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What is a single mom? A solo mom? How to determine which one you are

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One of the tireless discussions in the single mom community is, “Who gets to call themselves a single mom?” 

Emma’s quick take on the differences between a single mom and a solo mom

Below, you will find a polite, academic picking-apart of the who-gets-to-call-themselves-a-single-mom debate. It rages on, constantly, and after 10 years of blogging about single moms (and being one myself for 12 years), I have come to this conclusion:

The argument about who is, and who is not a single mom is one of white privilege, but more about that later.

I also want to explore why some moms are abandoning the label “single mom” and opting instead to be known as a “solo mom.” 

In short: Do no split hairs over who does or does not get to call themselves a single mom, or solo mom — this sort of infighting and misery olympics only divides women and heightens any discrimination faced by women outside of “traditional relationships”

What is considered a single mom?

First, let’s agree to stop arguing about being a single mom — unless you are a married mom, or otherwise living with the parent of your kids. 

A single mom is one whose family is outside of a “traditional” family consisting of two first-time married parents living with their children. These are moms who can be considered single or solo moms:

  • Divorced moms 
  • Never-married moms who don’t live with their kids’ other parent / father 
  • Single moms by choice 
  • Single adoptive or foster moms
  • Remarried moms
  • Moms in partnership with people who are not their kids’ other parent 
  • Widowed moms  
  • Moms with 50/50 custody and otherwise involved co-parents
  • Moms who receive child support or alimony or otherwise get the financial benefit of a co-parent or partner (but are not married) 
  • Single moms with high incomes
  • Single moms with supportive family networks

So, who gets to use the illustrious title of a single mom?

This conversation has long enraged me, because it is solely designed to promote infighting among women and elevating the shame attached to the term “single mom.” After all, if you insist you are not a ‘single mom,' but a ‘divorced mom' because you were once married (64% of Millennial moms have a child outside of marriage, according to Johns Hopkins), the subtext of that designation is:

“I am better because my child was conceived inside of a socially sanctioned partnership, which presumes the kid was wanted and planned for, and presumes I have an active co-parent now that marriage ended — none of which apply to babies born to unmarried mothers.”

Of course, none of these perceived privileges are necessarily true — nor are the presumed hardships of moms who never married, many of whom do plan their families and do have healthy co-parenting relationships.

The keyword here, however, is PRIVILEGE. I cannot remember hearing these hair-splitting arguments made by anyone but white, privileged women, and angry, white men — the latter of whom are usually bitter dads paying a lot of alimony/child support with little access to their children

Related: 19 reasons why alimony is unfair and hurts gender equality

I am challenging the white women who go out of their way to distance themselves from calling themselves a “single mother.”

Motherhood: Addressing the Single Mom Stigma | Black Women OWN the Conversation | OWN

If you are doing socioeconomic gymnastics to get around calling yourself a single mom, you are really trying to get around a social stigma that has for centuries been attached to mostly poor, women of color.

I write about this topic in my bestselling book The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin). New York Post called it a “Smart, Must-Read.”

Historically and to this day, households headed by unmarried mothers have been majority African American, and more recently, Hispanic women, both groups of which are statistically poorer than white people, and continue to experience higher rates of giving birth outside of marriage than white women. For a very long time, we have called these women single moms, without much debate at all. Unfortunately, for a very long time, single moms have been considered social pariahs, derided by politicians and religious leaders as the blame for most social ills. That is how stigmas are institutionalized.

Today, thanks to the amazing work of feminists before us, women now have many wonderful choices on how to build our families. Financial, career, reproductive and legal rights and opportunities mean that women can now afford to chose have children without committed partners, are less likely to marry, and are more likely to initiate divorce. White, educated women benefit disproportionately from these strides in gender equality, and the numbers of white women having babies outside of marriage and divorcing are skyrocketing. Again, it is white, educated women who scramble to distance themselves from the term “single mom” — even though we all check the same “single” box when we file our taxes (though “head of household” is no more, thanks for nothing tax reform!), apply for health or life insurance, or are counted by the Census.

So, even if you are divorced, you are a single mom — no matter how much you want to distance yourself from THOSE PEOPLE who never married. If you enjoy a handsome sum of child support and co-parenting from your kid's dad, or have a helpful boyfriend or high-paying job, you are a single mom — even if your family or financial situation does not look like what you associate happens inside the families or bank accounts of THOSE PEOPLE.

This is call for unity for gender equality, for race equality, and for just being a decent person. When you own your life and family and relationship status (because this is a conversation about STATUS) with acceptance instead of shame, you elevate all single moms, all families — and women everywhere.

26 reasons being a single mom is awesome

Who is NOT a single mom

Ladies, if your husband is away on a hunting trip for a weekend, you are not a single mom. Or even, as Michelle Obama accidentally did, you call yourself a single mom because your husband is really, really busy with his fabulous career, you are out.

And FYI, when you are a married mom and refer to yourself as a single mom you piss off a whole lot of people — people who have little or no financial help to raise their kids, or partnership that provides the emotional and logistical support that all families need. Not that you meant anything by it. But when you say that we want to kill you.

