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To the Mom Who Was Told She's Not a 'Real' Single Mom

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.

You can't get any more "single mother" than I am.

And you know what? I don't give two shits who uses that same term to describe themselves or their situation.

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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.

Back 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.

I've had 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?

It's something I've argued 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 problems.

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 lesson.

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.

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It's 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.

Image via Leslie Meadow Photography

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