“I am prouder of my years as a single mother than of any other part of my life. Yes, I got off benefits and wrote the first four Harry Potter books as a single mother, but nothing makes me prouder than what Jessica told me recently about the first five years of her life: “I never knew we were poor. I just remember being happy.” J.K. Rowling
Not unlike a cancer diagnosis, we never think it will happen to us in the post-honeymoon glow of our marriages. Despite over one in three marriages ending in divorce, all of us think we will be the rule, not the exception. People divorce for many different reasons. The marriage may have been broken by infidelity, abuse, excessive conflict, addictions, mental health difficulties or simply a waning of connection and love over time. If there are no children involved, divorce is a painful, expensive and distressing end to a marriage. If there are children involved, it is also the demise of the family unit, with potentially shattering impacts upon the children and an ongoing need for communication and shared parenting for the indefinite future.
Becoming a single mum following divorce is one of the most devastating life events to live through, and yet, it is not discussed much. Anywhere. Except perhaps amongst single Mums, like some dirty little shameful secret. Around 20% of families with children less than 15 years of age are headed by a single parent, nearly 90% of those by mothers. That’s one in five families. In Australia, 24% of children in single parent households are living in poverty versus 7% in households with two parents. Single mothers are more likely to experience mental health difficulties than partnered mothers. Children from single parent families are twice as likely to suffer mental health problems compared with children from two parent households. Stigmatisation of single mothers remains alive and well and this is compounded by financial stress.
Why as a society are we not talking about this more? Why do we play the blame game and label single mothers with any number of horrible terms? In no particular order, single mothers are told; they are easy, they are slutty, they got pregnant with some random guy, they sponge off welfare and honest tax payers, they should work and stay home with their kids simultaneously, they should have tried harder to keep their marriages together, they are man haters but are not to be trusted around other women’s husbands, they take money they haven’t earned unfairly from their ex-husbands, they have troubled kids who are suffering without a man in the house, they are pitiful, they are incomplete, they party irresponsibly whenever their ex has the kids, they are unbalanced, they have something wrong with them as they couldn’t keep their marriage together, that some man shouldn’t be expected to pick up the pieces of their bad choices. Whatever they do, it will never be as good as married Mums. And it is their fault. Be honest – have you had these thoughts about single Mums? If you are a married mother with children, how would you feel if, all of a sudden, these labels were applied to you?