On forums and in casual conversation, I hear people (usually men – men who pay lots of child support) grumble about women (usually their exes) who define themselves as single moms. “They have no right to say that — I pay for her manicures and weekends in Cancun with her 26-year-old personal trainer boyfriend!” is the usual gripe.

If you think that because your husband won't freaking unload the dishwasher and complains when you ask him to pick your son at his sleepover instead of watching the game, and you haven't had sex in weeks or months and that makes you feel really bad, I am sorry for that. But you don't get it both ways. You don't get the financial security of a second adult living in your house, or the psychological security of knowing that if you have a brain aneurism in the middle of the night someone will drive you to the ER and then get the kids to school in the morning, or the social comfort of couples' dinner parties and not having to face your mother's judgement for getting a divorce —  and also get to hang with us.

[Now, you know and I know this all doesn't apply to abusive situations.]

Because you are not here with us.

You didn't take that risk.

Maybe you will, and maybe you will thrive in your newfound solo life. Maybe you will stay, work through a rough patch in your marriage, and never, ever regret that.

Or, maybe you will stay and be really, really unhappy — unable to share your unhappiness with your married mom friends because you all assume that the others' Instagram personas are accurate, and not being accepted by actual single moms — moms who bristle at your self proclamation of being part of the club. Because you're not there.

Not yet.

Definition of a single mom

Which leads us to examine what “single mother” really means. Yes, you are unmarried and romantically available. Fair enough. But “single mom” is a heavily loaded term with lots of social and political connotations. Depending on how you vote, a single mom is responsible for bearing fatherless criminals and living off of the taxpayer's dime; or she is a saintly martyr for her children and a victim of a chauvinistic society that tells men it is OK to abandon their children by a male-dominated court system that let him way, way off the hook.

But what if you're living in reality and fall somewhere in between? What about families where custody is civilized and shared 50-50? What if you get a fat support check every two weeks? Or the parent who is saddled with 100 percent of the responsibilities, but remarries into a supportive relationship? Or you get no financial support, but lots of logistic and parenting cooperation? What if you're doing it all on your own, but have the financial means to hire extensive help with the kids and house? What about the married mom whose husband has a lil somethin' on the side, lends zero help with the kids and blows the mortgage payment on electronics and poker games?

Why so many dads are better parents after divorce

I struggled with how to define myself as a single mom

Today, I feel totally fine calling myself a single mom: I float my family financially and am the primary caretaker of my kids. If my ex's situation were different he would gladly participate in a different way, and he very well may in the future. My status (and yes this is all about status) as a single mom because that is a fact. But would I call myself something else if I were not so very independent in my parenting?

The crux of this issue is that “single mom” carries with it at least a twinge of status in many circles — in other groups it lends serious street cred. Being a single mom can be inherently hard, and in America we uphold hard as a virtue. In most of the country, bragging rights belong to the person who put herself through college, saved up for the downpayment on his house, and never took a cent from parents after graduating high school. If you happen to have a trust fund, inheritance, or cashed in on a tech start-up, you keep your pie hole shut and keep your lifestyle in line with your middle-class friends (or go find rich friends).

Which brings us back to single mom semantics. On one hand, we could agree to dismiss the issue as a big, WHO THE EFF CARES?! On the other, the fact that this topic warrants a blog posts underscores bigger changes afoot: changes in family structure, marriage, family economics, and gender, class and money — all my most favoritest topics of conversation, but also some of the most important and compelling issues of our time. As we figure out where women and mothers fit into the worlds of work, money and politics, we need language to help us along the way.

In the meantime, how you define yourself to the world as an unmarried mother has ramifications for women and gender equality.

In my early years as a single mom, I struggled with my title — and my identity — as an unmarried mom.

Sometimes if were in a group of new people and it's relevant, I'd 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.

Sometimes, in my early days as a single mom, I'd play 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.

Until we iron out the details, I'll stick with my title of “single mom.” But not too tightly. After all, to toss off a casual “I'm a single mom” can suggest a belief that you are automatically deserving of respect — an attitude that pisses off pretty much everyone.

Why do married moms want to call themselves ‘single moms'?

Not once but THREE TIMES in the past week I have received messages from married moms who want to be part of my single-mom Facebook groups (join Millionaire Single Moms, BUT ONLY IF YOU'RE AN ACTUAL SINGLE MOM!).

Here is one:

Hi Emma! I'm not technically a single mom, but can you please add me to your groups? My husband hardly does anything at all around the house, I manage the finances, run the kid around and work a fulltime job!

My answer?

Uh, no?

P.S.: No. Buh-bye.

And by the way: Are you fucking kidding me?

Any single mom will tell you how we bristle when a married mother casually calls herself a “single mom” because:

a) her husband is out of town on a golf weekend.

b) works all the time.

c) doesn't do his share at home or with the kids.

d) has checked out of the marriage and makes her feel fat, old and unattractive.

Those scenarios may indeed be very hard. Painful, frustrating, hurtful, lonesome, unfair and bad examples for the kids.

