What is a “Single Mother”?

single adjective sin·gle |  \ ˈsiŋ-gəl   \

Definition of single

  1. not married
  2. unaccompanied by others 

A single woman is unmarried, she may be divorced or never married.

A single mother is a parent without the support of the other, typically male, parent, either due to choices or circumstances. She is unaccompanied by a co-parent in raising a child.

A mother who is a single woman is just that.

Being a single mother is inherently different than being a single woman.

I am a mother who is single. I am divorced. My ex-husband is present and active in my child’s life and sees him daily. I am not solely responsible for getting him to his destinations or coordinating his social activities. I do, as his custodial parent, make most of the choices regarding his daily life, and take care of the majority of his daily needs. I’m always on the clock. And while I am sure to include his father in the important discussions, often they are mine alone to make. Despite that, he and I have our disagreements about how he parents, but there is no doubt that he parents.

There is a fallacy that married women tend to have a monopoly on proper parenting and partnership. I disagree. Marital status does not dictate one’s success at parenting. That’s tomfoolish respectability politics. Furthermore, marriage is a choice. It is not the only legal designation that ensures that a woman has the legal rights to make choices about and be supported in case something happens to her partner. That is a misunderstanding that is propagated by ignorance of the law. Yes, marriage can be wonderful, but it’s not always the ideal situation for each woman, mother or not. Marriage should always be a choice, not a necessity or a sentence. Judge ya mama.

Besides, I know a lot of single mothers who are married. Yep, I’ll repeat it.

I know a lot of single mothers who are married.

Singleness in parenthood does not necessarily equate with marital status. There are plenty of wonderful men, married or unmarried to the mothers of their children who operate in partnership in parenthood. Likewise there are plenty of products of patriarchy that believe raising and tending to the needs of children is a woman’s role and his role is typically one of extremes… discipline versus fun or chastisement versus celebration, with not much else in between. He might be a parent biologically, but he’s not parenting. She is left alone in that role. Unaccompanied. Single.

If you can’t tell I despise this designation and it’s tricky definitions.

The truth is that because the percentage of single parent households in Black and Hispanic families are 65% and 42% compared to only 24% in White households (Children in single-parent families by race | KIDS COUNT Data Center”. datacenter.kidscount.org. Retrieved 2019-05-13. ), this entire topic is colored with stereotypes and assumptions not based in fact. In fact, that very set of data includes the caveat that the definition of single parent families includes a cohabiting parents (the two parents of the child living together) but not a remarried parent (one of the child’s parents and a stepparent). The entire discussion hinges on a set of inconsistent data and conjecture that serves to more easily label Black non-traditional families. It’s a bunch of bullshit, if you ask me.

While I might generally dislike the term “single mother”, I understand it’s general context. In the spirit of the use of single mother to mean an unmarried, divorced, or widowed mother, let’s be clear about who that woman is and what you should not assume about her.

Never automatically assume a single mother is…

  • alone
  • lonely
  • unpartnered
  • struggling
  • looking for a daddy for her kid(s)
  • financially unstable
  • available
  • unavailable
  • parenting alone
  • a charity case

So if she’s not automatically those things, what IS a single mother?

She’s a MF’in superhero!

Even with a co-parent in the cockpit, she flies that invisible jet over every obstacle, tear, disappointment, celebration, punishment, hug, kiss, tantrum, school project, broken heart, broken arm, and broken dream with her cape flying behind her. She has one uniform with an S on her chest, another one with a lasso and gold cuffs. Whether sewing on a button, giving a mid-week line up, playing tea party, or helping with significant numbers… she does it all while paying bills, organizing the house, and getting the oil changed. She’s a parent every single day, at every single minute, and that’s a sacrifice and a blessing unlike any other. She’s both super and a wonder.

She’s a business, man, selling water to wells. She’s a hustla baby… I just wanted you to know.

And just in case you wanna date her, don’t be stingy with dinero… cuz she already got to spend to go out with you!

…but You have No Idea

I hate the term single mother… mainly because you rarely hear the alternative, single father. Chances are, I am a single woman who is someone’s mother and I may or may not have a co-parent, but my experience cannot even, at its most simple, be contained by such a limiting term…single mother.

You think you know…

I wake up responsible both for myself and another human being, completely. Yes, my child has a father, a present father, but he doesn’t live in our home and my child does not have a full home at his home. Anywhere he goes he has to pack a bag of the necessities and clothes that I purchased. I feed him all three meals. I provide the utilities he uses to do homework, play video games, watch tv, and see in the middle of the night on his way to use the bathroom. I buy the band-aids, cold medicine, deodorant (he’s 13, ain’t enough deodorant in the world), soap, and Oral B toothbrush heads. I paid for the braces. I rub his knees when he has growing pains, and kiss his face when he needs reassurance or just some affection.

You think you know…

I have had to be late to work or miss work when he’s sick, moving slow, and can’t find his left shoe… vacation time has never been used for a real vacation. My dates, until they were serious relationship material, were kept out of sight as my home was off limits. Kids fall in love too. I have missed concerts, parties, brunch…yep brunch is important because, well, mimosas. While I have a mother who loves to see her grandchild and family, friends, and sitters … often a quick, “I can’t go I gotta take care of…” text was just easier.

You think you know…

And yes, his father is present, but he’s not his primary caregiver so often, even when he’s been with his father, I am left to do all the giving. Being a mother is generally a full time job that never stops, and unfortunately when women started working, no shift in general thought changed that had men take on half the responsibility, even ones in the home. Provider meant financial… and there is so much more to parenting. And let’s be honest, if you aren’t in the home you likely aren’t taking on the full financial burden equally. We won’t even talk about child support.

I am the CEO, COO, and CFO. I am at and have been at every game, meet, or competition… my child has played seven sports over time… but ONE (I had the flu)! I have been to every parent/teacher meeting. I keep up with grades. I find and usually fund all his programs, opportunities, classes, and learning centered experiences… and they have been numerous because he’s a scholar. I have no holds barred talks about sex and relationships. I keep a stocked refrigerator. I keep the WIFI on and paid. I monitor EVERYTHING… no text message or drawer is off limits to my view.

I taught him to make a simple meal.

I taught him how to do laundry.

I taught him how to keep his Jordan’s crispy and how to shake hands and make eye contact.

I taught him how to write his name and I’m teaching him how to honor his name. I don’t do all of these things singularly but I do them all constantly and consistently, and I’m the only one who does so.

I am meal planner, jitney service, interior designer, the hospitality staff, school liaison, activity coordinator, safety police, health and wellness coach, stylist, entertainment specialist, and relational coordinator.

So often… I am not coming. I don’t know. I don’t care. I’m frustrated. I’m tired. I have spent all day working, prepared to get a call from school or that I don’t feel good call. I get home and have to make a meal, help with homework, check grades, and then hopefully take a shower and watch some Rachel Maddow before I fall asleep. I might not have eaten dinner. I might not have exercised. I might not have returned phone calls. However, I looked pretty good, smelled good, my shoe and handbag game was right, and my hair was whipped… Thank God I don’t look as dusty as my journey has been. But trust me, I have been busy AF and I’m tired. Period!

And that ain’t the half of it…