The world just doesn't seem to know what to do with women who have kids but don't have a husband. We're so far off from America's obsession with a “normal” family (even if less than half of U.S. families fit the traditional, nuclear ideal) that single mothers like you and me simply freak people out.
Single mom — with all the nasty connotations of the term — evokes in society the need to demand a stringent behavioral code designed to shame unmarried mothers into a tight little conservative box of decorum.
To which I say: REVOLT!
Here are the top 5 shaming messages society lays on single moms:
1. You must focus all your energy, time and money on your children. They have been wounded by your bad decisions, therefore you owe it to them to over-do it with the parenting.
Reality? Crap happens, and you found yourself a single mom. You're still a whole person who should pursue a rewarding career, romantic life of your choice, friends, healthy lifestyle and time to yourself. Some or all of those things mean that sometimes you will spend less time with your children than you otherwise would. So you will be a happy woman living a full life and a great role model for your kids — and the world.
Other reality: Kids today are over-parented. The science is out: Stay-at-home moms are far more miserable than working moms, and the hours that women spend with their children doesn't make a difference to their well-being, per this study. In other words: Kids don't need their mommies as much as everyone thinks.
2. You're a single mom because you made bad, bad choices.
Said choices including getting knocked-up outside of wedlock, making babies you can't afford to send through an Ivy League college by yourself, marrying a douche bag, being a crappy wife, not “keeping your marriage together,” choosing to have a baby alone because you were too picky to marry and do it “the right way.”
Reality? Crap happens. Or not. Maybe this is an awesome path for you. But just because your family doesn't look like the Cosbys, well, you are really really happy because we saw what happened there.
Embracing that life doesn't always follow your Plan A, being resilient and pursuing your own path with passion, is perhaps the best life lesson you can teach your kids.
3. If you have sex with a man who you are not certain you will marry, you are a filthy whore.
Reality? You're an adult woman who has sexual, emotional and romantic needs that will be met in a way that — discretely — suits you. Women who had babies are in no way obliged to adhere to demure sexual habits specific to female parents.
4. If you spend time with a man when you could otherwise be spending with your kids, you are a filthy whore.
Reality? You are an adult woman who has sexual, emotional and romantic needs. Just like every other adult in the world. By expressing that in a healthy way — including letting your kids see you dress up to go on dates with nice men — you teach your children that it is healthy for them, too, to grow up and expect to have a romantically fulfilling life. Plus, kids need to see their mothers genuinely happy. Plus-plus, kids don't need to spend as much time with their mommies as today's culture dictates (see study cited above).
5. Since you made so many bad choices, you must work really, really hard so that you are never a burden on the state, your family or your children.
Reality? Sometimes you need a hand to get through really rough times. That might mean a period of public assistance, a loan from your parents, or babysitting from your cousin. But then you figure it out — on your own terms. When you accept that your family can be awesome and whole and not look like the Jonses, you suddenly realize that you don't need a 3,500-square-foot house, or three giant TVs, and everyone in your household does not require the latest iPhone. You see people at work putting in long hours and bragging about the long hours without getting so very much done in those long hours. And you start to appreciate that time with your kids, and single moms — I'm telling you, this happens time and again — they get it. They chose careers and build businesses where they can make a lot of money in hours that allow them to make little league games and dance practices, and eat family dinners around the supper table most evenings.
Once you reject the ideas everyone else has for you, you are suddenly, magically free to create a life that is better than what everyone else is living for themselves. Which is pretty awesome.
Bonus from a reader: 6. You are a selfish mother if you don't (re)marry so your kids have a father figure/relationship model.
Reality? Maybe you don't want to get married. Maybe single life suits you. Or you have a satisfying relationship with a man that does not include cohabiting. Or you just don't give a flying shit about what everyone thinks you should be doing with your personal life. Also, your kids have a dad. Maybe an awesome dad, or a crappy dad. But that is their father.
As for failing to create a “healthy” family role model? Well, you know, and I know, and deep down everyone else knows, too …. ain't so many really great marriages out there! The nuclear family fantasy is largely a myth. So you and your single mom brethren are creating healthy, wonderful families. On your own terms.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.