I feel for you. I also identify with you. I used to be married. It wasn't so great for me. My marriage was indeed hard, painful, frustrating, lonesome, unfair and a bad example for the kids. But the marriage ended. I got out, and I found a new life. For me, single motherhood has been pretty great. It is for a lot of people, maybe especially women, so many of whom I've met whom THRIVE in their newfound independence and are forced to find their way financially, logistically, romantically and as parents.

What about those who are “living together but separated?”

If you and your husband are technically still married, but have committed to separating, or are even legally separated, but are living together for financial or other practical matters, I say you are a single mom. After all, you have to co-parent with someone you are not romantically involved with, and will be divorced soon (you hope, right?).

Most moms, FWIW, report this is hell. Says Brenda:

“I lived in the marital home during the divorce process and 2 months post divorce until I could close on my new house. (Sellers market here and I had to agree to settle on their desired date). My attorney claimed that I was more agreeable with settlement agreement because of the living situation. I don't completely agree, I was fair. I asked him to move to guest room and he didn't. I refused on grounds I had more clothes and bathroom stuff to move. So we slept back to back like we did for years anyway, no real difference other than there was an end in sight.”


“Lived with mine for 6 months, while he was dating his affair partner. It was a nightmare. We definitely lived separate lives and do what we could to give each other our space when it was our time with the kids (which for me, at the time, was 90%). If it was up to him he would have stayed like that. I actually had to wait until he went away for a weekend to move out because he lost his mind anytime I brought it up. Things are significantly better now that we are in separate houses and co-parenting with him isn’t so bad.”

And Erin:

“My ex and I separated in Oct. and lived in the same house for 2 months and then he went crazy and tried to kill me. So I’m not a big advocate for cohabitating. But my situation is hopefully not normal!”

For some of us, being a single mom is better than marriage, and sometimes, indeed awesome.

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! 

Meanwhile, single motherhood is losing its stigma, so much so that all these married moms go around flaunting faux singlehood! The “traditional” nuclear family with married parents and kids now constitutes the statistical minority of American households, with single-mom led homes constituting the majority of the remaining portion. Further, and somewhat astonishing, the MAJORITY millennial moms are unmarried.

That is right: Single mom-led families are on their way to being the majority.

Statistically, it is economically tougher to raise kids without a spouse. It can be scary, stressful, socially isolating, lonely, painful and worrisome. But with 10 million single moms in the United States, you probably know one or 20 who are thriving, fully embracing the economic, educational, sexual and social opportunities afforded women in this country today. It might look pretty good.

To which I say:

Hey married mom: Maybe you sense that single motherhood will be awesome for you, too. But no matter how sad you are, how alone in your marriage you feel, you do not 100% have to be financially, romantically or logistically independent. Because you are not. Because you are married. Because you have not taken the risk to go at this family thing without a spouse.

That is OK. Really, it is fine. You are there, and we are here. I'm OK, you're OK. But you don't get the benefits of commiserating with an amazing tribe of women who, every single day, get up every morning, earn a living and support a family financially, logistically and face the prospect of lifelong solitude while schlepping it to the gym and squeezing into that size 6 pair of skinny jeans and braving the wondrous and terrifying world of dating in 2016 — all while hugging and rocking and yelling and encouraging and singing to and laughing with and scolding their children every day.

And yes, that is what it means to be a single mom today: less than a quarter of dads who do not live with their kids are actually involved, and about as many moms receive any kind of financial support from their children's fathers.

What does solo mom mean?

Sometimes I hear from women who insist they are not single moms, but solo moms. They want to make clear that they are in fact suffering/stronger than/ their struggle is more real than other women who parent outside of a traditional heterosexual, married, cohabitating relationship. 

Enough already.

Solo moms and single moms are the same thing.

Moving on ….

That's right: The vast majority of single moms are really, truly solo moms.

Nearly 3 in 10 kids today are growing up in a separated family, and more than 80% of those kids live primarily with their moms — 20 million of us. This does not mean that the other parent / father is MIA, or does not want to be involved, or is not a 50% parent, or has fought through family court to be more involved. You can read more about the gender-equality benefits of equal parenting, as well as the child welfare benefits of equal parenting in my work.

My own research found that 51% of single moms have their kids in their custody 100% of the time, and 36% have them the majority of the time. That is a lot of solo moms, who of course are really also single moms. 

What is the difference between solo parent and single parent?

Typically this debate of solo vs single parent comes down to this:

Solo moms say that they have no co-parent at all. They are solo moms by choice, or their kids’ other parent is otherwise not at all in the picture.

Single moms are all other unmarried moms. 

Worth reading: Washington Post: “Why I Can’t Call Myself a Single Mom”

Bottom line: So, are you a single mom or solo mom?

Instead of engaging in the misery olympics and humble bragging about how much support you do not have raising your kids, let’s all agree that there is a wide and flexible definition of single motherhood, and we can all benefit from redirecting our energy to supporting one another, advocating for policies that benefit all families (affordable child care and health insurance, paid family leave, equal parenting policy), and lay off the symantics. 

What is the difference between solo parent and single parent?

Solo moms say that they have no co-parent at all. They are single moms by choice, or their kids’ other parent is otherwise not at all in the picture. Single moms are all other unmarried moms.


