that I do—as a single parent. Of course a lot of them are in unhappy marriages or at least marriages where the other spouse works a lot and isn’t as involved in their kids’ schooling.

I did what T envisioned doing (moreso because I want to know if it is ever a problem for my daughter at school with all the other dads in the picture and hers MIA), and her teacher is very considerate of our situation and of her feelings.

While it would be nice to eventually have a partner to share these things with and also be a part of my daughter’s life, for right now my mom and stepdad are totally involved and supportive, and I don’t fret over it or daydream about it or even wonder what it would be like. If it’s meant to be, it will be. If not, I know that I can handle it, and I will!


singlemomseeking September 23, 2009 at 6:16 pm

Good memory @LEM! I did post something a couple of years ago about going to Parent-Teacher conferences alone. Here’s to handling it all!

@April: Yes, in some circles, I’m known for idealizing…. still working on that one. So true.


April September 23, 2009 at 5:03 pm

Whenever I start thinking like that, I have plenty of married friends that let me know their husband never comes to these things! And when you go, you will most likely find more moms than dads there! Sometimes we idealize what life with a partner would be like.
.-= April´s last blog ..totally f**ed =-.


Katherine SOLOdotmom September 23, 2009 at 1:04 pm

Wow. What a great post… I will be attending back to school night tomorrow night. Alone. Again.

Yes, you do get used to doing these things ‘solo’ but I also have daydreamed of the day I can sit at one of these school things… with Mr. M.

He actually attended my daughter’s play at school one night during the last school year… and so at least I got a glimpse…

But I have gotten so much better about attending stuff like this alone… that now I don’t think about it as much as I used to. I try to be very involved in my kiddos’ lives at school and beyond… so it’s just part of it… you do what you have to do… even if it’s alone.
.-= Katherine SOLOdotmom´s last blog ..Boys and their Toys – What’s a Girl to do? =-.


Single Mom Seeking September 23, 2009 at 12:28 pm

@Martini Mom: I’m super curious to know why your new man isn’t coming along tomorrow night… I’m thinking about this a lot lately. If a man is going to be a partner in my life/my kid’s life, what exactly will that partnership look like?

Did you two talk about having him coming along? Or, did it he offer to kid-sit? So curious….
.-= Single Mom Seeking´s last blog ..Back to School Night. Alone =-.


Martini Mom September 24, 2009 at 10:58 am

Yep, he’s kid-sitting. We’ve talked about him coming along to these types of functions and he’s definitely interested and will be coming in the future. For tonight, there were a couple factors that led to the decision:

1. The person I expected to kid-sit (my ex) suddenly decided he wanted to attend, so my boyfriend offered to do the kid-sitting.

2. Though my boyfriend and I have been together for a little over 2 years, we (as you know) have been living many, many states apart. He’s here now, and absolutely ready to be involved 100%, but it’s a little awkward to go from 0 to 60 so abruptly. My ex is supportive of an additional father figure in our son’s life. We’ve had a lot of talks about how we’ll all fit together as co-parents. But I think my ex is seeing my boyfriend’s involvement, comparing it to his own, and feeling a little threatened. He’s not been a particularly involved dad. He’s around consistently, and he and our son hang out quite a bit… but my ex is “more of a grown-up friend than a dad” (my son’s words). My ex has never expressed interest in school functions. There are some that I “require” him to attend, but all others he opts out of. He’s just never been interested. He’s never come to a curriculum night in the past, and he wasn’t particularly interested in attending this year… until he heard that my boyfriend was interested in attending.

In this instance, it seemed that perhaps having my boyfriend “bow out” and do the kid-sitting would be appropriate, giving my ex a little more time to adjust so that he doesn’t feel like he’s being pushed out or replaced. I made a point to talk to him about teacher-parent conferences though, and we’re all in agreement that everyone should be there for that.

So, we’ll get there. But for now we’re taking some precautions which will, hopefully, make for a more cordial co-parenting relationship for all of us.

How’s that for a complicated answer to a simple question? 😉
.-= Martini Mom´s last blog ..When are you no longer a single mom? =-.


singlemomseeking September 24, 2009 at 11:16 am

Wow, @Martini Mom: thanks!!

