Is there a hierarchy of single mothers?

I’ve been a single mother for over two years now and I think I’ve learned a few things.  I’ve learned that single motherhood comes with a stigma and within that stigma there is a hierarchy.  There is a hierarchy of single mothers.

Before I start, I want you to know that I don’t believe in any of these stereotypes.  Below are my reflections on how, in my experience, single mothers are perceived in society.  This is not how I want it to be, this is just how it is.  

All societies are full of stereotypes that barely resemble reality.  The single mother stereotype says that we are benefits scroungers, we are irresponsible, we sleep around, we are husband steelers, our children are victims, feral and later criminals with mental health issues.   

hierarchy of single mothers

Fortunately, not everyone reads the Daily Mail and with 25% of children growing up in single parent families, the chances are, that if you are a parent you will know and probably be friends with a single parent.  I know that you (my readers) know that the stereotype is a load of rubbish.

However, the stereotype is all pervasive in our society.  Within this stereotype there is also a hierarchy of single mothers.  The stereotype didn’t create all single mothers equal.  The single mother stereotype affords some single mothers more sympathy than others: 

Single mothers by fate  –  at the top of the hierarchy of single mothers

  • Widows clearly come out at the top of the hierarchy of single mothers.  They are victims of fate.  The stereotype is sympathetic, and so it should be.  Full stop.
  • Divorced women with adulterous ex-husbands come near the top of the list when societal stereotypes are dishing out sympathy.  They’ve been cheated on.  They’ve been abandoned and lied to.  They didn’t choose their lot, but now they are stuck with it.  The stereotype says that these single mothers are victims and so are their children.
  • Then come divorced women with physically abusive ex-husbands.  Now, logic dictates that these single mothers should come out very near the top of the list of those who deserve sympathy. But I’m afraid that stereotypes aren’t logical and rational.  The stereotype says that these single mothers made really bad choices.  These single mothers chose the wrong man in the first place, and that, in the stereotype’s mind, is their fault.   
  • Then come the women who were not married, but who were in a relationship with an adulterous partner.  Non-married women are lower down in the hierarchy of single mothers because they didn’t get married.  God didn’t bless their union.  They were living in sin in the first place, so shouldn’t be surprised that their ex has sinned against them.
  • Then there are the single mothers who were not married to their physically abusive ex-partners.  Same skewed logic as above.

hierarchy of single mothers

Single mothers by choice –  middling in the hierarchy of single mothers 

  • Women who chose to leave the father of their child are in this category in the hierarchy of single mothers.  I fall into this category, although I would obviously dispute the fact that I am a single mother my choice.  Single motherhood was never my aim, ambition or objective. I don’t regret it for a second and being a single mother is actually quite awesome, but I feel like a single mother by circumstance rather than by choice. 
  • Single mothers who were victims of emotional abuse are also in this category.  As a society we are not very good at recognising and understanding emotional abuse.  The scars of emotional abuse are mental rather than physical. They are not visible and society is not so sympathetic. 
  • Then come the sperm donor single mothers, the women who had IVF babies because they really want to be a mother and they haven’t met ‘the one’.  These women are a little bit too Feminist for the stereotype to feel comfortable.

Single mothers by carelessness –  at the bottom of the hierarchy of single mothers

  • At the bottom of the hierarchy of single mothers is the single mother who got pregnant through a one night stand.  The stereotype sees these single mothers as free and sexually easy and stereotypes are very critical of sexual promiscuity in women.  According to the stereotype accidents don’t happen to good girls. 

Are you a single mother?  Do you think there is a hierarchy of single mothers? 

