The Stigma of the Single Mum

Saturday, 18 August 2018


When you are young parent a lot of things are assumed about you, mostly that you were stupid, irresponsible, and reckless, and with that that you are single. Being single and a parent is a sign of immaturity. Being in a relationship decent enough to survive having, or even to plan to have, a child is seen to be beyond the reach of youth. 

The idea is that being a single mother is somehow shameful, and the fact that shame is placed at the door of the mother (when so often in fact it is the fault of the father, cough) is wildly unfair. 

Being a single mother is incredibly difficult and there are very few that choose to go down this route, it’s not that you don’t want a relationship, it’s that you don’t want a shitty relationship, or it’s that time and circumstance has not permitted one that you see to be fit.

So what is the stigma, how do we all perpetuate it, myself included, and how do we begin to change our mindset regarding that in the modern age of parenting and motherhood. 


The assumption is that you have been left. That you have been abandoned by the father, and for that you must be at fault, and for that you ought to be pitied. It is not often that even I find myself thinking that she has left him, or that they have parted amicably, or even that there was no “him” in the first place (even in my own situation this isn’t a thought that comes to the forefront). It’s not because I don’t want these things to be a part of my thought processes, or even that I realise that they’re not, but it seems to be a subconscious thought. 

When people tell me Edith is tall, it is often followed up with “is her dad tall?” and most of the time I just say yes. Because technically she does have a “father” and he is tall. She doesn’t have a dad, and I can’t be bothered to explain our situation for the thousandth time. They’re asking about her genetics and in a way I justify is that the presence or lack thereof of bears no consequence when it comes to her genetics. She’s tall, because he’s tall, probably, or in part because everyone else in my family is tall. 

Despite this, however, there is a level of respect from woman to woman when it comes to the single mother. We know it’s difficult, even if we don’t experience it. Remember that week of “solo parenting” yeah! Imagine that! Every! Week! Whoa! So it’s not that we don’t know it but somehow we don’t place much weight in it. 

So we perpetuate the stigma and the laissez-faire attitude towards it [lacking fathers] like so. I remember my friend dating a man who had had a baby with a woman less than a year prior. They were not together, and I don’t know why. My friend said to me “seeing you be a single parent makes me feel better about his ex” – and I thought what the fuck! My show of dealing with it should not excuse the actions of the man that had thrown off his responsibilities put this other woman in the position of being a single parent. He doesn't suffer for it.

If you are a young parent, ask yourself how often you have been asked if your child was planned [this question is invasive, unprompted, and not okay, FYI], if the dad is involved, if you’re “a bit young, aren’t you?”. If you are single, ask yourself how often you pretend you have a partner, or don't correct those that assume, just to avoid answering questions from strangers – personal questions. If you are not single but you are young ask yourself how quickly you jump to your own defence when confronted with the question of whether you are single, whether your children were planned, and ask yourself why you so quick to do it. 

There is no shame in being a single mother, instead I think there is a power in it. 

“SOLO PARENTING” comes up a lot. It’s not just ‘solo parenting’ for a few days. It’s every day. And if you have a partner, or even a co-parenting relationship, it’s not quite the same. It’s being responsible for every bill, nobody helping you financially at all. You rely on your single income, if you even get that. It’s worrying about how, and if, you can put food on the table. It’s having nobody who feels as responsible for that child as you do, nobody as responsible for the child as you are. It’s being the only person to get the dinner in, the only person to wipe tears, be up at night. No single minute off duty. Who buys the treats? Me. Who packs for swimming? Me. 

Who is there to wipe my tears when I’m overwhelmed? Nobody. Maybe a parent, yeah, but there is still a niggle of “they must think I got myself into this position in the first place, I chose this”. Who is there to listen on the phone? Nobody. Who is there to watch the children for at least five minutes without you feeling like they’re doing you a favour? Nobody. 

Being a single parent is much more than just being on your own with your child. It’s financial, it’s social, it’s economic, and it’s emotional as fuck. 

Let us think of that when we see single mothers, or meet single mothers. Let us think instead how well they’re doing, not in their given circumstances, but in the grand scheme of every circumstance. Let’s not patronise them with “i’m solo parenting this weekend, big props to single mum!!”, because you have no idea. You take our lives and experiences and use them as fodder, for what? For sympathy? Is one weekend that difficult you need encouragement for it? Where are my daily cheerleaders?

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