How about just calling yourself “Mom”. Why the need to add anything else to the title but only to ask for sympathy.

A single mom is just that, a single person providing all care for that child everyday. They must provide for all bills, purchases, shelter, laundry, medical/dentist appointments, school, school activities, meals, transportation, clothing, bedtime, homework or anything else. No one picking up the kids for the weekend, no one taking them to vacation over the summer, there is no check in the mail. You are on your own to figure it out. It doesn’t make you a hero and it doesn’t make you a victim, it makes you a mom, a single mom. You don’t need to inform anyone that you are a single mom anybody that is in your life will soon be able to figure it out.

I don’t really take financial support into consideration when determining if I find someone to be a single parent. If one parent cuts a check every month but spends approximately 3 hours a year actually raising the child than I don’t think it’s wrong for the parent who takes care of the child to say (s)he is a single parent even if the support received is enough to cover the financial aspect of raising a kid. Granted I’m not a parent but I do have some knowledge on what it takes to raise a kid and have extensive experience writing checks. Given the choice between the two I’d rather cut a check.

Also, as a side rant, I’d like people to stop referring to men watching their own kids as babysitters. Unless you gave your kid up for adoption and were hired by the adopted parents to watch the child, you can’t babysit your own kid.

I have a tough time deciphering if I am considered a single parent or not. My personal status (single married etc) has nothing to do with it, it’s all about the child. I have one son. I will not take him to court because I feel like we should be able to be civilized. (If he gives me a reason to change that I will) at the time (still now) he can’t afford to pay me child support. I dnt bother I just say whatever I ask you to get him, please pay for it. Our son is 4. He would pay for the diapers and formulas and clothes when he was younger. Now he in school and I say get his uniform ( tuition is paid for by my family member) he was upset about it. Like I put my son in dance and basketball (because my son like the activity), he dnt want to contribute or support because it’s nothing that he agrees on. And his dad comes to visit every other week and spends the weekend at my place. Refuse to let me go anywhere alone although we are clearly not together. My contribution – he is with me all the time, he is on my insurance, I pay all the bills in my place, barely have food but make sure my son eat, spend nights in the hospital if necessary, sat up many nights with him with his and my homework while finishing my masters, I lose sleep and time off work to go to school conferences events – basically a full time parent. He feel I should not call myself a single parent, all my friends and family do, and so do I. At the end of the day, the bulk of the blame and responsibility (good or bad is on me), not him. Am I wrong for calling me a single parent?

I believe the title you are searching for is called, “mom”. Wear it proudly without regard to how hard you work, how lonely, how poor, how much family or friends helps help, etc. Moms need to stop comparing themselves to each other. All moms are different, different gifts: some moms have aunts, sisters, exes, grandparents helping emotionally, physically or financially, some do not. If you are raising the kid (s) alone for the most part, then you are a single mom.
Some moms are not so lucky to have any help from others but they can turn it around and find out they are better for it to be alone (for instance, you have poor family relations or there is abuse). Single moms not blessed with help can be blessed in finding successful careers and be the mom and dad far better than parents who have help.

I am a single mom. I am married but seperated from my three beautiful childrens dad. He was abusive towards me and justified his harsh treatment of our kids by saying they need to learn to fear him. He justified his treatment of me by saying he was trying to prepare me for the real world. Now I won’t tolerate that kind of justification from anyone. I work, and was lucky enough to find a job in which i can work from home and can be at home when my kids are sick or get out of school, have full custody and care of the kids, have the support of my family. The dad wants to be involved but due to our history i can’t trust that his obsessive and abusive behaviour won’t continue if given a chance, he still blames others for his misfortune, can’t hold a job for more than 2 years because he gets fed up with the supervisors. I get $3 a month in child support and when i give the dad a chance to show he can help with the kids he finds a reason that he can’t make it, finds that his friends need him more at the moment, or makes the time and helps but i find that he has been negligent. You can look down on me, you can say what you like about what a single mom is or is not but the important thing is that i have full custody to make sure my kids are happy, healthy, and inspired. I am single mentally, emotionally, and physically if not in writing. I am a mother and my kids and i have no reliance on their dad. I call myself a single mother because that is the reality of things.

Thank you for this post. I am doing some research for personal reasons. My mother recently told me that I often say that I “did it all by myself” referring to the years my son was a baby and I was single. She disagrees with this point and said to me “You did not do it all by yourself. I bought you things to help out and your sister moved in with you to help with childcare and yet you always say this and it is incredibly frustrating.” I could not believe how mean she was being to me as my sister was not the father and therefore was never expected to do anything to help me out in any way. If the baby was sick, I had to call out of work out or I had to find help. The responsibility fell to me in the end. Always. That, to me, is a single mom. Some have it much more difficult than I did but we don’t need to be that specific. Being a single mom is hard. No matter what. And should be respected. No matter what. This article and all of the comments helped me release a little anger towards my mother because she isn’t saying “You weren’t a single mother and therefore don’t deserve all of the accolades that comes with it.” In fact, she was saying “You didn’t do it all by yourself. You had help.” Very different sentences but when you consider yourself a rockstar for accomplishing some of the hardest years of your life, sometimes you misconstrue what people are saying when they critisize even a small piece of it. It took reading this to gain some perspective. Point being…thank you for your help.