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  1. May 21, 2017 / 11:10 pm

    When you read this in black and white it all seems so ridiculous doesn’t it? I think you’ve hit the stereotypes head on, but how stupid that a woman who chooses to leave somehow ranks lower than a woman who is left, for example. even if the reasons were the same (our relationship just isn’t working) you’re absolutely right that a woman would be viewed less favourably for making the decision to leave than if she was the one who was left. Great post. #RV&HT
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    • thesingleswan
      May 22, 2017 / 9:33 pm

      Thanks Aleena. Pen x

  2. May 21, 2017 / 11:11 pm

    IM not a single mother so it is difficult for me to comment. I can certainly see how people would feel this way as I have certainly heard people speak this way about people before.
    Unfortunately, we can’t do right no matter how we decide to parent. Someone will always disagree / judge.
    Great post!

    • thesingleswan
      May 22, 2017 / 9:33 pm

      You are right. To be a parent is to be judged. We are all imperfect. Pen x

  3. May 22, 2017 / 6:08 am

    Yup. Nailed it.

    • thesingleswan
      May 22, 2017 / 9:32 pm

      Thanks. Pen x

  4. May 22, 2017 / 9:53 am

    I’m not a single mother and I hope I don’t think like this. It sounds awful. #AnythingGoes
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    • thesingleswan
      May 22, 2017 / 9:31 pm

      Thank you. Pen x

  5. May 22, 2017 / 10:42 am

    Oh I’m shocked. I’m not a single mother but know plenty – they are as awesome as any mother – end of! #MarvMondays

    • thesingleswan
      May 22, 2017 / 9:31 pm

      Thanks, that is sweet of you. Not everyone shares your view though. Pen x

  6. May 24, 2017 / 9:06 am

    Great post. I know many single mothers, and all of them are strong, brave, courageous women who put their children first and themselves second. Sterotypes should just get a life!

    • thesingleswan
      May 24, 2017 / 8:53 pm

      What a lovely comment! Thanks Pen x

  7. May 24, 2017 / 5:50 pm

    Yes, you got it just about right, plain and simple. I am not a single mother, but that is only because I realised the truth about my husband’s behaviour and have decided to stick around and try to fix what is damaged. I do have friends who are single mothers, and they battle with these stereotypes every day. I think mostly the stereotypes are so firmly lodged in our own minds that we perpetuate them almost apologetically. Hopefully we can begin to phase them out and make it so that single mothers (and fathers) are not singled out for unwanted attention.

    • thesingleswan
      May 24, 2017 / 8:52 pm

      Thank you Catherine. I appreciate your comment. It is interesting reading the comments on this post. Those who are not single mothers generally don’t recognise the stereotypes so much – I guess because they don’t feel them. It is the single mothers who have commented saying that the stereotype is there. Yours is the first non-single mum comment recognising the stereotype. Pen x

  8. May 25, 2017 / 12:16 pm

    There are stereotypes for pretty much all situations and each one of them is designed to sort people into “good” and “bad”. They’re all pretty rubbish and, even if you’re a “good” one, designed to make you feel small. I recognize these from the playground sadly. 🙁 All parents and carers are pretty awesome. Except the ones that aren’t
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    • thesingleswan
      May 25, 2017 / 8:54 pm

      Thank you. Pen x

  9. May 25, 2017 / 1:35 pm

    Oh this is actually really sad to read because you are so right – these stereotypes have crept into our culture and it’s just not fair. It’s not something that I’ve ever really thought about before… #brillblogposts
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    • thesingleswan
      May 25, 2017 / 8:53 pm

      Thanks Lucy. Pen x

  10. May 25, 2017 / 7:24 pm

    There are definitely preconceptions about single mothers – I have to say though, I have always thought Mums who go through with a pregnancy alone, raise a child single handedly and survive without a second pair of of hands to relieve them when it all gets too much, are far FAR superior than us co-parenting couples on the hierarchy of awesome parents…
    Thanks for sharing with #coolmumclub
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    • thesingleswan
      May 25, 2017 / 8:53 pm

      Yes, I absolutely agree with you, mostly. Co-parenting is okay for me at the moment, but there certainly have been times when dealing with my ex has been so difficult that I would have found it soooo much easier to go it alone. Thanks for your comment. Pen x

