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“Single mom”

Apparently the posts Sweetney and I wrote about being single moms (in response to the Jezebel piece about marketers segmenting the single mom demographic into really weird groups) upset some people, who think that women like me shouldn’t be allowed to describe ourselves as single moms. I call BS.

If you are single, and you are a mom, you are a single mom. If you are single, and you are a dad, you are a single dad. If you are single, and you are a parent, you are a single parent.

My saying that I’m a single mom doesn’t mean that my kids’ dad isn’t in their life and isn’t an equal parent. He calls himself a single dad (right there in his “About Doug” section), and that doesn’t take anything away from me. (We’ve talked about it.)

The idea that “single mom” has all this weird cultural baggage and implications of nobility and shame and poverty and humility and sacrifice is bizarre, since those concepts apply to some of us but not others. And to married/partnered parents, too! I know plenty of partnered (hey, lesbians can be moms and even single moms, too, and gay men can be dads and single dads) parents who have tons of struggle with finances, who got pregnant accidentally as teenagers, and who sacrifice like crazy for their kids. I know plenty of single mothers who don’t get any support from their children’s other parent (if there is one) but who have financial and emotional support from others. And there are plenty of us who wish we were the only ones making decisions because making decisions about our kids with another person who doesn’t share our values is continually painful. So the idea that being a single parent is a comment on the minute-by-minute quality of your life, and that it makes you somehow more sacrificing, is nothing but a Horatio Alger myth (with some hetero privilege and sexism thrown in).

What is simply a descriptor, like “right-handed” or “blue-eyed,” has taken on a mythic quality that reduces the people who wear the Single Mom badge to nothing but that and minimizes those of us who aren’t struggling every second of every day. It’s not good for anyone.

If you really think that only certain people deserve to use the descriptor “single mom,” then where do you draw the line? Just the act of deciding that some people are worthy and others aren’t is, in fact, a Mommy Drive-by, no more worth your time and energy than getting upset about who works outside the home and who doesn’t, who feeds their children all organic foods and who doesn’t, who sends their children to school and who homeschools. What do you get out of feeding the judgment monster?

If you want to be a misogynist and pit women (parents) against each other, I can’t stop you. But I WILL stand up and say that I’m not going to play Misery Poker, and I’m not going to say that my friend who is single and doesn’t have primary custody of her children is less than my friend whose son’s father has never seen him is less than my friend whose husband died of cancer when their twins were a few months old is less than my friend whose kids’ father sees them twice a week for a few hours and tosses her 50 bucks sometimes when he can is less than my friend whose ex-husband contributes significantly to her income is less than my friend whose wife left her for the woman across the street is less than than my friend’s mother who had her at the age of 15 and lived with her parents to raise my friend is less than my friend who adopted her daughter alone. And I’m not going to say than any of them are less or more than my single male friends who have all kinds of custody and financial arrangements but who do the absolute best for their children, either.

If I get remarried or partnered, then I won’t be single, so I won’t be a single mom anymore. But until then, I’m a single mom. And that doesn’t imply anything else about me except that I have kids and I’m not In a Relationship. And that’s all it says about any of the other single parents I know.

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