I’m laughing to myself about what seemed to inspire your ex to come to Curriculum Night… I have to applaud you: you seem to be handling these relationships with utmost maturity — all in the best interest of your son. You go Mama.

Martini Mom September 23, 2009 at 12:25 pm

I’m heading to Curriculum Night tomorrow night alone… I think. My ex has actually expressed an interest in attending this year. Maybe all those talks we’ve had about him being more involved are finally sinking in? We’ll see if he actually shows up. At this point, I actually prefer to do school related activities by myself because he has a tendency to say really inappropriate things, but I definitely appreciate the gesture. Still, someday I’d like to be able to attend with a stepdad in tow…
.-= Martini Mom´s last blog ..When are you no longer a single mom? =-.


GLSD September 23, 2009 at 11:49 am

When my kids were younger, hubby went away a lot for business, and I was there solo. When she played vollyeball for the team, I went to all the “home” games and he went to the “away” games due to work. It was easier for him to get off and go to the away games than it was for me. Well one of her teammates mother ….the “mother” asked my daughter if we were divorced. So either way you can’t win! People will make assumptions…and they are just that… assumptions. Thankfully M has your daddy in her life! Have a great school year M!


Mike September 23, 2009 at 11:00 am

Even when I was a kid back in the 70’s. When I use to go with my Mom to these, their still wasn’t a lot of couples going. Mostly just moms.


MC September 23, 2009 at 10:12 am

I’m always relieved when I am alone on Back to School night. The first one after I split with the kids’ Dad (which was first grade for our twin children) was a total nightmare—because he showed up unexpectedly.

He proceeded to shouted abuse at me in front of the children and physically threaten me in front of everyone else there including the teachers. I was trying to fill out all the school’s forms and chat with the teachers, and he pulled the papers out of my hands and ripped them up screamed at me that I was putting down “lies” and that I was an awful mother, and he was going to “get” me and etc etc. After 15 minutes of this (with no one intervening–I still have no idea why no one stepped in–I put it down to Midwestern “family” values), I just took the children and left. He followed us out to the parking lot shouting and saying that I was a terrible mom because I wasn’t allowing the children to stay for the ice cream the school had provided. The kids were crying, I was trying not to cry myself and to be calm for the kids, and it was just so horrible. I stopped by the school the next day to finish filling out the forms and I met the kids’ teachers, but they didn’t say anything about it so I felt like they blamed me for the whole scene, so it was difficult year.

Now 4 years later everyone at the school knows the situation (there have been multiple other incidents with him) and the principal and teachers are very supportive. There are still some problems with the kids’ assignments, though. For example, last year he suddenly took an interest in one of the childrens’ class projects and had the kids make a 2nd poster in addition to the one they had already made with me, and he personally brought it to the school and insisted they throw away the one they made with me and hang up the one they made with him instead. I just take a deep breath and let stuff like this go, because it might make the children (more) upset if I say something & it won’t make a difference in the end anyway.

So I think in some ways you are lucky, Rachel.


singlemomseeking September 23, 2009 at 9:42 am

@Cat: Mopey comments are welcome! As you can probably tell, I was a bit mopey when I wrote this.

As @Denise points out (thanks): so often, we look at “those families through an idealized vision of ‘family’… Things are not always what they seem and the people we see may not be living the perfect life we think they are.”


Cat September 23, 2009 at 9:21 am

I was driving through the Wal Mart parking lot the other day and saw a couple with a son about my boy’s age. For some reason, it really hit me, that wishing I had a partner. Not my ex, but some imaginary guy who would love my son like his own and treat me well and live happily ever after with us.

I usually don’t think about it. I don’t have much to compare single parenthood to- this is how it’s been for me since he was born. But for that moment, it was like looking at an alternate reality where things had turned out differently and my life was easier and happier.

God, this is a mopey comment. But the post was about wishing for a partner, and that’s a tough subject when you spend most of your time convincing yourself you’re doing great on your own.
.-= Cat´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday =-.