  11. May 26, 2017 / 11:13 am

    Great article. I have bipolar 1, was unmarried when got pregnant and do not work (if you discount my full time parenting duties) so I’m at the bottom of the bottom objectively. (Don’t I know it). Yet I have lovely friends who accept me for who I am. This is my life journey, no fairytales here. Just being a mum as best I can. I ignore the stereotypes I know I’m more than that. – as you do in your article

    • thesingleswan
      May 26, 2017 / 8:14 pm

      Hi Sarah,
      No one has a life filled with fairy tales, and those who appear to are merely people who we do not know very well. Your friends sound great. Take care of yourself. Pen x

  12. May 26, 2017 / 12:09 pm

    I’ve never really thought about this, but reading your post it became clear quickly that these stereotypes do exist. They are all utterly ridiculous (except the one where widows deserve sympathy). If more people worried about sorting there own lives out instead of judging others, maybe the world would be a slightly nicer place!
    Thanks for linking up to #AnythingGoes 🙂
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    • thesingleswan
      May 26, 2017 / 8:11 pm

      Hi Debbie,

      thanks for your comment. I hope you are well.

      Pen x

  13. May 26, 2017 / 9:00 pm

    Unfortunately you have the stereotypes on the nail for some small minded people. Can I just say that a lot of us KNOW that this is rubbish and that single parents work the hardest. They have two roles to play. There is no one there to share the burden, to share the pain, the sleepless nights. It is just you. You are stronger than most and work harder than many. #ThatFridayLinky

    • thesingleswan
      May 26, 2017 / 9:40 pm

      thank you for your lovely comment Jo. Pen x

  14. May 28, 2017 / 6:57 am

    I guess there could be a hierachry to everything, even our goats in the field put themselves in a hierarchy. I’m not a single Mum so I’ve never considered there to be this hierarchy, but as humans we do like to judge. I hope I wouldn’t as it’s not fair on anyone. #KCACOLS
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    • thesingleswan
      May 28, 2017 / 10:14 pm

      Thanks Fiona. Pen x

  15. May 28, 2017 / 7:43 am

    I have suspicions my mum thinks like this! I was a single mum (mixed in two categories). Conception was an accident with someone I was seeing but not seriously, I’d ended it with him the week before we found out, then we made it work for another couple of years but he was emotionally abusive. My mum used to make really unfair comments to me about it and still sort of does now even though I’m getting married this year and we had a baby together (on purpose). There is definitely a perceived hierarchy!

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    • thesingleswan
      May 28, 2017 / 10:13 pm

      Hi Jenny,

      I am so sorry if your mum thinks like this. It is pervasive in our society. Thanks for your comment. Pen x

  16. May 28, 2017 / 8:59 am

    Omg yes! Absolutely. I’ve been a single mum for over 8 years now and this rings so so true to me. I never married my daughters dad and we were together for 4 years. He cheated on me and I chose mother to fix the relationship. It was the best decision for all of us as we now have a great relationship. But in the early days I definitely felt like people judged me for making myself a single parent. Because obviously living with a cheater is preferable to making yourself a single parent! #kcacols
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    • thesingleswan
      May 28, 2017 / 10:11 pm

      Hi Tracey,

      Thanks so much for your lovely comment. I am really sorry that your ex cheated on you, although it certainly sounds like things worked out for the best. I find it slightly strange that you say that you chose to be a single mother when your husband cheated on you. I don’t think he left you with that many options. Take care Tracey. pen x

  17. May 28, 2017 / 9:43 am

    I was a single mother by choice after an emotionally abusive relationship, but I fell into a category which probably comes even further down the hierarchy you mention – single teen mum. I was shunned by all other mums, single or not.

    I’m now married and in my 30’s, doing it the “proper” way and the difference in the experience is massive. The stigma and hierarchy definitely exists, and it effects the children too. My now teenage son has been bullied all the way through high school by the kids of the mothers who isolated me, and I don’t think that’s unrelated.

    #marvmondays (very late!!)

