SAHM No More explores the the ups-and-downs of navigating a new world of parenting, transitioning from married stay-at-home motherhood to a full-time working, divorced motherhood. And there are a lot of adjustments being made—a lot of adjustments and not a lot of sleep.
We are a society that loves to label. Everybody uses labels as shorthand. I know that I do. I mean, here in New York, it sometimes seems like you can tell almost everything there is to know about a person based on whether or not they live in Manhattan or Brooklyn, or whether or not they are a Mets fan or a Yankees fan. And during this 2012 election cycle, it sure seems like you can tell a whole lot about a person based on whether they are a Democrat or Republican. And while it might not seem necessary that labels double as value judgments, that is usually exactly what happens.
Sometimes that can be acceptable. I mean, if someone wants to judge me because of the political party that I associate with or the sports team I worship, so be it. These are my choices, and I will accept the positive and negative things attributed to my chosen allegiances. But lately, I’ve been confronted with labels that have been applied to women in my position—namely, single working mothers—and I’ve found that the connotations are incredibly disparaging and personally hurtful, but, even worse than that, ignorant of systemic problems.
I guess that the original trigger for me was when Mitt Romney correlated the prevalence of gun violence with single motherhood. My immediate reaction was outrage, on behalf of myself and on behalf of all the single mothers out there who do the absolute best that they can and don’t need to be told that what we’re doing is not good enough—and never will be—simply because of the fact that we are doing it alone.
The reality is that I struggle daily with things that I wouldn’t have to struggle with if I had a parenting partner who lived with me. Things like racing from work to pick up one kid from his after-school program and the other kid from his music lesson would be stress-free if I had a partner to share the burden. But I don’t.
Maybe I’d be able to make it to a PTA meeting once in awhile if I didn’t get home from work right after the meetings end. Maybe I would have the time to roast my own chicken instead of just picking up a pre-cooked rotisserie bird from the grocery store. Maybe, just maybe, I could be the perfect mom if I weren’t alone and busy all the time. But I am alone. And I am working all the time. So not only is there no way that I can be the perfect mom, I am—at least according to Mitt Romney—raising my sons to become mass murderers.
Mass murderers! Funny, really, because I always thought that I was trying to raise them to be healthy, caring, intelligent young men who will contribute to our society in a meaningful way. But maybe I should throw those plans out the window because I’m a single mom? Because it’s hopeless no matter what I do? I know that the statistics—which are really just numbers that allow us to most easily label one another—are pretty dire when it comes to the drawbacks of single motherhood. But I also know that the days where the majority of American homes are filled with perfectly traditional nuclear families like the Romneys are numbered.
The trend in the United States is toward families where the parents aren’t married, and whether or not that’s because they never chose to be, or wound up divorcing like I did, is irrelevant. Instead of demonizing these households, we need to reevaluate the labels that we’ve assigned them.
Marriages that end in divorce don’t have to be “failures.” Women who give birth out of wedlock didn’t have “accidents.” Just because a mother cannot attend every school function does not mean she is apathetic or callous. These types of societal preconceptions won’t do anything except alienate single parents from the support that they need.
And single mothers—especially those who are working full-time—do need support.
One of the reasons that the statistics are so discouraging is that most single mother homes are in the lowest income brackets. Money matters. It sounds obvious but it frequently gets overlooked. When Ann Romney talks about the pleasures of staying home with her kids, it’s hard for me not to roll my eyes when I think about the millions of dollars that the Romneys have at their disposal. I don’t begrudge them in the slightest. But I also think that very few families, let alone single parent families, have those economic luxuries. And while economic and social inequalities have existed since the beginning of, well, since the beginning of economies and societies, I am more than a little tired of feeling like I’ve been labeled a failure when my job isn’t even finished yet.
That’s the key, I think. Every time someone disparages single mothers or working parents who don’t have the luxury of time that stay-at-home parents do, all that it does is perpetuate this idea that there is one good way and one bad way. And as damaging as this may be to the psyches of the parents who are struggling to do their best in hard situations, think of what this must be doing to the kids who are growing up in a society where one of the men running for president thinks that they are destined to fail.