What the Statistics Won't Tell You About Single MothersLeah Campbell
Yet again, single mothers are in the news. The most recent Shriver Report has a list of statistics that make the plight of single motherhood seem quite daunting—numbers that say they are more likely to live with regret and at the height of poverty, struggling so much more than those with partners by their sides.
These statistics aren’t unique—they come to light every time somebody decides to do another study on the struggles single mothers face. The research would tell you that the challenges endured by single mothers are extreme and that their ability to succeed in that role is limited.
But the research doesn’t always tell you the full story.
I am a Single Mother by Choice, part of a growing demographic of women who choose single motherhood as their path to parenting. Most of us are in our 30s, well educated, successful—far outside the statistics. And for many of us, there is no regret in how we have become mothers. Our children are our lives, the best things that have ever happened to us.
There is something to be said for that choice—for the mothers who strive towards single motherhood, rather than recoiling from it. Too often, the statistics seem to more accurately represent Single Mothers by Chance—those who became unexpectedly pregnant or those who entered parenthood with partners by their side, only to be left alone without much of a say at some point down the line. The numbers speak more to poverty and a lack of options than they do to single motherhood as a whole.
It’s a flaw in the research that fails to differentiate between the two groups and possibilities. But there are plenty of voices telling a different story than the ones the numbers are portraying.
Take Tarsha Downing (blog: www.tarshastreasurechest.blogspot.com), for instance, a 32-year-old law office manager living in Maine. She chose to adopt her daughter, Imani, from Uganda as a single woman, purely because she knew she was ready to be a parent. She says she doesn’t even think about the fact that she is a single mom anymore. “It’s our only way,” she explained. “I would do it all over again for my girl.” She says the stats on single motherhood aren’t representative of her, and that “we are not doomed to become something because the ones before us did.”
Then there is Rebecca (last name withheld for privacy). She is a 42-year old senior vice president in banking who is a Single Mother by Choice to daughter Ella, 21 months old. While she had believed she found the love of her life years before, it never quite worked out, and in her late 30s she decided that she would rather pursue motherhood on her own than never at all. Ella was born 15 weeks premature, from complications due to preeclampsia. Because of that, she has developmental delays and requires more care than Rebecca had initially planned for, including a private nanny who is capable of dealing with Ella’s medical issues. For Rebecca, addressing those concerns is the biggest challenge of motherhood, but she is quick to point out that the same would be true even if she had a partner. She told me she sometimes catches herself saying, “When I was single…” in reference to her previous life, because, in her mind, she isn’t single anymore. She’s part of a family of two.
Lindsay Curtis, a 33-year-old communications specialist and mommy to daughter Evelyn, 11 months old, said that for as long as she could remember she wanted to be a mother. The long-term relationships just weren’t working out, and she decided to take the plunge on her own. She worries about being the only financial provider, but lives comfortably enough and is quick to recognize the benefits of single motherhood. “I discovered strength, patience and love I didn’t know I was capable of or had,” she told me. And, she enjoys the fact that she gets to call all the shots. No fighting or compromising on parenting styles, names or anything else. She gets to parent exactly as she wants to. In her mind, that’s a benefit to the choice she has made.
For these women, and many more like them, it came down to a matter of choice. They knew what they were getting into before they ever pursued becoming parents—and perhaps it is that level of thought that sets them apart from the single mothers so often represented by these studies. It was not too long ago that a report came out declaring homosexual parents were faring better than their heterosexual counterparts. According to the researchers, the difference was how the two groups had come to be parents in the first place—the homosexual group was full of parents who had to put a great deal of thought and effort into achieving their dreams of child rearing, while the heterosexual parent group was a mix of those who had truly dreamed of being parents and those who had found themselves raising children quite by accident. These differences created a dynamic where homosexual parents seemed more motivated and committed to their roles as parents according to the numbers, purely because each of them had needed to fight to get there in the first place.
For my part, pursuing single motherhood came after losing my fertility at a young age. It was a blow which made me realize how ready I was to be a mother, despite how elusive finding a long-term love had been. In the first few months of caring for my newborn, I remember thinking to myself “How do couples do this? I barely have enough time for just myself and her.” I couldn’t even imagine making the space for another person. I know that people do it, but I have to say, there were benefits to the fact that I didn’t have to. I was able to build a cocoon around myself and my daughter, making her the priority in my every waking moment. Would I love to find a partner in my life now, someone she can look up to and I can rely upon and trust? Absolutely. I would love for my daughter to grow up in a warm and stable two-parent home. But if that isn’t in the cards, and it is only just the two of us? I can still guarantee that we will be happy, safe and cared for. There will forever be enough love in our home. We will be just fine, my girl and I.And we will never be what those statistics might try to tell others we are.
Because I make a choice, every day, to commit to motherhood and my little girl.
And because I was lucky enough to have entered single motherhood at a time when I had opportunities and options.
Because that really is what those statistics come down to—poverty and a lack of options.
Not parenting on one’s own.