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I am a single mother. I mean, really a single mother. I adopted my
daughter on my own and have been her sole provider and caregiver since birth.
I am the one who has handled all the late nights, sick days and terrible twos, without
ever having a partner by my side.
We've heard plenty about this whole "single mother" debate—the one that seems to
have been fanned by a Slate article last year, aptly titled, "You
Are Not a Single Mom." Since the publication of that piece, I have
come across hundreds of even more strongly worded opinions. Many catty women are laying
down the rules of who can and cannot use the term.
Mom.me's own Monica Bielanko recently posted a
video on this very subject—specifically because she was confused about
why she is not allowed to call herself a single mother, even though she and her
husband are now divorced, and she is running a household entirely on her own.
Quite frankly, I'm with her. She's single. She's a mother. Therefore, she
meets the very definition of a single mother.
So why does anyone else get to shame her for
using that term to describe herself?
I continue to be surprised by those defending this need to maintain the "purity" of the term "single mother." It seems so pointless to me. So unnecessary.
when most of our parents were getting divorced, no one was fazed by the fact
that our mothers were then described as single mothers. This is a new thing.
It seems to be the result of a bunch of women with chips on their
shoulders saying, "I have it harder than you, so I get to make the
rules." It's this desperate need for validation that comes across as a scathing
attack on the struggles other women may face—this assumption that simply
having a co-parenting figure in the picture means you automatically must have
it easier than those pulling double duty all on their own.
But it's a
fallacy, if only because you never know just what another person's experience
may be. So how about, instead of telling other women that we have it harder
than them, we just recognize that all situations are different and provide
support wherever we can—even if that support comes only in the form of
allowing other women to choose the words that feel right for their situation.
friends with husbands in the military who have had to parent solo during long
deployments. I've also had friends taking on solo parenting duties while their
spouse travels for up to a year at a time, pursuing career or education goals.
And you know what? It is hard for them. Maybe even more so because they didn't
enter into this whole parenting gig with the intention of doing it alone. While
I, a "true" single mother, have had time to find my groove and figure out how
to make this whole thing work for me, they are often floundering. So if they
want to describe their current circumstances as being similar to those of a
single mother, I back them in that, not only because it's just a term (so who
cares how another person uses it?) but also because they really are doing it
all alone. Who am I to argue that they don't have it as hard as me, and
therefore shouldn't "hijack" my title?
in the past, but I continue to be surprised by those defending this need to
maintain the "purity" of the term "single mother." It seems so pointless to me.
So unnecessary. For a lot of women, it seems to come down to wanting
the acknowledgement that they have it harder than anyone
else. They cite the benefit of dual incomes, or week on/week off schedules,
while refusing to recognize that plenty of co-parents still struggle
financially, and simply having a parenting partner does not mean the other
person is automatically pulling the weight they should. I've heard of plenty of
situations where that "partner" is someone who makes things so much harder in the
end, situations that have almost made me grateful to be doing it on my own.
I mean, talk about first world problems.
I've also heard
it argued that the main difference between "true" single mothers and those who
simply have spouses who are away is that at least those with parenting partners
still have that other person to call for support. But you know what? Having support is not something that is relegated only to parents with partners waiting in the wings. I know I have it, in the form of amazing friends who are
always there to answer the phone when I'm having a parenting freak out, who have dropped stomach flu supplies off on my doorstep when my girl has
started puking or when I'm the one who's sick. Though, I would argue that
if you are the kind of single mother who admonishes your friends for using that
term to describe themselves, you may not be the type of person those same
friends want to drop everything for
to help in a time of need. Support is a two-way street. If you want it, you
have to be willing to give it in return.
They are just words. And I don't think it takes away from what I deal with as a single mother for others to refer to
themselves in that way.
I just wish that, as women, we would
recognize that everyone has their own struggles, and that arguing over
semantics in an effort to elevate our struggles above those of anyone else is
just silly. And really, if you are offended by someone else referring to
themselves as a single parent when they are only temporarily so, then you
probably have a pretty darn good life. I mean, talk about first world
So you know what? As a "true" single mother, I'm hereby giving you
permission to call yourself whatever feels right.
Just got divorced? Own the term. You are the dictionary definition of a
single mother. Anyone who tries to tell you differently needs a vocabulary
Husband's deployed? I feel for you, lady. And if you want to cry on my
shoulder and tell me you are struggling with feeling like a single mom, go for
it. You won't offend me. In fact, I might even offer to take your kiddos for
the night so that you can get a breather and find your balance again.
Partner out of town for the weekend, and you just want to joke, all
tongue-and-cheek like, about being a single mom for a few days? All power to
you! I'm strong and confident enough to know that has absolutely nothing to do with me.
a term, one that has been used for a long time to describe women in a variety
of parenting situations. So how about we just stop trying to police it, and
allow women to define themselves in whatever way feels right to them? Because
life is way too short to be arguing semantics, and parenting is hard enough
without us battling each other for the right to use those words.