‘I Feel Like A Single Mom’ Is Not The Same As Being A Single Mom

The recent ForbesWoman and TheBump.com survey that found the majority of partnered mothers “feel like single mothers,” has become a sensitive topic in the parenting community. With 92% of working mothers and 89% of stay-at-home mothers carrying a disproportionate amount of childcare duties and domestic responsibilities, 60% of respondents said that the term conveyed just how alone they feel. Yet, among some women who actually do carry the title of “single mother,” partnered women appropriating the term to capture their sentiments is not only problematic, it’s downright offensive.

Single mother Dana Zazinski tells me that although the use of the term is not intentionally thoughtless, it implies a severe lack of awareness.

“Single mothers have to do everything themselves because we have no choice,” Zazinski explains. “Partnered women do have the choice of speaking with their partners and getting them more involved as a parent. Also, it’s this ridiculous family dynamic where many partners feel that their financial contribution is plenty, and they shouldn’t have to actively parent their children except when it comes to cracking down on kids and punishing them.”

Alison Koons, also a single mother, finds the term bothersome when coming from a mother with a partner and has confronted several mothers about their choice of words. While the term “single mother” can convey being overburdened, she advises partnered mothers to say that instead.

“If they are feeling overwhelmed by childrearing, work, etc. then that’s what they should say — that they are an ‘overwhelmed mother’ and ask for help,” Koons says. ” It’s as simple as that. And I mention gently that the term ‘single mother’ shouldn’t always be used as a negative connotation.”

“Single mother” is undoubtedly a term culturally saturated with scorn and antagonism, with many assuming that raising a child alone is the worst possible outcome for any parent. Yet for many women, becoming a single mother can be an empowering choice — not the result of dreadful circumstances. Single Mothers By Choice, an online community of women looking to parent alone, provides resources to single mothers who have decided to become parents despite not having a partner. With half of their members identifying as “thinkers” (women considering the single mother route but who have yet to adopt or conceive), the other half are on average 35 years old and have nearly completed college or post-graduate education. At the core of SMBC is the credo that single women are fully capable of successfully raising a child.

Yet despite our evolving times, Koons points out that single mothers are still automatically considered deficient parents because they are parenting alone.

“There are some people out there believe that single mothers are not ‘complete mothers,’” Koons observes. “There’s a mind set that ‘oh , that child is having difficulty in school because he’s the child of a single mother.’  I do find it offensive although I don’t want to walk around with a chip on my shoulder.  Instead I try to empower other single moms and I have plenty of married friends who are supportive of us single moms.”

Zazinski echoes the same sentiments, noting that a lot of times single motherhood is presented as a woman’s ultimate failure.

“[The negative connotation] implies this endless drudgery of single-handedly raising your kids, working, and taking care of yourself like it’s the worst possible thing that could happen to a woman,” Zazinski says. “Personally, I think having a partnership with a dink who didn’t do anything but lay around on his ass would be a lot worse than being a single mom.”

While the splitting of childcare duties may be unfairly relegated to women, typically a partnered woman has more resources at her disposable than a single mother. That factor alone distinguishes single mothers from their partnered counterparts, as options for childcare and personal health can be limited.

“A partnered woman has some things that a single mother doesn’t have,” points out Koons. “She has a portion of her partner’s paycheck to live on, she may have his or her medical benefits, and also if she is up all night throwing up she has someone else that can take care of the kids while she takes care of herself. A single mom does it all herself and without stopping to think about it.”

The plight of mothers with partners who don’t pull their domestic weight is one issue that merits its own terminology and framework from which to promote change. But citing single mothers and their unique struggles when discussing co-parenting exhibits a carelessness at recognizing a completely different set of circumstances from which to mother. While partnered mothers may feel slighted and unappreciated for their contributions to their families, the opportunity to have assistance is still there.

“Moms, make your partners become a genuine part of the family, and stop whining,” Zazinski says.

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  • Katie

    Partnered mothers should choose their words wisely… they really can’t relate. They need to ask their partners to step up and take some responsibility. I do not have that option because I chose to leave an abusive marriage. Strangely enough… it’s easier to be a single mother than trying to parent while tied to a mean, lazy, irresponsible bully.

    • Rachel

      Agree girl! Been there, done that!