Thanks for sharing / venting. Ultimately, 3 things: 1. It is very hard to be a single mom. 2. You probably did have a lot of help. 3. You still felt alone. All true.

I have to agree that “single mom” should be reserved for those moms who have to learn to be both the mother and the father in their children’s lives and fulfill both roles. Moms and dads play such different roles for their children and each provide a different perspective for the children. A true single parent has to fill both roles. Even more scary for the single parent is the huge concern for how to handle the unthinkable if it happens. A single parent doesn’t have that backup if they become incapacitated or dies. And the job is 365 days a year with never a break.

While I am married, my parents divorced and my dad was always there. Oddly enough, their divorce meant I ended up two moms–though it took a while for that transition because I felt very bad for my mom. I was taking care of my mom more than she took care of me in the early times.

If “single mom” means that there is a dad in the child’s life but they are just divorced, then this seems to just translate into whether a woman is determining to juggle dating and raising a child. When a woman uses that term, I think of a woman meaning that she has to do it all and doesn’t have back-up–which is completely different from having joint custody and sharing responsibilities. I have a friend whose husband travels 3 weeks out of the month, so she has less support than many joint custody situations. And of course, there are military wives whose husbands are deployed overseas for significant time frames and navy wives. I’m confused about what “single mom” is suppose to mean when the dad is in the children’s lives–do the children have a “single mom” and a “single dad”? Is this just a dating term? Because if “single mom” is suppose to mean those parents without emotional and logistical backup, why wouldn ‘t it apply to all those in that situation? I am really curious and don’t understand . . .

Bingo! I think back to my own childhood where dad was gone months on end with the military. Where we didn’t have phone calls much less Skype etc…. where he didn’t make much money and we lived thousands of miles from any other family member. I remember spending very few days during my childhood where dad was the only parent around. My dad didn’t know my daily activities and mom did the carpooling, getting us up in the morning, etc… With some of these women’s stories I guess my mom was more of a single mom than they are and she didn’t have the occasional date with a new guy either or the weekend free. Poor mom. But then this was 40 years ago when that was called life, and mom’s didn’t complain and label themselves something that diminished the actual support and role of the father.

Don’t worry, you understand perfectly. Single mom is the new “feel sorry for me and my life decisions” moniker that gets them accolades for doing what pretty much every parent (married, divorced or widowed) does at least some time while raising a child and have been doing for thousands of years.

Gosh your articles are so well-written, I have to comment on every one of them lol. I have had a lot of relatives claim they’re single moms by virtue of the fact that their husbands are usually away on business trips, or some other weird reason. This apparently is to keep me in line, even though I never complain about being a single mom (man it’s tough, honestly). Literally have to bite my tongue to refrain from saying that a single mom is one that is divorced, a widow, or never got married.

Oh I’ve been there. I try to remember: It’s all relative, ya know? Then I think nasty thoughts and hope they don’t come out my mouth.

If you have your child 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year without any support financially or emotionally… Then you have earned the title of ‘single mother ‘… If this isn’t the case, then count your blessings and stop complaining.

Funny how you assume the use of “single mom” = complaining. I don’t feel like that in the least.

Exactly. It is not complaining. It is a fact. I am a single mom because when the ish hits the fan, I am the one who has to take care of it. He’s not a bad dad, but his part time involvement should not diminish how much I do. I am writing a paper on this for school, and it makes me so upset and frustrated that other women think they have a right to judge me and how I can define myself.

The ‘single’ in single mother is not about relationship status, but rather how many parents are involved, in any way, in the child’s life. If the other parent is involved then you are a co-parent and not a ‘single’ parent. I was asked once to help with a local girl scout troop. I had seriously considered it when I had informed the leader how busy I was and the fact that I was a ‘single’ parent. She then went on to tell me that she was too and had plenty of time to lead the troop… I then asked, ‘So, the father isn’t involved in any way in your children’s lives?’ She told me that of course he is involved and that they have joint custody. So


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I am a step mom of two (now grown) kids. I have a rare situation in that their father and I raised them because their “mom” wanted to “find herself”. Her self-appointed role was to take them shopping and on vacations. She would call our house every night to tell them she loved them and see how their days were. Now I find out that she has touted herself to be a “single mom”, which I find very insulting. She did not want to do the hard work of raising her kids, and by claiming to be a single mom, she has discounted, even dismissed, their dad’s (and my) contributions to their lives. Raising kids is hard work and a thankless job. I praise all those truly single parents who devote their lives to raising their kids to be well-adjusted, hard-working adults. Kudos to you!

That is a really interesting perspective, thanks for sharing. I wonder if there can come a time when you can develop some empathy for the mom – sounds like she has all but abandoned her kids, and her guilt is leading her to play the victim card. Tough situation for all involved. Your stepkids are lucky to have you.


