We Need To Stop Fighting Over The Definition Of 'Single Mom'

by Rachael Boley
Originally Published: 
Rachael Boley / iStock

Like it or not, everyone has an image in their head of what a single mom looks like: good, bad and in between. Before I became one, I did too.

The common stereotype is a woman with more kids than society might deem appropriate, working eight jobs, and still struggling to make ends meet. She’s forever stressed, lives on the edge of sanity, and is one glass of spilled milk away from losing her mind entirely. She misses time with her children trying to provide for them. She might be on welfare, and in the misguided eyes of many, may “abuse the system” by continuing on in this “chosen” lifestyle. She has little to no support and is often continuing the cycle of how she was raised.

The circumstances of how she became a single mom vary widely. She may have been an unwed teen mom or a woman without a plan who got hit by life and is now having to pick up the pieces as she struggles to keep food on the table. She may have loved the wrong man and stuck around because she didn’t feel she had any other choice, or because she wanted the best for him and her children. She may have been raped. Her husband may have morphed into someone entirely different than the man she married, and now she finds herself adjusting to a life she never imagined in her wildest nightmares. She may be a widow. Or she may have chosen this path all on her own because she simply wanted to be a mother.

Single moms, solo moms, or whatever term you want to use, come in all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life. There may be that negative stereotype out there of what a single mom looks like and what her circumstances are based on the title, but the thing is, it’s often far from accurate.

Regardless of the details surrounding a single mother’s situation, she, like every mother, has hundreds of plates in the air at all times, and sometimes, they fall. That’s the reality of moms. Not just single moms.

The thing I have found the most interesting about single motherhood is not necessarily the challenges and struggles. It hasn’t been the heartache of my situation or the grief for what my almost ex-husband is missing by his own choice. It’s not the judgment from the outside world or the assumptions made by others about how I ended up with three boys and no husband. Those things I expected.

What I didn’t expect is some of the silent judgment from within the world of single moms. The most interesting thing I have observed, and one of the most emotionally challenging things for me to stomach, is the unspoken hierarchy there seems to be within the single mom tribe.

I showed up here by accident. Many of us did. As I said, most women don’t wake up one morning and say, “You know what I think would be fan-freakin-tastic!? To raise children on my own!” But, things happen and we end up in this place. We make the best of it. We work with what we have, we seek to make ourselves better, we sacrifice everything for our babies, and we do our best, every second of every day.

Just like all moms.

We all know about the mom wars. And I cannot stand it. But I find it interesting that with normal mom wars, the mudslinging tends to stay based on things like breastfeeding or not, co-sleeping or not, vaccinating or not, homeschooling or public school. When you peek inside the single mom world, there is a whole other sphere of mommy battling.

The warfare escalates from breastfeeding or not to child support or not. Present father or not. Married and divorced or never married. And there is a hierarchy.

Some single moms look down on others because they don’t struggle enough. Single moms who have support either through family or through an actually present co-parent often hear things like, “She’s not a real single mom. Try getting no child support and having someone who has never met their child. I’m doing it all on my own. I’m a real single mom. She’s not.”

The fact is, there are different situations. It is harder to be 100% alone versus having family support, active child support, and/or a reliable co-parent. But every situation is different. And every situation is hard. Parenting is hard. Period. Single or married, perfect choices or broken homes, happy united family or pile of busted dreams. Parenting, and life, is hard.

So is it fair to judge each other so harshly based on what got us where we are and what cards we were dealt after?

What does a “real single mom” look like?

Here’s what I think she looks like. In fact, here’s what I think all moms look like.

She looks like a damn hero.

She looks like a woman with wisdom in her eyes. Wisdom that was birthed through pain and fear and doubt and success. She looks tired. She questions every move she makes. She’s confident. She has children following her everywhere she goes, like a mother duck with her ducklings at the pond. She looks like a frazzled mess.

She wears heels and pencil skirts. She wears stained yoga pants and holey T-shirts. She never showers and slaves in the kitchen over grilled cheese sandwiches without the crust. She has days at the salon and perfectly manicured nails. She dresses up and does her make-up. She’s covered in spit up and poop.

She has a sparkle in her eye that can only come from the love of her child. She glows. She radiates grace and patience. She loses her temper and falls into her bed each night sure she’s getting it all wrong. She works full time in an office and she works full time at home.

She’s beautiful. She’s brave. She’s strong.

And she doesn’t have to fit your stereotypes. She doesn’t have to prove who has it harder or better. She doesn’t have time for that. No matter what got you here, single or otherwise, we are all in this mom thing together.

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