  • Lindsay Cross

    I was a single mother for the first two years of my daughter’s life. I have to side with the single mothers on this one. Being overburdened is not the same thing as being a single mother, and its frustrating when people suggest that those two terms are synonymous. There are times when my husband has been working horrible hours and I’ve been overwhelmed and frustrated, and those times are tough. But that doesn’t make them like my time as a single mother. For one thing, I can call my husband and get moral support, even if its from a distance. For another, at some point in time, he’ll come home and pick up the slack.

    But more than anything, my time as a single mother was not all horrible and stressed and awful. It’s terrible for people to assume that it must be. Yes, things were a little more difficult when I was by myself. But because it was just my daughter and me, we were very in touch and attuned to each other. With only two people in our house and very little distractions, I felt more connected to my little one than I’ve ever felt since then. I also felt very empowered. I was in control of my situation and making it work for us. I’ve never felt stronger than I did as a single mother.

    All in all, both experiences have been wonderful. There are pros and cons to each. But they are not alike. And its not fair to assume that they ever should be.

  • Amy

    I think it’s perfectly fine for someone to say they “feel like a single mother”. People need to stop getting offended by every little thing. Maybe… if people don’t want to have to do it all alone they should have thought about that before getting pregnant without getting married. I am NOT talking about divorced/widowed moms – they tried to do it the proper way, and life intervened.

    Sometimes a married woman feels like a single woman, and speaking up is not always an option. Husbands are working more and more hours to keep up with the economy, so being home more isn’t an option. Also, I am blessed to be a SAHM, my husband gets up early to work every day. He deserves some time off when he gets home.

    • Erin S.

      Nobody can say they know what it feels like to be a single mother unless they’ve been one.


      And it’s funny: I’ve always found that those who advise “people need to stop getting offended by every littie thing” are invariably members of social, ethnic and racial classes where discrimination has never played a part in their daily lives.

      Sounds a lot like, “I don’t get why Black people and Jews are so sensitive…”

  • Shannon

    Wow, i think you’re the one taking a lot of freedom when it comes to judging the women who took this poll and the people they choose to call their partners. While I am not arguing your overall point, that there should be a different term for women who are parenting alone and women who are having to play a larger role in their child’s life than their partner (lets not leave out same sex couples like you did in your article!). I take strong offense to how you chose to argue your point. Not all partners who are unable to play a 50/50 role in their child’s life are lazy, careless slackers who only feel the need to contribute financially. There are many situations in life that call for a parent to be away for an extended period of time and whatever the reason, the parent left to do the majority of the parenting feels some of the similar joys and stresses that “single parents” feel. Not in anyway equal, but similar yes! I don’t think these women are whining, I think they are reaching out and trying to feel the support that all parents are searching for.

  • denny

    Just like no one can say they know what it feels like to be a single mother unless they’ve been one, no one can say they know what it feels like to be lonely in their marriage unless they have been in that position. Being overburdened is the least of these parents’ problems; it’s lacking a partner to support, be supported, and confide in. Feeling that you’re not in a position to leave your spouse because of your children, whether the reasons are financial or other, is devastating. I can certainly imagine that single parents feel the same loneliness and devastation.

    • Dana Z.

      Denny, I’m one of the single moms in the article and I had hoped to dispel the myth that single parents are lonely and devastated. I’m not. I’m happy and fulfilled and I don’t need a partner to make me feel like my life is as great as it can be.

      And to anyone who thinks they’re staying in a marriage for financial reasons I can only say that I live a significantly happier life now with less money (yes, of course your financial life takes a hit after divorce) than I ever did while I was married to a miserable excuse of a father and husband.

      Please don’t feel sorry for single moms; we’re strong, powerful warrior women who are raising amazing kids.

  • Jenna

    I think its worse to feel like a single parent when you’re not. I’ve done both. I’m single now. The hard part is having an able body in the room silently demaning you help them, too, on top of not helping you or the child.
    Being single is easier, you know you are the one soley responsible for all the work to be done.

  • katia

    i’m not a single mom but this has always bugged me! its degrading, disrespectful, and there is no-need to say it when you can do as the author says and say you’re overwhelmed, or describe your feelings in some other way. why not be honest and say, i feel like he doesn’t care, he never helps, he’s not reliable, he’s a workaholic, he travels too much; whatever your issue is. I am guessing that the people who say this are in bad relationships and want to compare themselves favorably with someone ‘pitiable’ (insulting as many single mom’s are admirable more than pitiable) to push themselves up.

