“Many people ask me why I don’t have a husband. Some people have straight out told me that I need a man to take care of me. There is still this perception that a woman cannot be on her own and be successful at the same time.”
Mom shaming is alive and well these days, and no matter what your situation looks like, you can bet that someone will be there looking over your shoulder telling you what you’re doing wrong. But the unfortunate reality is that mom shaming is never as intense as when it is aimed at single mothers. Despite our progressive attitudes towards the modern family, there still somehow exists this dominant belief that single mothers are irresponsible and that many of them share similar stories. This couldn’t be further from the truth!
I want to share my story with you to help the world understand that single mothers are people who come from all walks of life. These women are busting ass working full-time jobs, making it to school events, and being present for their kids. We are expected to be the best mothers and the best employees at the same time. But no one realizes how impossible it is to do both. Oftentimes, these women lead busy and hectic lives. Oftentimes, they don’t have anything in their lives for themselves.
I often think back to the song, “Every Day is Exactly the Same,” by Nine Inch Nails. We wake up in the morning, do the school rush, I go to work, and then we come home – it’s the same thing every day. I often find myself alone and isolated, even with the support network that I do have. While I wouldn’t trade my life with my son for anything, our daily challenges are sometimes simply hard.
My story as a single mother began when I was 28 years old. I was just unceremoniously dumped by my boyfriend of 5 years through text message. He informed me that he was leaving me for another woman. One week, we were talking about our future together, and the next week, it was over. I was left broken. Needless to say, I was not in a good place emotionally.
In my vulnerability, it was not surprising that when another man gave me attention, I ate it up. I was flattered and hurting, and with this man, I found some relief.
Now, while I am usually a very rational, responsible person, sometimes a broken heart can lead to lapses in judgement. Normally, when someone tells me they don’t have proper protection, I would say to them, “Sorry, go home.” But all it took was one single night of not paying attention. All it took was one night, and I conceived.
It came as a surprise, for sure. When I found out, I went through all kinds of emotions, and I knew I was faced with a choice. Immediately, my rational brain took over, and I started to do some research. I did not walk into my decision to keep my baby blindly.
Instead, I decided to make a conscious choice, and I made sure to educate myself on ways to do this. I really looked into my financial situation and determined whether or not we would be okay. I discussed my options with my parents, and before going ahead, I made sure that I had their emotional and physical support every step of the way.
Truthfully, I took every necessary step at the time. But I was also 28 years old, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Sometimes I just want to go back and smack that twenty-something in the face! I don’t regret my choice today at all. There is no parent alive who is 100% prepared for the changes a child will bring to their life, so there was no way I could have fully understood. But I soon discovered that raising a child costs a lot – not just in terms of money, but also emotionally and mentally speaking.
As soon as I discovered I was pregnant, I let the father know. He decided that he did not want to be a part of the baby’s life. I never held it against him – we both made the choices that were best for each of us. So, when my son was born, I did not put the father’s name onto the birth certificate. This was a legal choice that I would recommend to single moms in a similar situation. Because there is no father on the birth certificate, we did not have to go through custody hearings or work out child support agreements. Both mine and the father’s choices were respected, and I was able to begin my mothering journey alone.
I was lucky I had so much support in my life. A good friend of mine came to the hospital with me when it was time. My mom moved from Ontario to Quebec to help me with Aidan. It was no strange event for me to call my mom at 2:30am when Aidan was a small baby with colic. Today, my dad drives my son to activities and picks him up from school two days a week. Because Aidan’s father is not in the picture, it was really important to me that he had positive male role models in his life. Aidan has his grandfather and two other amazing men – an “uncle” and a godfather – involved in his life. Without these people’s support, I don’t know where I’d be.
I have always had good employment and I never struggled financially. That’s not part of my story. But I did realize early on that people perceive you differently when they realize you’re a single mother. If my hair is tied back one day, or if I look like I’ve just thrown old clothes on, I am definitely confronted with the judgemental stares. Even worse, I’ve had some extremely unpleasant and insulting encounters with other people.
For example, one day, I was looking for a new apartment. I set up a time when I could go and see a place with the manager of the building. After looking around, the manager and I got to talking.
Eventually, she said, “listen, I don’t want to punish you for running your husband out of your life, but I need you to get your father to co-sign on the lease.”
I was absolutely shocked. But it’s not the first time I’ve received comments like that. Many people ask me why I don’t have a husband. Some people have straight out told me that I need a man to take care of me. There is still this perception that a woman cannot be on her own and be successful at the same time. It’s infuriating. I walked out of that apartment viewing and I never looked back.
The stereotyping and stigma can even come from other moms. The main thing I’ve realized from being active in online forums or groups is that there is this dominant belief that single mothers need only pull themselves up by the bootstraps. But it’s impossible for moms who haven’t been in the same situation to understand what we’re going through. You don’t know what it’s like to be in that black hole of despair, wondering how to feed your child. Single mothers are on their own in every way. No one is there to pay half the rent, and there’s no one there to tap when you’re tapped.
I don’t blame anyone for not fully understanding the intensity of the experience. These days, everyone is busy and stressed out and struggling. When you’re in that frame of mind, it’s really hard to step out of your experience and truly empathize with your fellow human. But it’s important to remember that it’s not helpful to tell a single mom to just power through. It’s easy to judge someone from the outside and consider them a failure when you don’t understand the context of the situation. Single moms are powering through – against sometimes insurmountable obstacles – every single day!
We do our best to bottle up our struggles so that they don’t spill over into the lives of our children. We’re doing a job that requires a tremendous amount of support – support that many single moms don’t have.
At the same time, we are still trying to be women ourselves. Sometimes we, too, wish we could kick back with a cocktail, go play a sport, or take a hot bath. But we rarely find that opportunity. There is nobody there when we need a five-minute break. We also have very little freedom at work in terms of our schedule and sometimes our earning power.
So, while every day sometimes ends up looking exactly the same, I know that if we can work together to fight the stigma and the stereotypes, we can envision a different future. One where single moms are lifted up, seen as the strong women we are, and supported by our communities.
If I won the lottery today, I would open up a centre for women. It would be a space for single moms with no judgement. A space for community and connection. But until then, it’s really important that we support our local organizations that help these women in need. Together, we can build a meaningful community of support for women like us.
I want to encourage single mothers to see themselves as they are: you are a woman who is stronger than the people who criticize you. Despite the fact that, sometimes, it all feels impossible, you are doing it! Every day, you are supporting your kids financially, physical, and emotionally.
Mother’s guilt is one of the most powerful emotions a person can feel. It can override everything you know in your heart to be true. Intellectually, you can know that you are a good mother and you make choices with the best interests of your children in mind. But emotionally, you can tear yourself apart about some things for years.
Mother’s guilt is familiar to everyone who has born children. But when you are a single mom, the guilt is compounded by daily challenges and ever-present stigma. In order to combat the stigma single mothers face, it’s important for people to know that there are a wide variety of reasons women end up single mothers. It’s also important to realize that we aren’t just single moms – we are women. We are people, athletes, artists, everything under the sun. And we also happen to have a full-time responsibility to our kids.
Writer: Colleen Romaniuk