The Single Mother Stigma: 5 Common Misconceptions That Need To Go Away Now

by Ashley Simpo
Originally Published: 
A single mother kissing her daughter's cheek
eli_asenova / iStock

A viral tweet set off a heavy debate about single moms in the U.S. and who is to blame for the demise of children in America.

A few weeks ago, I retweeted an Affinity Magazine article about the freshly approved Conscience Protection Act bill in Oklahoma. This bill is meant to protect the interests of religious groups that believe life begins at conception. Because of this bill, it will be increasingly acceptable for hospitals or clinics to refuse to offer emergency contraceptives, such as the Plan B pill. My response to this tweet was simple:

The retweet consequently went viral. Sixty-thousand retweets later, as I skimmed through a couple hundred replies, I realized that society’s impression of single mothers is a bit off the mark. Immediately my mention of single mothers being “underprepared” was translated into every negative stereotype there is. I attribute this, of course, to statistics that paint a very one-sided, numbers-only view of women who for one reason or another are raising their children as single parents.

As a woman who has been both a stay-at-home married mother and a single working mother (and nearly everything in between), I know the single mother stigma is damaging to those it pretends to encompass. Being unprepared for single-motherhood does not mean you’re failing at life. It does not mean you will leach off the welfare system. And it does not mean you will raise your children to be criminals. It’s time to put these distorted perceptions to rest.

Single moms are an accident.

This belief is a multi-dimensional failure and another perfect example of a larger problem being blamed on women. Statistics certainly don’t help the case. According to the most recent data, about half of the nation’s population of single mothers have never been married. A little more than half of the women who make up the nation’s single mothers are under the age of 24, and 15% percent are under the age of 20. One could examine these numbers and make assumptions that fit their shallow agendas. But what isn’t being recognized is that more than half of the single mothers in the U.S. are widowed, divorced, or separated (myself included).

Single moms raise criminals.

Blaming crime on single mothers is like looking at a whale through a pinhole. There are so many factors at play when you take a magnifying glass to the rise and fall of crime in the U.S. — access to thriving schools, household income, drug abuse, sexual abuse, to name a few. To rest the entirety of the country’s crime on the shoulders of single mothers is spineless and completely incorrect. Some of the most prominent figures in history have single mothers to thank for their upbringing — including our former president, Barack Obama. Crime is almost exclusively linked to poverty, not household structure.

Single moms are on welfare.

If you’ve never stood in the beige-walled, crowded waiting room of a welfare office, you shouldn’t be allowed to comment on the process. It’s one of those experiences that is eminently easier to criticize than to actually do. It is also something a person will only do when they are choiceless.

Right-wing naysayers have created this image of thirsty, goalless women lining the streets with their hands open beneath the government’s spout in hopes to avoid a hard day’s work. But the reality of welfare in this country is that it’s hardly enough to sustain life (on average cash payouts are around $430 a month), and most people in the U.S. don’t remain on it for more than five years. As for single moms? 45.8% percent of single mothers in the U.S. have received food stamps at some point. Only 11% have received cash benefits. Which means over half of the single mothers in this country are holding down the fort despite incredible odds in a society that is not built to support them.

Single moms are loose women.

Oh, yes, this one is about our vaginas. Whether it’s tongue-in-cheek sarcasm or a think piece rant about how single mothers are ruining an entire generation of men, the bottom line is that single moms are having too much sex. We ended up pregnant because we weren’t thinking ahead, didn’t care about consequences, and just wanted to get laid, or worse, trap a man. Regardless of the reason for wanting to have intercourse, until further notice, the act requires two willing parties of the opposite sex to create a baby.

There are real and valid reasons why some men are absent from their children’s lives such as active duty military and parents (mostly fathers) who are incarcerated. However, the main culprit for single mothers is not sex — it’s missing fathers. Somehow, the men seem to be left out of these conversations most of the time. It’s women who are the sex-crazed, baby-hungry offenders, absent fathers are just a byproduct. Hmmm…maybe we should revisit sex ed, guys.

Single moms need to get it together.

The world seems to forget that it is possible to plan a family and then, because life is a journey, also lose a spouse or partner. It’s possible to be a woman who has chosen to have children without partners, through adoption or IVF. A single mother is not an accident. She’s a woman who chose to keep her child despite other options. She is a woman who is rebalancing her newly structured family. She may be mourning. She may be completely unbothered. She may be struggling to get from day to day. But she is not simply a societal mishap.

Whether it’s welfare, a boss who offers a flexible schedule, or a neighbor willing to watch your child while you run errands, what single mothers really need is support. What is at play in single-mother homes is not a failure in parenting, but a failure in society to better support families of all shapes and sizes. Keeping up with your children’s education, balancing a tight budget, pleasing employers and providing disciplined structure at home is no easy task when going it alone.

Never mind self-care, mental health, rest, and proper nutrition so you can also thrive and be active for your children and yourself. Things absolutely slip through the cracks at times, whether you are a single parent or a partnered parent. The world doesn’t slow down or ease up for single-parent households. Children still get sick, rent still rises, bills are still due. Being a single mother in this country often feels like missing a tire and still being expected to win the race.

So less talk about how single mothers raise their children, more talk about how society can raise up single mothers.

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