Does Deployment Mean ‘Single’ Parenthood?


When your spouse deploys, do you consider yourself a “single parent?” I recently had a discussion with three women about the difference in the status of single motherhood, with all that it entails, and temporary “single parenthood.” Two of the women are married; one is a single parent, and I have a deployed spouse. I have also been a single parent. Now I am married with a husband who deploys. Am I “single?”  No. We’re just experiencing a geo-separated relationship. I’m not free to date or marry someone else.

My initial thought would be to describe myself as a single parent when my husband is away, but as the single mother pointed out, not so fast sister. And she’s absolutely right. I just had to hearken back to my own experience to see it’s not just the absence of the other parent that makes one a single parent. Absence just scratches the surface. The biggest difference is financial. Some receive child support, and some don’t. Depending on the non-custodial, support may be something the custodial parent can’t ever count on. With a deployed spouse, the pay is still there, and it can even increase. This is a major hurdle in a single parent household, and a constant worry. There can be legal fees, court dates, chasing child support, visitation issues, never having that reappearance of the other parent into the home ‘permanently’ to reintegrate and parent full-time.

Deployed families deal with time loss and the possibility of life loss. We have life insurance and SGLI to help support the family, as well as other benefits. A single mother doesn’t always have this. One of the married mothers piped in with a great term that could define the situation for the military set: Solo Parent. I personally like this term and find it perfect! I’m using it from now on to describe by own situation.

The conversation ended with us agreeing that we’re all parents doing the best we can with what we have. We should have the confidence in ourselves to do this alone, solo, with a partner or a community of family and friends. Just as a military spouse may roll their eyes at a civilian friend who compares their spouse being away on a one-week business trip to a deployment, a true single parent may not appreciate us hopping into their boat, either. Semantics can make a difference in perception. I loved that the conversation was had.

The more people understand our experiences and the more we understand theirs, the better.

About the Author

Seasoned Air Force Spouse

Partner in well traveled active duty Air Force family. I served and retired from the Air Force. Was born and raised in an Army family! Proud overseas brat. Married to a wonderful, successful southern man with 4 children, one of whom is active duty Army. And yes, I am too young for that! Not the typical family, not the traditional 'mom'. Love military life, social media, writing, business, pop culture, and travel. Born to do more!

  • SemperSteen

    I don’t have children yet just for the record, but if I had them I would not consider myself a “single parent” while my husband is deployed, and I’ve always been confused by spouses who use that term. My mother was a true single parent- she had no financial or emotional support and she stood alone in raising me and my brother. Our finances, our health care, our environment…everything about our lives rested on her shoulders.
    Like you said, being a single parent means so much more than simply the other parent being away. Military spouses left behind with the kids while their SO’s deploy have safety nets and resources that truly single parents could only dream of, not to mention emotional support from a spouse who, although physically absent, loves them and encourages them and (god willing) will return.

    • Seasoned Air Force Spouse

      I agree and I was one of those single parents like your mom. It’s a huge difference.

  • John

    Nope. I won’t use that term to describe myself, because I *know* current and former single parents, and I’m living in luxury compared to them: money comes in twice a month even though I have no job; I *know* that living with kiddo by myself is a temporary situation; and I have all the resources offered to military families at my disposal, should things start to get difficult. Honestly, I do get plenty miffed by my civilian friends and acquaintances who say, “oh, honey is on a business trip, I’m a single parent for a week!” No, you’re not, not even a little bit…

    • Seasoned Air Force Spouse

      Finances are a big dividing factor. And I have to ‘zip it’ on the business trip complainers or I’d lose it. :-)

  • Bugs

    I’ve been a single parent- I’ve also been a mil spouse with year long seperations…. Having the emotional support, and financial support, not to mention the comfort that it isn’t forever makes a world of difference.
    I cringe when married women call themselves single parents because of a deployment.

    • Seasoned Air Force Spouse

      When you’ve done both, it’s a real eye opener during a deployment, isn’t it?

  • Reasa

    I can not say I am a single parent. Hubby is to much a part of the kids’ daily life.

