Recently, while speaking to a neighbor the topic of divorce came up and I mentioned I was divorced. She seemed shocked.
Her: Well that changes everything!
Me: How so?
Her: I thought you were a single Mom! Being a divorced Mom makes you respectable.
Single Mother, You Are Not Respectable
Growing up I often heard the chisme/gossip about the woman down the street. She was unwed and had two children. Loose. No morals. Not Respectable. These were the words used to describe her by the chismosas/gossipers in our neighborhood. She was a pariah among “decent” women. Times were different then. Those older women grew up in an era where single motherhood was unheard of; however, this remark did not come from an older woman it came from a young professional in her mid-twenties.
According to an article in the Washington Post, single motherhood has grown substantially over the past 50 years. Based on recent studies, they have determined that “half of all children will live with a single mom at some point before the age of 18.”
The Standard North American Family (“SNAF”), a married mom, dad and their children, is no longer the only viable family option for women considering having children. Choice mothers, single mothers who choose to adopt, are a perfect example of this. Single motherhood can also occur unexpectedly from an unintentional pregnancy, a divorce, or a death.
Given the varied ways in which women can come to single motherhood, I was perplexed at the assumptions I encountered. Did she assume divorced mothers took better care of their children? Do they have better opportunities even though they face many of same obstacles – raising a child without support, job discrimination, seeking child support, when available? Why would divorced mothers be considered more respectable than single mothers? Is it because of the assumption that they waited to have sex? And, why the hell did she assume I was a single mother and not a divorced mother? Could it be because I am a Latina? All these thoughts raced through my mind, as I walked away.
Why does society view divorced mothers more favorably than single mothers?
I was a single mother before becoming a divorced mother. I have lived both sides of the coin. And I have felt the differences in how others viewed me as a mother and person based on how I chose to self-identify. The above conversation was not the first time I have heard others disparage single mothers.
We live in a patriarchal society. This patriarchy dictates how society views women and motherhood. Single mothers, especially those who never married, are often seen as a threat to America’s social fabric and the crux of all ills. Thankfully, societal norms have been steadily changing and the services needed to help single mothers thrive are also becoming more readily available thanks in large part to Moms who have raised their voices in support of services, like paid maternity leave, which helps single mothers.
How can we change the stigma against single mothers?
Our lives as single mothers are a testimony to our value and strength. We nurture. We educate. We provide. We prevail. Oftentimes with very little support or rest. We do it day in and day out. For our children. For ourselves. Not for the applause or accolades.
We can become the best versions of ourselves and rise above small minds.
I am a proud single mother. I choose to identify as such, knowing the bias that I will experience, in my day to day life. I will not let the negativity thrust upon single mothers define me or my children. And if you’re a single mother, know that you. are. worthy. Own it. And never, ever, let anyone define your worth.
For those who would like to help a single mother, I offer suggestions in my post titled, Adopt a Single Mother.
Do you believe society judges single mothers differently than divorced mothers? How so?
Are you a single, divorced Mom? How do you self-identify? Do you find using one option over another provides you with better opportunities in the workplace and your community?
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