What do you think of when you hear of a single mother?
What generalisations form in your mind? Do you think of a young woman battling it out against the odds trying to raise a child alone? A welfare bludger out for what she can get? A widow? A seductive divorcee who spends much of her time playing tennis or swiping right on each Tinder profile she sees?
Do you see someone just like any other mother or do you see someone different? Removed.
The writer, Kimberly Seals Allers says that “society secretly categorises single mothers in gradients of respectability depending on income, race and, most important, how you became a single mother”.
She explains how, while no one could ever feel anything but the utmost of sympathy for them, widows receive the most compassion and understanding for the tragic situation they are in.
Then next most accepted type of single mother, she says, are divorcees.
She says those who were once married get “validated” by a patriarchal structure. These are the types who call themselves “divorced single mothers”. They need to refer to their former marital status to ensure no one thinks they are one of those mums down the bottom of the ladder.
Then there are those who become single parents “by choice”. She says these mums are thought of as empowering and revolutionary, especially if they are high-income white women or celebrities.
But down on that lowest rung, right down the bottom is the other type of single mother. Via iStock.
But down on that lowest rung, right down the bottom is the other type of single mother. Never married with a couple of kids whose father has little to no input and she has little support.
The type of single mum you see stereotyped on shows like Today Tonight with no thought for who they are, what they deal with, what issues or obstacles they face, what achievements they've had.
The type of mother whose kids get stereotyped and labelled.
Allers says that for her, in America, there is an even lower rung.
She writes: "The complexities of race shape this experience even further. Years after my divorce, I continued to wear my wedding ring when meeting new school teachers and principals, acutely aware that as an African American woman - even with an Ivy League education and a middle-class income - I was still subject to the stereotypical perception of 'the black single mother'."
Single mums get stereotyped enough. Via iStock.
Sadly, she’s right.
Single mums get stereotyped enough, but even within that label there are more stereotypes to contend with.
You just have to look at how often the phrase single mum is used as opposed to the term single dad.
Single mothers get painted as villains or whingers, battlers or spongers. Heroes or victims.
Never just as mothers.
Watch cliches single girls are sick of hearing. Post continues after video.
The fact is that single mother's lives are just as diverse as the lives of partnered mothers.
Some single mothers have shared care and get each second weekend off, to recoup and catch a break. Some single mothers have their children 100% of the time, carrying the heavy lifting alone.
Some have a great family structure to help them, some have none. Each person’s situation is unique and to put them in a box and judge them for their marital status hurts the ones that these mothers are trying to do the best by, their kids.
Kimberly Seals Allers says: “The perception of your single motherhood often shapes the experience of your single motherhood…If you stepped into this circumstance by your own fault, then there is little compassion for you. If you were never validated by the institution of marriage, then there is little but shaming and struggle for you. But anyone who lives outside of the 'norm' will have to endure judgment and a lack of support. Worse, so will their children."
The fact is that single mother's lives are just as diverse as the lives of partnered mothers. Via IStock.
Ashley Casale, a single mother who does not have a father involved in her son’s life wrote for The Establishment
“All mums should feel like valid mums, regardless of whether or not they co-parent, or if or how a man is involved in their parenting. Assumptions about family structure leave out lesbian women, non-binary women, trans women, women who are married to women, women who are dating women, asexual women, women who are single, women in polyamorous relationships, women who had children out of wedlock, women who went to a sperm bank as single women to conceive, and a slew of other women who don’t fit the mould of the conventional single mum.”
There is no medal or prize for how you got to be a single parent.
Whether by choice, by tragedy or just by the nuances of life when you get there it’s a hard slog no matter who you are.
As Allers says that it is time that “every child of a single-parent home is valued and supported, and not stereotyped.”