When you hear, see or read people talking about single mothers, more often than not, the comments are negative. Single mothers are branded harlots and sinners for not having a child within a legal marriage. They are blamed for crime and violence in our communities. Their ability to parent their children is questioned because there is no man in the house. The government tries to punish them for transgressing societal norms around motherhood (reducing public assistance benefits).
What individuals, the media, and the legislators refuse to understand is that parenting a child alone is simply another way to parent, just like two-parent heterosexual families, gay and lesbian families, and families that include extended relatives. Regardless of whether single motherhood was an active choice a woman made, it is a legitimate family structure.
What single mothers need is support, so they can effectively raise their children in a loving, financially stable home. Despite the ominous statistics about how the children of single mothers fare in life, millions of single mothers raise healthy and happy children into adulthood.
I am one of them.
Was my life perfect? Of course not. My mother struggled financially, but I never went without the basic necessities of life and often had more. My mom wasn’t perfect, but what mother is? Looking back, I realized I had a pretty good childhood.
My mother and my grandparents were a great support system. They were my second and third parents, really. Yearly vacations, two sets of Christmas presents every year, good food, clean clothes, and love were what they gave me.
Of course, I wished that my biological father was in my life, but I didn’t dwell on it too much because I did have a father figure in my grandfather and uncle. What many people don’t realize is that just because the biological father isn’t in the home doesn’t mean children are not receiving any male influence. Often there are grandfathers, uncles and cousins, acting as surrogate father figures.
I’m not saying that single mother families are all like mine, cause that is not true. There are too many mothers who are struggling day in and day out to put food on the table, keep their kids engaged in school, prevent their children from becoming victims of violence, finding employment that actually pays enough to live off of, and have somewhat of a personal life. What single mothers need is not our shaming, but our support. Offer to babysit so a mother can go on a job interview, or go to class, or just get some much needed time to herself. If you have connections or information about a job or education, that would help a mom and her family, share them! Let a single mother know that you are here for her. Last but not least, start advocating for policies that support single mothers, and by extension all mothers, with affordable high quality childcare, generous paid parental leave and sick days, living-wage employment, affordable housing, and higher education opportunities.
T.H. is a 27-year-old child of a single mother. She currently works as a grant writer at a nonprofit organizations that provides housing and supportive services to homeless families. In addition to her job, she has volunteered with organizations that focus on issues of maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, clean water access, and juvenile justice.