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This topic is pathetic. Whoever said parenting would be easy. Married, divorced, widowed, widower, single or involved, parenting would still be difficult. I recieved custody of my kids, before that I was paying child support, health insurance, schooling & clothing. Now the point to this being said is that times will be hard, discouraging or even hopeless. We all face this possibility of single parenting., nothing guaranteed but death. We all have or had choices to make and you must stand by it. Overall your kids see more than you know. More attention on kids and not your individual status for self gradification.

Can any mom who get help and support from friends and family,be called a real single mom she is not married and the father is gone with another woman. Only one child is involved.

I am a sixty year old grandmother of 5. My son is married and my daughter is going through a divorce. She and her husband (ex to be) share joint custody and she gets some alimony. I don’t consider a “single parent”. I have always considered a “single parent” as a widow or widower, or someone who is raising children with no other parent in the picture. (Raped or accidently got pregant and the father doesn’t even know they have a child) To me “single parent” means the children only have one parent. My daughter is not going to be a “single parent” because her children have two parents that are alive and known. That’s just my two cents.

I call myself a single mom because the father of my child is not in the picture at all he has never once bought a pack of diapers he never saw him besides the five mins at the hospital in 06.did the whole child support thing but he said he would never pay a dime and the court found it in the best interest for the child to just leave it alone… i have never had help from his side of the family….. i have worked my butt off to make ends meet…. So i see it as if you get help from the other parent like money he keeps the child sometimes and is in the child’s life then you are not a single mother…

Really? If you get any child support or any visitation schedule you’re not a single mom? Some moms will get out the pitchfork!

That is JUST your opinion and very insulting. It is not a fact. The fact is that YOU have no right to decide how another woman defines herself. My daughter sees her father every other weekend. He pays as much child support as he can manage. But when she is sick there is ONLY me to take her to the doctor. I am the ONLY one that can stay home with her. It is ONLY my responsibility to make sure she is clean and fed every day, goes to school, does her homework, behaves and is polite. The 4 days a week she spends with her father is not formative. He is a great guy and loves her very much. But I am a SINGLE mom, and nothing you can say changes that. Maybe try a little more compassion and understanding and a little less judgement.

You are not a single mother and you are not a princess or a teapot or a unicorn either- I don’t care how you want to define yourself.

According to 34 CFR 400.4 (b) [Title 34 – Education; Subtitle B — Regulations of the Offices of the Department of Education; Chapter IV — Office of Vocational and Adult Education, Department of Education; Part 400 — Vocational and Applied Technology Education Programs — General Provisions], the term single parent means “an individual who —

(1) Is unmarried or legally separated from a spouse; and

(2) (i) Has a minor child or children for which the parent has either custody or joint custody; or

(ii) Is pregnant.”


Please, do not undermine the efforts and struggles of parents who have to keep up with the household and childcare expenses on their own, because while they share custody they do NOT receive any financial or emotional support and are SINGLE. Seriously, you would think that being a single parent would teach you some compassion and humility. If single moms are as hateful and judgmental, as some of the ones I have been reading about I would never want to classify myself as one, but then what the heck am I…just a woman, crying in the dark because she couldn’t afford to pay the electric bill yet again, just so she could cover her apartment rent, when all the while her ex is making over 300K, has three houses, a new wife and a baby and does not pay child support. But hey….I am NOT a Single Mom, BECAUSE we share custody and we both see the kids and BECAUSE Ela says so. Bravo! ANd before anyone starts talking about me, I do have a steady job as Financial Analist, and one in the evenings as a food delivery driver, and dog walker, but being alone is hard to care for the household expenses, even with three jobs. I do not DARE classify myself as a single mom, even though I am SINGLE and I do not have family or any financial support, but when I read some of these 100% statements I don’t know if I should laugh or cry…just because in some cases the kids truly have only one parent to turn to (and my respect goes out to those parents) and in others they see them both, doesn’t make the situation of any of the parents in that second case any less challenging or give them an automatic life partner and support.

Agree! If your kids other parent pays child support you are not a single mom/dad. I despise my ex but he pays support so i dont classify as a single mom. Even if he paid a dollar a month i still wouldnt because its something of support though cant even buy a candy bar with it.
I am a mom. Thats it.

It really felt unfair when I was an impoverished single mom, greiving for my ex who had become abusive and mentally ill, we got no child support. My mother mocled me and laughed at me saying I told you so …even though she did nothing when at 15 I met my 30yo future ex….and other women with tons of helpful aunties, grandmas who babysat more than twice a year when I had to go to the dentist, support checks and housing that wasn’t drafty/haunted/a former meth lab and who could send their kids to school unlike me bcs my ex was trying to kidnap our son….with all that help and ease they called themselves SINGLE MOMS?!

An interesting article re terminology. I am a divorced dad paying child support but not alimony to my ex-wife to cover among other things the shelter for my children while they live 50% of the time with her in our old apartment. She is engaged band when she remarries her new husband is moving in with her.

Do I call myself a Single Dad? I have wondered whether I have that right. As the kids don’t live with me 100% of the time?

