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A single mom by any other name is an … um … er … uh …

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When I was in college we had this very sexy and elegant professor who had been the longtime chief foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune (again, me and the glamorous men!). All the girls loved him even though he was a million years old, and none of the guys could get it because — as my friend Jack said — “He has man boobs.”

In any case, one day he told our class, “Get business cards made with your name and ‘Journalist’ printed underneath.” He was telling us: A title matters — most importantly to the person wearing it. What other people call you affects how you feel about yourself.

This theme has come up many times in my life, including now. I’ve struggled with my title — and my identity — as an unmarried mom.

Sometimes if I’ve been in a group of new people and it’s relevant, I’ve mentioned that I’m divorced. That’s a fact. But I don’t want my identity to be “divorced.” Divorce is horrible, even if the net result is positive. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life labeled by an atrocious legal process. And I will not let divorce define my family.

I’ve tried out “single mom,” and I’m mostly OK with it. Again, totally true. But what if you’re in a committed relationship? Is it true then? Not to mention that “single mom” is a loaded term. Single mom connotes poverty, bad choices and a political and societal pariah. Of course we could take it back — n-bomb style– and claim it as our proud identity. Which I guess I kinda did when I bought this URL. But I’m not sure that is how I want to roll in my daily life.

Lately I’ve been playing around with “not married.” I like it because it’s accurate. It’s also fun and delightfully ambiguous, which suits me just fine at the moment.  “Are you married?” asks that judgey, annoying mom with the yoga pants and giant diamond at the school, eying you up and down. “No,” you might respond. “I’m not married.” See? Leaves her guessing. Are you a lesbian? Single mom by choice? In an open relationship? Unmarried but partnered with your super-hot Scandinavian boyfriend of 12 years? A filthy whore? She doesn’t know. And it’s none of her business. So while she’s trying to steal your mojo with her snotty question, smile coolly, pick up your kid, and leave knowing that she will now keep even tighter reins on her husband at the holiday show.

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  1. Chris B.
    Chris B.12-27-2012

    And then there’s my little world of widows. The consensus for a name seems to not be widowed mom, but solo mom. So many widows I’ve met don’t want to say ‘single’ because they feel it implies there was some sort of choice – a choice we didn’t have. Not sure where I sit on the whole name thing. I just feel that we all are walking a hard path through life (never married, widowed, divorced, whatever) and however we brand ourselves, I hope that we could treat one another with kindness.

  2. Emma

    Chis – that is just it – who cares, right? And at the end of the day, I agree, it doesn’t really, REALLY matter what we call ourselves. But until I reach that stage of nirvana, I’m enjoying trying out different labels.

  3. Paula Wethington
    Paula Wethington06-05-2013

    When I was in that situation, I quickly learned if I said “divorced,” people asked questions that I thought were none of their business about my ex. Besides, I had sole custody – a rare arrangement now but common enough in early 1990s. Single mom” explained my responsibility.

    • Emma

      That is interesting — you shut them up with the truth!

  4. Diana

    I loved reading this, especially the last line. I’ve had that “Oh you’re a single mom” reaction from many moms. I felt like I was branded with a scarlet “S” without them knowing anything about me or how I became a single mom. You’d think I was sitting by their husbands scantily clad. When in reality most days I am in my office attire. Thanks for letting me know others have “title issues” when trying to define their solo parenting status.

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