Denise September 23, 2009 at 8:30 am

Robynbeth: I used to feel the same way when I would go the mall with my daughter and see all the families with strollers and kids in tow. But one day at the food court, I couldn’t keep my eyes –and ears– from the family at the next table. They weren’t actually arguing, but the mom and dad were barely civil to each other. I realized then that I was looking at those families through an idealized vision of “family” that was strictly in my head. Things are not always what they seem and the people we see may not be living the perfect life we think they are. So now I play a game with myself–every time I see a what looks like a perfect couple or family, I imagine what their issues are. Maybe she is having an affair, or he works too much and is never home, or that sweet adorable little girl bullies her classmates. Juvenile? Sure. But it helps.


That One Mom September 23, 2009 at 8:12 am

Ahh, Back to School Night… It definately would be amazing to have someone by my side for that! Or at Girl Scout events, or Cub Scout events, or other family functions…. But it truly does it easier.
.-= That One Mom´s last blog ..Seriously!?!?! How Long Have You Been Using the Toilet?!?! =-.


Phil September 23, 2009 at 7:41 am

As far as school meetings go, you see fewer couples as the kids get older. Either one parent is too busy or not interested any more, a divorce, or the parents are splitting the time between multiple kid’s classes. I went alone last week (for high school) and saw only a few couples in the class rooms.


singlemomseeking September 23, 2009 at 9:27 am

@Phil: I’m starting to notice that, actually. As my kid gets older, it seems like fewer parents are coming together as couples. Maybe it’s more challenging to schedule childcare?

It’s hard for me to understand how some parents cannot be interested in their kids’ school. What?

@Amy Sue: Were there other parents alone…or, just you?


Robynbeth September 23, 2009 at 7:13 am

I once watched a family eat together and cried all the way home. I hate doing this on my own, and sometimes, it is difficult to deal with the moments that we are told should be shared. I didn’t sign up for this, but I have learned to deal with the good/bad of being a single parent. Thankfully, I have parents who help me every step of the way. My ex lives an hour away, so my parents have really been there for the every day activities, like soccer practice and homework. I am truly blessed, but I still sometimes yearn for a true partnership.
.-= Robynbeth´s last blog ..Giggle, giggle =-.


T September 23, 2009 at 6:51 am

Aw. I love your daddy.

Thankfully, my ex-husband is still so very involved that he always attends back to school nights with me. It used to be strange for me that everyone, including the teacher, would assume that we were still a happily married couple and family.

I still find myself wanting to meet with the teacher in private to tell her that I’m parenting my girls solo 95% of the time. I guess so she’d have a better understanding when some parent/child project isn’t near as cool as the child with the stay at home mom.

Yikes. Competitive much?
.-= T´s last blog ..Dispirited =-.


Lovebabz September 23, 2009 at 5:49 am

Indeed it does get easier. Although my ex and I coordinate these events very well. Some he goes to and some I go to and some we go to together.

When I am alone, if I don’t get to a teacher I make time to see them at a later date. With 4 kids you have think creatively and reasonably about what you can and cannot do. I do not view being a single mom as some sort of handicap. I am single and I am a mom…I make it work.


Amy Sue Nathan September 23, 2009 at 4:25 am

I disagree with Dr. Leah – sorry! I just had to navigate a enormous high school where both kids go – on my own – going to only half of each of their classes because one person cannot be in the two places at the same time. I did not meet all the teachers – and even at teacher conferences I will not meet them all since they’re all simultaneous. Luckily my kids are good students – and thank goodness for teachers with email. Kids have more complex and varied needs as they get older – you might be able to leave them alone for a few hours – but the parenting intensifies imo, it does not lessen.


Dr.Leah September 23, 2009 at 4:08 am

It does get easier as the school years fly by. Of course, I’ve wondered what it would be like to have a loving, supportive partner at my side. All the couples that we see do not offer each other the unconditional emotional support that we often crave. When our kids triumph, as they so often do, there is something incredibly gratifying about knowing that you helped your kid to attain a special accomplishment – solo.

I hope M has a great year. Fourth grade is such fun!
.-= Dr.Leah´s last blog ..When a no show parent break promises =-.


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