But I do pay 100% of the child support under NYS law to their mother. In effect I pay 150% of the required food / shelter / clothing formula as in addition to paying the support to her I support them fully when they live with me. Does that give me the right to say I am a single dad?

Probably not as the kids receive emotional support across two households from two parents etc.

As the writer states there is a certain street cred of stating you are a single parent but the term should probably only be reserved for those parents who are doing it fully on their own with no second parent in the picture financially or emotionally.

Does my Ex think of herself as a single mom? I cannot say. Would it bug me if she does? probably. Especially when I have no proof that 100% of my child support is being used fully for my children’s needs or knowing as I do that it covers the roof over head when she is gainfully employed, granted she earns substantially less than me and I am happy my children continue to live in our old 3 bedroom apartment where with me we share a single bedroom apartment in Queens.

Do I have gripes? Of course but what divorced single parent doesn’t.

Eric, this stirs up so many thoughts including many stories I’ve heard in recent months from disgruntled divorced dads. These — like you, I sense — are good guys, devoted dads, with feminist politics. But something goes amiss in the divorce process and they do seem to be getting screwed. A few examples:

-One dad who earns about the same as his ex– in the six-figures — but because he earns maybe $5k more he is subject to NYS child support laws and pays her 25% of his gross. Like you, his living arrangements are far, far inferior to hers, even though he too has 50% custody.

-Another’s ex earned a PhD while they were married, never contributed financially during the marriage, and now pays her $100k per year in support and alimony, and has 40% custody, and again, lives in inferior housing. He said that during a meeting to discuss taxes she flat-out refused to admit the sum that he gives her “because she wants to see herself as a struggling single mom.” (his words, but …)

It seems that the pendulum has swung too far in so many cases … part of the problem is that the majority of parents who are not in committed relationshisp with each other – the guys are loser, negligent dirt bags. So judges have little sympathy for these dudes. And alimony is still in effect (though being phased out).

In short, the underfunded legal system has not yet caught up with the nuances of what is going on in professional families where both parties are capable of supporting a household, and both parents are equally involved, rendering obsolete the argument that one parent should have a bigger/nicer home on behalf of the children.

I’ve heard plenty of grumbling bitter men, and don’t think you fall into that category.

@ Emma, I haven’t meet very many single moms who are thriving in real life, or have very many single mom friends in general. Most are either married with kids or have no kids and single. Most of the media protrayals of single moms are pretty dismal. I think I struggle in own the title of “single mom” because it has been this way since day one, single parenthood is my norm. I think it would have been much harder if I started out co-parenting and had to adjust then.

@Seanna – I hear you saying you struggle to call yourself a single mom because you’re thriving. Interesting, and suggests that “single mom” has such a negative connotation for you.

I have been doing a lot of soul searching on what it means to be a single mom. I am not with my son’s father, or anyone else for that matter (romantically/partner-wise). I do recieve child support from him. Although in the single mom (parent) continuum, I am doing pretty well. I have a job that I love that pays me a decent salary, I completed my schooling before I had a child and I live where I have family and friends support.

Great post! Seems most single moms gripe about that topic at some time or anther. But what are your thoughts on unmarried moms who have many advantages – like financial wealth, lots of free time, a great relationship with their ex, etc.?

To me, if there is a child with no father or male in the house, then they are a single mom. If they are getting alimony or child support they’re still single. They have to do all the stuff to keep the house running, they should get credit for that!!

Thank you for opening up this intriguing conversation. Obviously, married women/those in partnered committed live-in relationships are NOT single moms. And they sound frankly pathetic and whiny when they characterize themselves as such. It was an uncharacteristic misstep by Michelle Obama to do so — count on it NEVER happening again.

Every permutation [choice, chance, divorced . . ] under the “single mom” heading has advantages and disadvantages — and there is no way and no reason to measure who carries the heaviest load.

Thanks Dr. Leah! I agree, but what about these caveats:

>>>What about families where custody is civilized and shared 50-50? What if you get a fat support check every two weeks? Or you get no financial support, but lots of logistic and parenting cooperation? What if you’re doing it all on your own, but have the financial means to hire extensive help with the kids and house? What about the married mom whose husband has a lil somethin’ on the side, lends zero help with the kids and blows the mortgage payment on electronics and poker games?

It seems that by claiming “single mom” it is a dig on our kids’ dad — which is not necessarily the case.

Better question may be: When can a man deserve to call himself a single dad?

I raise my kids 100% by myself. I get zero child support. Their mother hasn’t seen them in years. I would say I’m a single father. Although I don’t use the term because I have a girlfriend. I use the term full-time dad.

I hate that my ex classified himself as a single dad when he has his daughter less then half the time, and knows nothing of her school work or extra-curriculars. He organizes nothing. Just shows up and pays when he’s supposed to. That is a co-parent. Not a single parent. He pays for half of one child. I pay for 100% of everything for my two. I make all the decisions, appointments, etc. I am a single parent. My kids haven’t seen or received so much as a letter, much less a dollar, in over 5 years. I don’t think co-parents should compare themselves to single parents. It is indeed frustrating.

that’s the thing… I guess “single” relates to relationship status, but the way “single” and “mom” get put together as “single mom” makes it sound like you are parenting alone. That’s why I’m not sure what to call myself. I don’t want to call myself “divorced mom” but I feel like that is more accurate. I’m a mom and I’m not married, but I was and that person is contributing to my kids support. I do feel like describing myself as “single mom” would almost negate any support I’m receiving from my ex. Not that I care about him getting credit, but I don’t need to get extra credit that when there are women out there doing a lot more.

