Why do we still give single moms a hard time?

Why Do We Still Give Single Moms a Hard Time?

October 21, 2016

Why Do We Still Give Single Moms a Hard Time?

Why Do We Still Give Single Moms a Hard Time?
Why Do We Still Give Single Moms a Hard Time?

When I shared an article on my Facebook about how to prepare for your baby’s birth, the response was explosive. The article recommended that you lay by lots of freezer meals because cooking with a baby is difficult. I said, “Why does this article assume the husband will be no help at all with cooking?” Many of my friends responded, “Why are you assuming a pregnant lady will have a husband?” After all, she could be unmarried, lesbian, or raising the kid by herself.

One friend who was a single mom told me that parenting and pregnancy media often excludes, patronizes, or pities single moms. The more I researched it, the more I saw the extent of the problem.

People frown on single moms more than same-sex marriage

In an era of some progress towards acceptance of gay families and interracial families, acceptance of single parent families has lagged behind. Studies show that 13% of Americans disapprove of interracial marriage, 37% of Americans disapprove of same-sex marriage, but a whopping 69% of Americans disapprove of single mothers. Since 26% of US children live in single parent homes, that means over 19 million children are potentially impacted by this thoughtless stigma towards their family situation.

“Could it really be true?” I asked myself. “Are single moms really more discriminated against than gay parents?” It appeared that not only do single moms experience more disapproval, there’s also less discussion about ending the stigma. My friends have shared hundreds of articles about ending LGBT discrimination, but until I started researching this article, I never saw any articles about ending single parent discrimination. Isn’t that strange?

Judgment of nontraditional families is hurtful to children

When I shared my single parent research with my folks, I heard a family story that surprised me. Apparently, when my great aunt was a little girl and her family was going through divorce, the other children were not allowed to play at her house. My great aunt told me, “Neither I or they really understood why, from the perspective of age seven and eight.” From the perspective of age twenty-nine, I’m not sure I understand either! To me, these attitudes feel prehistoric. And yet, it didn’t happens so long ago; my great aunt isn’t even retired yet.

I have to wonder, is this still going on? Are children of single or divorced parents still experiencing shunning? The cruelty of the adults in this story is just so shocking to me. How could they let their disapproval of solo moms interfere with children’s friendships?

Are attitudes towards single moms changing?

The happy news is that positive representation of single moms in the media is on the rise. In the movie The Switch, Jennifer Aniston played a single mom by choice. Defending The Switch in an interview, Jennifer said, “The point of the movie is what is it that defines family? It isn’t necessarily the traditional mother, father, two children and a dog named Spot. Love is love and family is what is around you and who is in your immediate sphere… it is not the traditional sort of stereotype of what we have been taught as a society of what family is.”

One interesting thing that came up in my research is that more and more women are deliberately choosing to be single moms (it’s called “choice moms” for short). Cosmo did an article about it, a membership organization exists to support them, and a book has been written to help women decide whether single motherhood is right for them. Research psychologists describe mothers who choose single parenthood as being, “independent and mature with high self-esteem, a well-developed capacity to tolerate frustration, and stable family backgrounds (with the caveat that such families are often ‘complicated’ or ‘nontraditional’).”

Three stories from single moms by choice

It’s not just the Jennifer Aniston movie: personal essays from choice moms have been going viral.

Katy Chatel, writing for the Washington Post, says: “For me, being the best mother I can be means being a mom alone, at least for now. I want to devote myself to motherhood, something I fear I can’t do with the additional demands of a partnership… Parenting alone allows me to make the best decisions for my son without needing to compromise for a partner’s differing personal beliefs, needs or career demands.”

“Parenting alone allows me to make the best decisions for my son without needing to compromise for a partner’s differing personal beliefs, needs or career demands.”

An article by Slate tells the story of Lily, a working-class woman who broke up with her baby’s father because he kept quitting jobs and ran up several hundred dollars in expenses on her credit card. Lily explains her break-up by saying, “I can support myself. I always have. I can support myself and our kid. I just can’t support myself, the kid, and him.” Research shows that a record 40% of moms are the sole or primary source of income for their families, and yet women still make 78 cents on the man’s dollar. I wonder how many other breadwinning moms can’t make their income stretch to include a spouse?

Single mom by choice Katie Roiphe is deeply opposed to the idea that single parent households are inherently bad for children. She writes in her opinion piece for the New York Times, “If there is anything that currently oppresses the children, it is the idea of the way families are ‘supposed to be,’ an idea pushed — in picture books and classrooms and in adults’ casual conversation — on American children at a very early age and with surprising aggressiveness.”

The common theme among the essays was this: choosing to be a single parent was about devoting more resources to the child. For me, this ran directly counter to stereotypes I’d heard all my life about single moms. But as I read these women’s stories, I realized something. My plans for a traditional family and these women’s plans for a single parent family were motivated by the same thing: a desire to give the children security.

Why do people disapprove of single moms so much?

People who disapprove of single moms will mention studies about children with married parents being more successful. But is that because their parents are married–or because two-person households tend to have more money? Researchers from the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution tried to break apart all the factors and study them independently. Their conclusion was that marriage might possibly have a very small effect on the adult outcomes of children, but the majority of the difference was caused by income, time spent on parenting, and other factors like the nature of the neighborhood where the child lived.

Research by Professor McLanahan reaches similar conclusions that “the primary risks associated with single motherhood arise from financial insecurity.” Furthermore, she finds that “a two-parent, financially stable home with stress and conflict would be more destructive to children than a one-parent, financially stable home without stress and conflict.” The problem with trying to come up with an “objective” answer in parenting is that we don’t live in an “objective” world. All of us live in our own unique, subjective situation.

The stereotype of the single mom as beaten down and unlucky “is exhausting, not only I imagine to the single mothers who see it time and time again, but to the children who respect the single women who raised them,” writes this Gawker journalist. She discusses Kanye West’s depiction of his single mom in his music: “I can’t imagine Kanye West thinking of his mother in this condescending or exhausted way. He worshipped her.”

“I can’t imagine Kanye West thinking of his mother in this condescending or exhausted way. He worshipped her.”

I want to hear from single moms

My friend’s remarks about how parenting and pregnancy writers overlooked her as a single mom made a big impression on me. I don’t want to overlook anybody. But to create good content for single moms, I need to hear their stories.

Babylist traditionally creates articles and recommendations by reaching out to our community for wisdom. I would love to hear single moms’ answers to these questions:

  1. What was it like when you were planning your baby shower?

  2. How do you make your village (put together the community of people that supports you and your baby)?

  3. What’s your advice for expecting single moms?

  4. What is the one thing you wish someone had told you about being a single mom?


Charlotte Ashlock creates content for Babylist, but only her opinion pieces are bylined. This is her first opinion piece. Her professional background is in book publishing and online marketing. She loves animals, babies, arguing on Facebook, books about dragons and wizards, and pie.


Charlotte Ashlock is a former Content Producer for Babylist, a book nerd and loves experimenting with baked goods.

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