The Injustice of Single Motherhood
Tigerlily Theo Hopson
December 16th, 2018
I write this for my mother. I write it to share her story, and the story of the eight and a half million other single mothers in America, and for the millions more around the world. I write it to point out the injustices and myths of single motherhood, which have been taught and ingrained in us by the patriarchy we live in. I write it as an apology, for every time I bought into this system, thinking there was something wrong with my mama and not the world around me. I write this as my amends, and I write it to say things have got to change.
When my dad left my mom, I was six, and my brother was four. My mom, still feeling abandoned, had to take me and my brother to and from school, make us breakfast, lunch, and dinner, not to mention an after school snack. She had to lug pounds of laundry to the laundromat, clean the house, shop for groceries, and scrub an endless pile of dirty dishes. She had to do all this and more, every day, and still always made time to help me with school work, give me advice, and listen to my non-stop chatter. But, how was she going to do all this, and keep a 9-5 job? We did not have enough to pay for a nanny or babysitter, and to make it harder my mom never had the resources to get a college degree. Like so many other women in America, we were stuck in an impossible situation.
At the time, I did not understand why my mom couldn’t just “get a job” like all my friend’s parents. But, now, I understand more, and I am no longer ashamed. Instead, I am proud. I now know how many women do not have the resources for child care or a college degree, and this leaves them at a major disadvantage. They are at a place where getting and maintaining a steady job is extremely difficult. In the enlightening article, “There Is a Double Standard in Single Parenting,” Ellen Friedrichs describes the story of “Debra Harrell, a working mom who spent the night in jail, lost custody of her daughter for over two weeks, and could face ten years in prison after it was discovered that she had let her nine-year-old play in a local park with other children while she worked her shift at McDonald's.”
This shows the devastating impact our society has on people like Debra Harrell who are trapped in a biased system that seems to have been built against them. It is not unattainable to have a successful career without going to college or while being a single mother, but it is unfairly challenging. We live in a corrupt society built against impoverished single mothers.
I recognize that there are many single fathers in this world, but the injustices of single motherhood is an issue specifically built by the patriarchy. As also stated in, “There Is a Double Standard in Single Parenting,” a little more than seventy-six percent of single parents are mothers, and the truth of the matter lies in this number. If you look at my family you will see generations of fathers having affairs and running off with younger women when they have little children at home. I do not think this pattern is a coincidence. Men have been taught that their presence is not mandatory in the home because the female is the primary caregiver. We often see it as the woman’s job to raise the children, and even today, we do not expect the father to help with housework or child care. This is a double standard that allows so many fathers to walk off from their families.
When we ever see single dads, or fathers in general, who actually take care of their children, we marvel over them and comment on their heroics. If a father ever steps up to the plate, we see them as “above average” and gallant. We see fatherhood as something extra they do not have to do.
Another idea that permits men to leave their family without looking back is that a man’s “sexual desire” takes priority over their family. Writer and theorist Bell Hooks claims, “The pressure on men in a patriarchal society to ‘perform’ sexually is so great that men are often so gratified to be with someone with whom they find sexual pleasure that they ignore everything else.” The reason most men in my family claim they had to leave their partner was because she was not fulfilling enough to them sexually. In our society this justification is deemed as acceptable.
We constantly target the single mother, and blame her for a marriage gone awry. Single mothers are told they should have taken birth control; should have been less bossy or dominating; should have tried harder to keep the marriage together; should have held his hand or been more pleasing in bed. Nobody looks at how this is an issue specifically rooted in the patriarchy. Women all around the world are mistreated, left behind, and then blamed by the prominent men in their lives: fathers, and then their husbands. It is a systemic cycle.
In order to ever end the maltreatment of single mothers, the first step is recognition. We need to recognize the patterns of husbands and fathers leaving their wives and children. It is our responsibility to acknowledge the strength these mothers show, and address our own biased thinking, indoctrination, and ignorance.
After recognition, the second step is to reach out. In “Single Motherhood Is Demanding,” author Sash Milne writes, “I’m not sure if anyone who has not lived in it could understand that incredible loneliness that comes from being trapped, in isolation, with a small child the only regular company and a lack of adult conversation.” Single mothers can feel isolated and alone, and someone reaching out and expressing the recognition of how hard they work makes all the difference. If you see a mother struggling with a stroller up subway stairs, offer to help. Or if you see a mom with a handful of kids crying on a city bus, offer a smile, and give up your seat. Maybe there is a single mom you always see on your block or building -- take a moment to tell them that you notice how hard they work. It is our responsibility to let these mothers know that they do not have to be alone.
The third step is to take a stand in our society and government for more accessible yet well-paying jobs, better benefits, universal pre-K, and free childcare for single parents. Oftentimes child care is the number one thing that gets in the way of mothers working, attending important events, and getting a chance to relax with friends or by themselves. It is also important, especially with the threats of our current government, to keep SNAP benefits (a supplemental nutrition assistance program for low income families) as a viable option as well as free and reduced cost health care. This can be accomplished by raising awareness about these issues and influencing the people who are old enough to vote to support elected officials who promote better options and support systems for single mothers.
I share this for my mother who inspires me every day. I share it for the eight and a half million other single mothers in America who, undercover, are fighting constantly for their children’s lives. I share it to illuminate the harsh gender biases which are infested in our society. Each and every one of us came from the womb of a mother. They are the creators of life and should be treated as such, and for this, we demand change.