I’m not sure there’s really a right answer so I just try to avoid describing myself in these terms if possible.

Divorced mom. That’s exactly correct. Any mom who has joint custody and shared placement with the dad shouldn’t be calling herself a single mom. It’s all a matter of semantics, but nowadays it not only diminishes the dad (who is very much part of the kids lives) as well as single moms who are truly raising kids alone because of deadbeat dads or dads who are literally…dead. Think about it.

Totally agree…. single mom is exactly that…single ,sole provider…. I had identical twins girls when I was 23. Father wanted no part. I raised them on my own 24/7, no support payments, no weekends off, never used the “system” for money. I worked two jobs for the first 10yrs or their life, bought a small home, twice, and never once used the term ” I’m a single mom”,, First I hate that term, and when I hear girls use that usually when they want to complain about something, I cringed inside, as they are getting child support , getting every other weekend off to themselves…… lol…sorry but your not a single mom… I referred to myself as I am just a Mom”, always…. my girls are now 24, and both worked hard and have graduated from University as Nurses, and both work in hospitals now. I’m proud to say,,,,,it’s tough to be a real single mom, but the rewards are priceless…

If you have help from the other parent at all you are not a “single parent”. Does your child see their other parent? Does the other parent help financially? Does the other parent give emotional support? If the answer to any of those questions is YES then you are not a single parent. You are not a “single mom” or “single dad” you are a “mother” who happens to be single. You are a single woman, but in no way shape or form a “single mother”, you have help parenting.

Thank you for acknowledging the single dad. It seems the single dad gets overlooked. I stumbled across this article trying to find any sort of help for single fathers. I am that true definition, the one who has always done it on his own. My son is 12 now and his mother left us when he was 1. I’ve never complained about it because I really enjoy our relationship and cherish every moment I spend with him while not working. Every now and again I wish I could get some financial support because that can be a struggle. If there is any help out there for the single dad I have not been able to find any. If anyone out there knows where I could look please share that info.

What if the other parent pays support because they are legally forced too but has no part in the children’s lives (doesn’t call, doesn’t see them etc). I’d say that qualifies as a single mom even though child support is paid. You have nothing else.

Single parenting is a term used for a person that emotionally and physically own most or all the work. Paying child support is a piece of cake! When you are alone and no one gives you even that weekend break, your job is hard. I was a single mom with child support and nothing else for the most part. The dad starting seeing his son more when I tried to raise the child support. No, in every sense of the term, a single mother, I was it. My son to this day every year calls me on Father’s Day to thank me. He knows the workload was hard on me but I never slacked off nor found boyfriends or husbands to make it easier in my life. I didn’t want my son having the influence of a man in the house not related to him and maybe not treating him right. If your kids see you as a single mom, they are the true judges. They see how rough the job is. My ex-husband had it easy and my son knows it. He is 32 years old now and still says that I was a single mother raising him. For him, he knows it was an emotional burden to be so alone but he also saw how strong I was. Nobody can define this except your children! I just heard a woman call herself a single mom in the same sentence as “I remarried”! It made me mad, red-hot mad, and I plan to approach her with her statement. Is she kidding me? It will never be the real dad in the same house but you have support and if you don’t see it that way, kick the bum out because he is taking up space and preventing you from the rightful title of single mom.

You were not a single mom. Period. You had financial support and whether you admit it or not you had some physical support because I’m sure had something happened to you your child’s father was more than capable of stepping in regardless if he ever did or not. More likely you made it difficult no matter what he contributed.

You my dear were a single co-parent. Alienating your child from his father seems to have been your main priority anyhow. .

I get less than $250 a month- and only because it’s withheld from my son’s fathers’s check- and only steadily the last 4 months- he owes thousands. He has NOTHING to do with our son, despite my attempts over the years here and there to be an adult and be cordial; the minute he realized he couldn’t ever have me support his sorry behind again he wanted nothing to do with us. I work full time 9-12 hours Monday-Friday and send my son to private school… because the schools here suck. I keep my son involved in sports (and somehow make every game!), volunteer to help with his teams stuff, keep nice clothes on him, help with his projects and homework and don’t date or even think about it because I DONT EVEN HAVE TIME FOR
MYSELF much less to bring someone else into the mix. I do all of this with not a single immediate family member within 80 miles to help. His father hasn’t seen him play much less called him ONE TIME, EVER- knowing exactly where we are and what our number is. Stretched thin would be an understatement- and you really believe that little $250 comes close to covering even the cost of aftercare much less tuition and all the rest I spend and the every waking minute I invest trying to give my child the best life I can possibly give? No ma’am. I’m thankful for what little support I give- but it isn’t even a 1/4 of what I spend on my son each month.

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