The Single Mother Badge

The labels attached to single motherhood have evolved.  Traditionally stigmatized, young single mothers from respectable families used to be sent away from home to bear their illegitimate children while friends and family were told the daughter went on ‘vacation’, returning later without any evidence of pregnancy or birth, but a newfound sense of shame.

Jump to 1996.  As a black, new single mother of twins, I consciously note that, as I’ve ushered two new children into this world, I’ve also become a stat mathematizing my life on so many breakdowns of socioeconomic boundaries, children from broken homes, and ethnic recounts of single vs. married. 

When ‘The Little People’ were infants, The Little People being the collective title of my kids, I didn’t think I could survive this by myself.  I even went to so far as to write them a poem in case I collapsed one day and never got up; so, later, they would know that I gave it my all.

Forward to present.  I am mother and father, playmate and disciplinarian, car fixer, errand runner, grocery shopper, launderer, cook, full-time professional worker, and everything else in this rewarding, yet wearying, struggle.  I ONLY have 5 more years to go at this pace.  Only. 

More than once, a woman I know named Elle, has commiserated with me on how hard it is being a single mother.  However, this single mother drives a $60K car, lives in a three-story Mediterranean house overlooking the bay, has joint custody with her millionaire doctor ex-husband, has alternate weekends without kids AND investment rental income. Has time to be in a band, date, take weekend trips, and take her two kids to violin and gymnastics, while being a Big Sister to another less-fortunate child.

Do WE belong to the same club?  Did somebody forget to give me my country club key?!  Please FedEx it. Overnight.

I realize that we have some similarities.  She is divorced; I am divorced, though never married to my children’s father.  She is single.  She is a mother.  I am single.  I am a mother.  But her ‘single mother’ chapter of the club is in the Bahamas and it’s 70 degrees today on the beach.  My club is sweaty and smells like feet.

When exactly did the reputation of a single mother become a self-aggrandizing victory?  Are she and I equally honorific of this scout badge?  Cause I earned that motherfucker every day of the last 4,910 days.

Are we all banded even though our situations may be different?  If Elle should not compare her struggle to mine, should I hesitate to compare my struggle to a mother in a third-world country? 

Is she any less than I am any less than a Jamaican woman….a Mother?

Or is Elle the cover girl for successful single mothers – mothers who had it all and retained most of it after divorce?  Does she cook any less dinner than I do? Should I actually be happy that we are grouped in the same statistic because women like her upgrade our image to an acceptable mainstream status?  Can I ride on the shirttails of her seemingly picturesque lifestyle to de-stigmatize the image of many single mothers (and many of you may have the image of a black woman getting government aid whose children’s names rhyme with Sheniqua) or is she riding on my shirttails bemoaning the overwhelming work and roles that I’ve shouldered every day since day one?

Maybe jealousy has reared its ugly head in me.  It isn’t her fault, and it isn’t bad, that the ex supports his children, spends time with his children, and is a central part of their lives.  If I am missing that (and I am) does the absence of a dad make me better? Does it make me more deserving of the medal?  Or is that just my ’lot’, for which I am solely responsible?

Since she and I and countless others represent two different ends of the spectrum of single parenthood, maybe the answer lies somewhere in the middle.  What is the saying? “There are three sides to a story – your side, their side and the truth”.  Maybe parenting is ALL hard work ALL day long.  Whether Elle and company eats salmon for dinner while I’m having meatloaf and potatoes, we  – single mothers, stay-at-home moms, working moms, married moms – mothers have done and will do whatever we can to raise our children.

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