A call for a new name for single mothers that’s free of negative stereotypes.
When I left my husband, I walked out of our apartment with our newborn baby in my arms. As I walked to my already packed car I thought to myself, “I’m a single mom with a daughter.” That judgment—my own—weighed heavily.
“Single mother” was not a title I wanted to own. A year later, it still isn’t.
Other single mothers feel the same. We arrive at our single parent status by different circumstances: some are widowed, some divorced, others flee violence or addiction, some realized they were in a relationship with the wrong person or it was the other person that had that awakening. Some are cheated on and a growing number choose to go it alone from the start. Given our varying circumstances, it’s an all-encompassing title. The problem with being a single mom, however, is the negative connotations it can conjure.
Single moms are often associated with welfare, and unkempt and unruly kids. The single mother is just keeping it together, just scraping by. She’s not a heroine—no, she’s responsible for her plight. She should have known better, should have never married him, shouldn’t have had children. And what about the kids? She’s selfish, the kids won’t do well in school, and they’re worse off than their friends.
The single mother has certainly had a bad run of it as far as stereotypes go.
The single father, on the other hand: Hats off to him! Wow, he does it all on his own! He manages everything. Must be lonely—how does he do it? The fact that men are more physically and, on the whole, financially able should make it more common than it is, but it still remains a surprise when a man is a single dad with the bulk of parenting responsibilities. It’s so rare I can’t even recall ever knowing one.
Negative stereotypes aside, “single mother” often just correlates to “hard work” and “alone.” It’s no wonder so many partnered women use it when they’re doing the brunt of the child-rearing and feeling it.
Who could blame them? The single mother role models who have it together, who are living good and happy lives, are few and far between.
With over 10 million single mothers in America, it’s not an insignificant group. While some single mothers struggle, particularly financially, others are leaders of more than just households, they’re CEOs, attorneys, doctors, accountants, and school principals. They raise world leaders including two recent Presidents: Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.
Single mothers are everywhere, we’re your friends, colleagues, sisters, and daughters—we could be you someday.
The road for a single mother has particular challenges many of us are more equipped to handle than previous generations. We’re more educated, financially independent, and we often live in villages that we’ve created.
Certain evidence tells us that my daughter would be better off if I was partnered, or widowed—yes, according to some studies, my daughter would be better off if her father had died. But single mothers are as determined as others, perhaps even more so, to provide safe homes, free from conflict and trauma, and full of all the things that other homes are bustling with, including books, grandparents, and cousins.
A woman shouldn’t fear becoming a “single mom” so much that she stays in an unsafe situation and relegates herself and her children to a troubled life. To know there can be happy times, stability, and calm as a single parent is a vitally important message.
Can the “single mom” title be saved? I don’t know. Maybe it’s time to claim something new: How about “solo parents”?
Men and women alike raising kids on our own: We’re doing it solo.
In ocean swimming, solo swimmers are the most respected. To swim solo is more of a challenge than a duo or team who shares the load, exchanging and having a break along the way. The solo swimmer is supported by a crew that navigates as the swimmer can’t always see their way. So when a solo swimmer makes it to the finish line and stumbles up the beach, the crowd roars with delight, because it’s a feat, enhanced by having done it alone.
Solo parents deserve that same celebration.
Mavis is a Sydney-based writer that unexpectedly found herself a solo parent. She commenced her career as a lawyer, has two degrees and is living the proverb: It takes a village to raise a child.