    • Seasoned Air Force Spouse

      You have some lucky children. :-)

  • So true. I was a military wife for 10 yrs and can relate to the ‘solo parent’ syndrome after staying home to manage kids and life w/o hubby many times. After he go out, we divorced 2 yrs later and I was faced raising 3 kids on my own, never could count on support payments (still can’t!) but was fortunate to meet a great man who loves me and my kids (we also have a son together). He has stepped up where their natural father has basically vanished from their lives. It was hard dealing with deployment and hard as a single parent, but not the same. As a military wife I could always write or call, knew the paychecks and health insurance would be there, so it was managing the loneliness. As a single parent, everything falls to you.

    • Seasoned Air Force Spouse

      It sure does. I’m very happy you and your family had a happy outcome. :-)

  • I like the term “solo parent”. I agree that I’m not a single parent when he’s gone… I’ve known too many true single parents to call myself that.

    • Seasoned Air Force Spouse

      I love ‘solo’. So glad the one person popped up with it. :-) Nice fit for sure.

  • Heidi

    There is difference between being a single parent and single parenting. Deployments and long TDYs creates single parenting, but not single (not married) parents. My husband is an incredible spouse and father, but when he is gone, I am doing it alone. I know I have his support and he loves us, but it is his job to be completely present and available for the military, not dealing with bills, fights, meals, household chores, homework…all that makes up a parent’s day-to-day life.

    • Seasoned Air Force Spouse

      Good point on the ‘parenting’.

      • Nomadgirl70

        Like I said, semantics. How it is said, and how it is perceived. ;)

  • jessica

    i like the “solo” parenting. i to had a mother that was a single parent. two COMPLETELY different lives/life styles. this is our first deployment and made the awful mistake of coming home for *support*. lol. and i have found it soooo hard to explain to people how i feel. i usually end up saying “well, its like im a sinlge mom with a fat child support check”. lol. cause i dont have to work, but i am alone. i think there are HUGE differences and am glad i now have a term to throw out there :) . makes it easier to explain to people who dont really know or understand military life or what a deployment is like.

    • Seasoned Air Force Spouse

      I hope things get better at home for you. I like your sense of humor. That’s what it’s all about.

  • Tabatha

    I am a military wife who has been active duty. I do say from time to tome that I am a married-single parent. For 6-10 months out of any year I am alone with our children. I have to do all that a single parent has to do and more. If there is something that must me done on behalf of my spouse I must take up that plight as well. It is not a literal term. You dont do the things that SINGLE people do but you are alone raising your kids. Don’t be so defensive. I dont think the terminology is meant as a disrespect.

  • Seasoned Air Force Spouse

    Well said. That’s the conclusion we came to in our conversation.

  • Elizabethe

    Wow! Such a rally for single parents. And I like Annie’s response. Every family is different, and labels are just that, whether from another or self-imposed. I was raised by a single Mom with no support from Dad who died soon thereafter. My step-daughter is being raised by her mother, who’s choice it was to be single and who forgoes all of the support available to her to help raise her child (minus the generous monthly support check from my husband). Can’t we just stop judging and labeling, and support one another when the going gets tough, and have fun during the good times.

  • Nicole

    I think it’s just terminology. It may be incorrect, but it’s just like this: My husband and I have 2 boys, and when we go out with friends we refer to the couples who don’t have children as “a single couple”. They are obviously not “single” in a sense but since they are without children we see them as doing things we cannot, such as staying out as late as they want. Once a couple asked if we wanted to catch a movie after dinner, but we had to be home for the sitter. On they way home, my husband and I were talking “if we were a single couple, we could have stayed”. Just a word.

  • Momsie

    I use term “single married parent”. That covers the reality of me taking care of things alone yet being married. Not easy situation but beats being really the single parent with financial strain. Regardless of the term that is used, it comes down to one taking care of kids, animals, home, finances, everything… It can be truly challenging at times. In the end, the kids are kids only very short time…

  • Molone

    I am a mother of 2 young children and my husband is deployed for 2 years. If I compare to some single mothers, I do not have a weekend to myself when daddy takes over. I leave in a new place with no family or friend support. Taking days off work when the kids are sick or must go to the doctor can also be challenging. All that said, single mothers have to struggle more with their finnances and that is quite an undertaking as well.