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.