  • confi

    Dear friend,
    I welcome your idea of single mother. We are a happily married couple but since my wife has uterus problem so nature won’t allow her to be a mom. In spite of all the medical treatments no baby for my wife and she really misses the biggest gift of life. You have a gift please don’t go for abortion and before it is too late (body clock is ticking away) get or even give the best gift of life that is a child. Please email and contact with any suggestion and feedback confident00100@yahoo.com.

  • Sue

    This article seems more than a little judgmental….Maybe feeling abandoned in your marriage does not make you a “single mom”, but anyone who is offended by that term really needs to step down off of their high horse and try to wipe the chip off of their shoulder.

    I don’t think that there is any question that single moms often have to work harder. What makes a married woman resentful is the fact that she’s not in that position by choice or circumstances beyond her control but because the other half of the marriage is falling short of their responsibility. Often it is financial reasons that keep a woman in that kind of marriage. It’s hard to convince your children, parents, friends, and even yourself that it’s worth breaking up the family because you’re tired of doing all of the work…especially if you’re setting yourself up for a very similar situation. So yes, sometimes married women feel like “single moms”, and it’s not meant as a slight. And if you are a bona fide single mom who’s taking offence, perhaps you should get over yourself.

  • Lora

    What about the women who are married to deeply depressed drug addicts who are consistently inconsistent. Who’s husbands don’t/can’t work. Extreme verbal abuse…. Having a partner Evan from afar doesn’t always mean the mother is getting any support by him. In my case it’s quit the opposite. He drags me down as far as he can and I still feel trapped because I know he is my children’s only real daddy. If I leave and he sobers up to fight for half custody but then I’m not around anymore to see if he fell back in… In sickness and health I still love my husband and with everything he has lost I can’t bare to see him lose me and the kids. Yet he is so inconsistent with the kids and flat out horrible to me. I do sometimes feel like “single mother” meaning I feel like I bare the full responsibilities for my precious children. However, though we live poorly, I am not responsible for sheltor, food… My husband still manages to get the bare minimum from his parents to live on. In my mind I am not truly a single mother unless I bare the full financial burden for my children as well as everything else.

  • slocean

    i was a single mom for many years and while it didn’t deeply upset me, i do remember being annoyed when i would hear women in the day care i work at say they were “playing single mom while hubby was out or away.” my ex-husband wasn’t just out or away, he was in jail for beating the crap out of me. i have not seen him in 6 years, my daughter hasn’t seen him in 6 years, and we’ve not had a penny of child support either.
    if you are a widow or an incarcerated partner, you have my deepest sympathies for we are the intense single mothers.
    i’ve known a few ladies who complain about being a divorced single mom…but they got child support and time off due to custody arrangements. it still sucks but at least there’s some relief and help.
    the author is right in saying that women should stand up for themselves and work with their partners to create more equality if they are truly feeling neglected.

    • Rachel

      I felt like a single mother before I became a single mother. It honestly wasn’t as difficult of a transition, the largest difficulty trying to coordinate childcare for my children when I worked. My ex isn’t incarcerated, as he got off on a technicality. The children’s social worker was shocked that he wasn’t charged and apologized several times, but told me to call her if he ever tried for custody. Even though he isn’t sitting in prison (as he should be), he has no custody bc he is unsafe. So yes, I understand and sometimes am envious of single parents who get a weekend here and now away. In the past 2.5 years, I have been alone 1 night without the kids as my neighbors took all three for an evening. I awoke in the morning and folded laundry in the silence. After an hour I began to miss them terribly. But it is good and healthy for single moms to have a day or two of time to just recoup. It is a tough job, but of course, worth every drop of sweat!
      I agree with the author on asking for help, but what if your husband refuses? I would ask him to wash the dishes and he would laugh and say, “You know I hate doing dishes. I don’t care if they pile up. I’m not doing them.” and walk away. During my third labor, it was getting pretty tough to breathe through and I asked him to please come and watch our 2 and 5 y/o. He refused because he was doing work on the house. I finally called my parents who drove the 30 mins over to our house. All the while he was cheating on me as well, but if you have a partner who doesn’t respect you (or women in general), there is nothing you can do. You live and you learn. Divorce was one of the best things that happened to me because I learned that I do have worth and I have so much more confidence and love now which makes me a better mom to my kids!

  • MsWoozy

    I’m a single mom and it bugs me when partnered mothers call themselves single moms, because they’re NOT. Just because their partner is out of town, or working a lot, or whatever, it does not mean that the partnership has ended and to boot, they’re complaining about a temporary situation for them that is a permanent situation for me. What if I went on Facebook EVERY DAY and played the single mom card? That would get old REAL QUICK.

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