I can still remember the first time another mom on the playground asked me about my husband.
“Um, well, he’s not my husband, he’s my boyfriend,” I stammered out, kind of taken aback by the question.
At the time, my boyfriend (now ex) were in a long-distance relationship. Even though I was in a relationship for two years, I always say that I’ve been a single mom since my son was an infant. During that time, there were many encounters with other moms who would always assume I was married because I had a kid.
After I’d politely correct them, I always felt kind of weird. Why is it that the assumption of a woman who is a mother defaults to married?
I never gave any of the moms who asked about my husband any indication that I was married. For one, I was not wearing a wedding ring. Yes, I know some married people don’t wear rings, but that’s pretty rare for women. At no point did I ever mention “husband” in reference to my son’s father while we talked.
It wasn’t until I became a single mom that I realized just how much we, as a society, default to the heteronormative archaic view of what a nuclear family is supposed to look like. But come on, it’s 2018, why is that still the default? At this point, we all know there is no one way to make a family.
My son’s father and I were in a fairly happy relationship up until the time my son was born. He was a total surprise, and we were definitely not prepared for the arrival of a child. We had been together for a few years, and marriage had been discussed, but we were only in our late 20s and figured we had a few years to get married and start a family. Obviously, the universe had a different set of plans. Being in a long-distance relationship was hard enough without the added stress of everyone assuming I had a husband somewhere who they never saw. It was like being married to a ghost.
Even after we broke up, there was still a stigma to fight. It’s hard to find anyone who is talking about what it’s like to live in a world as a single mother who isn’t also a divorcee. No one writes books for us single moms who have never been married. We are kind of forgotten about here in the circle. But we face a completely different set of challenges and stigmas. Somehow those of us who were never married have to shoulder all of the blame for the way our relationships ended. Because apparently, only women have control over relationships.
The unmarried single mom is the face for a lot of the negative connotations about single moms.
“If you had just kept your legs closed then you wouldn’t be a single mom,” people imply or say — as if we’re the only ones who had sex to make this baby.
“Why don’t you get married? If you loved each other enough to make this baby, why don’t you love each other enough to get married?” Hmm, that’s an excellent question. But, again, I’m not the only person in my relationship who is making decisions. You can’t marry someone who doesn’t want to get married. Marriage isn’t something you can force someone into just because they claim to love you. I desperately wanted to marry my ex. He claims to have wanted the same, but life happened a different way.
Being a single mother is hard enough without having to deal with societal expectations of what led you to become a single mother. Sometimes relationships end even before they really begin. Sometimes as much as you love someone, you don’t get married. That doesn’t invalidate your relationship or your struggles as a single mom. We’re usually the ones who have to work harder and fight harder.
Being a divorced single mom does offer you a certain safety net. For many of us single moms who didn’t get divorced, we often have to fight more for things like child support and for our kids to have a relationship with their dads and extended families. And for those of us who were never in a relationship with our children’s father for whatever reason, the stigmas and judgment are only magnified.
It’s hard to stand amongst a group of other mothers and politely nod along while they talk about divorce lawyers and settlements. You pretend to understand what they mean when they talk about what giant pains in the ass their ex-MILs are. Some of us may understand the struggle of our ex moving on with another person and how that messes with the power dynamic of co-parenting.
It’s easy to disregard us as less than. But we’re not. We came into mothering via a different path, but that doesn’t diminish our journey. I see you, I’m with you.