We’re not who you think we are.
The term ‘single mother’ calls to mind a very specific image for most people. I imagine a strung-out, exhausted looking woman, her face pinched with worry, struggling to hold it together. She probably works two jobs and leaves her kids with sketchy babysitters, or no babysitters at all; her house is a perpetual disaster and she hates all men.
It’s not a very flattering picture – especially considering I’m a single mother myself. That’s certainly not my life, or who I see in the mirror. I don’t know when I formed this image of single motherhood; my own parents split up when I was two, and my mom was a single mom for a few years before remarrying, but she didn’t resemble this sad stereotype, at least as far as I remember.
When I first got divorced, I strenuously objected to the idea of myself as a single mother, maybe because I didn’t match up with this idea in my head of what a single mother looked like. I was too busy reveling in my new life, in which I no longer woke up next to a person who I felt had let me down so profoundly. Every time I looked at my husband, I was painfully reminded that it was possible to fall out of love with someone you’d once been so completely head over heels for. I was sad and angry, and all I wanted was to move on.
Now that I’ve been a single mother for more than five years, I think I’ve finally made peace with my identity – and I can say for sure that there a few things we single moms would like people to understand about us.
Being an unhappily married mother is worse in so many ways
Being a single mom isn’t easy, it’s true. But at least when you’re a single mother, you can actually claim the title and ask for help in a way that you can’t when you’re just another miserable married mom. Being married with kids, yet still being on your own with them most of the time because your husband is off doing something else sucks in a way that being a single mom never could.
We’re not all living it up on child support checks
From time to time, someone will make a comment to the effect of, ‘it must be nice to have your ex-husband supporting you, you lazy bitch.’ Okay, so I’ve only heard this from trolls online, not in real life, but I’m sure plenty of people are think this about single moms. The fact is, if there are single mothers out there cashing in, I sure don’t know any of them. Most of my single mom friends don’t get a dime from their exes; I count myself lucky to get anything at all to help with groceries, ballet lessons and winter coats.
We’re not interested in your opinion of our parenting
Once, I was seated on an airplane next to an older gentleman, with my toddler on my lap for the whole flight. She was an angel the whole time, quiet as could be, but further back, another baby spent the entire flight crying. After we landed, as we prepared to get off the plane, my seatmate leaned over and congratulated be for having such a well-behaved child. He scowled in the direction of the fussy baby. “Some people don’t know how to handle their kids,” he confided in me. I wanted to smack him. Because guess what? I lucked out that day, that was all. Another time, she might have screamed her head off. We single moms are subject to this kind of judgment all the time, and we’re over it. Just because we’re on our own, it doesn’t mean we’re looking to you for validation.
Our life choices aren’t up for your approval
For some reason that I still don’t understand, strangers often seem to think they can talk about single moms, as if they know something about us. That goes for politicians, pastors, and anyone else who’s ever uttered the phrase, ‘single mother.’ Do any of those people talk about married moms, too? Do they make assumptions about them and pass judgment on them? Do they furrow their brows and discuss what to do about the problem of married mothers? Maybe they should. What they should definitely do is shut the hell up about single mothers. We don’t need anyone’s approval.
We like our lives the way they are
Okay, so some of us didn’t plan for our lives to look like this. But some of us did. We made choices – lots of different ones – and we ended up as single mothers. (For now, at least.) We love our children, we love our freedom, and we love our lives. We love not having to listen to what some other person thinks about our parenting; we love being in charge and not having to consult with a partner about how best to care for our kids; we love the wide-open field of possibility that stretches ahead of us. So don’t feel sorry for us, and we’ll try not to feel sorry for you.
Main image via pinterest.com, GIFs via giphy.com, cosmopolitan.co.uk, youtube.com, thechive.com, and thesinglest.com.
Comment: Are you a single mother? What do you wish people understood about your life?
Elizabeth lives in Brooklyn with two daughters, occasional mice and innumerable to-do lists. She runs a nine-minute mile, bakes a mean chocolate chip cookie, and can always be persuaded to sing at a karaoke bar. Follow her on Twitter.