After ten years of committing to the wrong person, I finally ended an unhealthy relationship. What took so long? I wanted to “save” my family—that is, until I realized a break-up would actually allow my child to grow up in a blissful household rather than one filled with tension. However, I had no idea this one empowering move would label me as a “single mom” along with its negative connotations.
Society tends to stigmatize single mothers as struggling and overworked. A 2013 Pew Research Poll found that, on the topic of single mothers, 64% of Americans feel this trend is a “big problem.” “Single mothers are far more likely to live in poverty than single fathers, and they do not catch up over time,” said Karen Kramer, an assistant professor of family studies at the University of Illinois.
According to The Washington Post, skeptics point to the higher rates of poverty, school dropouts, and behavioral problems among children raised by one adult. Research backs this up. Financial insecurity, more likely when a family is unplanned, accounts for up to half of the higher risk of negative educational outcomes for children in single-parent families, according to a report from the Center for Law and Social Policy.
I’ve been on the receiving end of many solicitous looks that are trying to figure out my situation. Is she with someone? Why is she always alone with her child? By education, I’m an engineer; by trade, I’m a journalist. By myself, I have supported my family. My child also aspires to become an engineer, and is working hard in school. However, I rarely divulge this information; I shouldn’t have to in order to fight misleading stereotypes.
Life is not binary, made up of only 0s and 1s, nor is it always black and white. In that respect, children of single mothers are not always living an adverse life. There is also no such thing as a perfect parent. Me? I choose to be a real one.
My single household gives me the freedom to raise my son in a bohemian, loving, and less-than-perfect home. We embrace the messy and the non-fairy tales. My kid has never believed in Santa; he knows his presents were bought with hard-earned money. He understands the commercialism behind the holidays, but chooses to enjoy the benefits. My child doesn’t come from a picture-perfect family, and he understands that’s OK. We don’t tiptoe around these topics; we take them head-on because I never want society to make him feel like a victim of his circumstance.
Let’s be real. Single or not, I am a mother who puts her child first. I like to think, as parents, we all do. I admit there are less-than-ideal scenarios in my single world, but there are also cracks in a dual-parent household. For perspective, Princeton’s Sara McLanahan and Harvard’s Christopher Jencks provide a key insight about unwed parents:
“Unmarried parents are not that different from married parents in their behavior. Both groups value marriage, both spend a long time searching for a suitable marriage partner, and both engage in premarital sex and cohabitation. The key difference is that one group often has children while they are searching for a suitable partner, whereas the other group more often has children only after they marry.”
America’s culture of a two-parent household does not automatically entail a fantasy family life. A marriage does not spontaneously give you a happily every after, and children know that better than anyone. As a product of a tension-filled home where my parents stayed together for the kids, I can assure you there aren’t many positive memories about my childhood. There is more to a nurturing household than the fairy tales we’ve been raised to believe.
In her 2012 New York Times piece In Defense of Single Motherhood, Katie Roiphe notes that research suggests that a stressful, conflict-ridden home with two parents is more damaging than a stable home with one parent. “What matters most, it should go without saying, is the kind of parent you are.”
Roiphe nails it with her statement of the over-scrutinized single-mother phenomenon. “The real menace to America’s children is not single mothers, or unmarried or gay parents, but an economy that stokes an unconscionable divide between the rich and the not rich.”
As a single mom, I don’t regret my status. Society needs to get over checking my ring finger for some kind of feeble validation that constitutes an ideal parent. As for the theory that we are struggling single parents, I get it. Money makes the world go ‘round, and salary increase would make a single mom’s life a lot easier. But isn’t that everyone’s predicament? Couldn’t we all use some extra cash?
With that in mind, there’s no amount of money, not even the $1.4 billion lottery winning, that could change one’s parenting style. A good, nurturing parent is just that, despite checking off the married or single box.