So many married women want to join my online support groups for single moms. I get why, even though that is insane. After all, like you, anecdotally, I don’t know so many really happy marriages, and scholars have found the same. Per Rebecca Traister’s very excellent bestselling All The Single Ladies:
Psychologist Ty Tashiro suggested in a 2014 book that only three in ten married people enjoy happy and healthy marriages, and that being in an unhappy partnership can increase your chances of getting sick by about 35 percent. Another researcher, John Gottman, has found that being in an unhappy union could shorten your life by four years.
A recently published Stanford study found that women initiate divorce 69 percent of the time.
In other words: Married mom desperate to hang with single moms: You are not alone in your marital misery. You’re good! Normal!
Definition of a single mom
That doesn't mean you're a single mom. Single moms don't have husbands. Even if your husband is a financial, emotional, logistical, social liability, you just are not a single mom. Here's the difference:
- Single moms don't have the logistical conveniences of having a partner live in their house. When they need to go to the emergency room in the middle of the night because of explosive and relentless stomach bug, getting there, arranging for child care and stressing about taking much-needed time off work is on them.
- Single moms don't enjoy the social cache of marriage — whether they care or not.
- Single moms don't enjoy the financial security of marriage, which has countless tax, child care, insurance and cost-advantaged living efficiencies that single people, or single parents enjoy.
- Single parents don't have a built in romantic partner, or readily available sex outlet.
Now, these are the negatives. Spend 10 minutes on this blog, and there are a zillion reasons why single motherhood is not only doable, but amazing for many women. You may be one of them, but you are not one yet. You did not take that risk and separate from your husband. That is OK, and maybe you will do that in your time. But you are not in the club yet. As for me …
When things are tough on the single-mom front, this is what I tell myself:
I may sometimes be an overwhelmed single mom, but at least I’m not a married overwhelmed single mom. Because anecdotally, most married moms I know often feel like they’re often without a spouse.
I know this because a) I was a married mom for a minute, b) I look around and see all these married, stay-at-home moms getting through the days by the skin on their teeth while their husbands build their careers, and they look as though they're about to lose their minds (many have, frankly), and c) when you’re a single mom, women (and men) complain to you about their spouses. A LOT. And they tell me they feel like they're single parents.
There are some facts to back this up.
While about half of mothers will spend at least a year as sole custodian of a child (according to University of North Carolina researchers), kids are being raised by one parent in many other circumstances, even if the mother and father are technically married. These include:
- The 2 million military kids who have had at least one parent deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty.
- The 1.7million children who have at least one parent in jail, according to the nonprofit Justice Strategies.
- All those husbands with jobs requiring long hours and travel, resulting in them hardly seeing their kids.
And then there are the all those millions of kids I mentioned in an earlier post who are being raised in households where parents are addicted, depressed, abusive or chronically ill. Of course, lots of these situations can and do overlap – kids whose parents are addicted, depressed and in the can, those who are divorced and in the military, etc. The point is, statistics about moms raising children without a husband to whom they are legally married are misleading – there are far, far more women who identify – even if secretly, you know who you are! – as married single moms.
- 70 percent of working moms and 68 percent of stay-at-home moms resent their partner because of the unbalanced load of household and parenting responsibilities.
- 84 percent of stay-at-home moms don’t get a break from parenting after their partner walks in the door at night, and, 50 percent of stay-at-home moms say they never—NEVER!– receive a time-out from parenting.
- Not surprisingly, 24 percent of working mothers and 28 percent of stay-at-home moms say they sometimes they feel like a “married single mom.”
And in a lot of ways, they are: Married moms take on the majority of childcare and housekeeping regardless of whether they work outside of the home. Which is just like a real single mom. Except for the money part, of course. Statistically, single moms are much poorer than married mothers, and there is nearly always more financial stability when there are two adults in a household than one, regardless of who works and who does not.
The fact is that today it is entirely feasible, and even desirable to have a baby outside of marriage. The economy and social, legal and political advancements for women mean that single-moms-by-choice is the fastest growing sub-segment of single mothers.
Marriage rates are plummeting, and divorce rates are steady — as 67% of millennial moms have at least one child outside of marriage, separated families are poised to be the majority of families within the next two decades.
All of this at a time when women have more economic power, and more birth control options than ever before. In other words: If single motherhood were so horrible, it would not be so popular.
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.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.