    • thesingleswan
      May 28, 2017 / 10:07 pm

      Hi Sadie,

      I am sorry that you’ve been through such a tough time and I am even more sorry that your teenage son has been through it too. Take care of yourself. You are better than all of them you know – just remember that. pen x

  18. May 28, 2017 / 9:42 pm

    Oh wow, I never even thought about this being a thing. I have and always will have huge respect for single mothers. I always say I couldn’t life knowing that hubbie isn’t coming home to relieve (rescue) me from my motherly duties each evening. My sister was a single mother for the first three years of my nephew’s life and hubs and I (we were young teens back then) were there to support her all the way. Decorating, babysitting, being someone fun to hang out with. We were there because even then we recognised how tough and even lonely it must be.

    It’s honestly never crossed my mind that these types of mums are any less than the rest of us. They are warriors in my eyes.

    Thanks for linking up.
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    • thesingleswan
      May 28, 2017 / 10:03 pm

      Hi Cassie,

      thanks for your lovely comment. It sounds like your sister was very lucky to have you and your hubs. I am sure that you were a massive support for her. I have a really supportive family and it makes everything so much easier. thanks again. Pen x #KCACOLS

  19. May 28, 2017 / 11:00 pm

    I had to think about my own perceptions for a minute but seeing as I was one myself for a few years I actually think I don’t even give it a thought. People just need to stop judging. Full stop. #kcacols
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    • thesingleswan
      May 31, 2017 / 9:30 pm

      Thanks Alex. Pen x

  20. May 29, 2017 / 7:33 am

    Fascinating read it’s spit on Thanks for linking to the #THAT FRIDAY LINKY come back next week please

    • thesingleswan
      May 31, 2017 / 9:29 pm

      Thanks Nige. Pen x

    • thesingleswan
      May 31, 2017 / 9:25 pm

      Thank you Emma. Sometimes being a single mum is easier. It is not all that hard all of the time. Pen x

  21. June 3, 2017 / 8:40 pm

    This was quite sad to read, mainly because I agree, but don’t want to! All in all, any single parent gets a high five in my eyes! Stereotypes suck. #kcacols
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    • thesingleswan
      June 6, 2017 / 7:59 pm

      Thank you. Pen x

    • thesingleswan
      June 5, 2017 / 8:08 pm

      Thanks Amy. Pen x

  22. June 6, 2017 / 10:10 am

    This is such an interesting post Pen because it’s really opened my eyes to how lucky I am. I’m a single mum – by choice. Well, that’s the term commonly used, but I don’t see it that way, or for any of the types of single mum by choice you refer to. My circumstances forced me to make a choice between never being a mum at all and taking on parenting alone. I used a sperm donor to have my little girl when at 38 it became clear that Mr Right wasn’t going to ride in on his steed anytime soon (or ever)! I’m very lucky that I’ve never experienced any negativity or stereotyping about my single parent status. And I don’t really care about what people say behind my back. that’s they’re problem, not mine. I’ve always put the lack of negativity down to how I became a single mum, but now I realise how lucky I am to be surrounded by people who don’t judge my choices/circumstances for a second. Throwing stones is a really bad idea when we ALL live in glass houses.
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    • thesingleswan
      June 6, 2017 / 7:55 pm

      Hi Emma,

      Thanks for your comment. It is really interesting to hear you say that you don’t feel any kind of discrimination around your single mum status. Obviously, I think you deserve nothing but respect, but then I am biased. Pen x

  23. June 8, 2017 / 3:29 pm

    There is definitely a hierarchy. I see it all the time – especially divorced mums with kids from their one husband versus single mums with kids from different dads. #kcacols
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    • thesingleswan
      June 10, 2017 / 7:46 pm

      Ah, I hadn’t really considered the single mothers with children with different fathers situation. That’s very short sighted of me. thanks for the reminder, and yes, I totally agree. Pen x

  24. November 7, 2017 / 9:55 am

    I can’t disagree with any of those stereotypes – they certainly abound in my circles!

    I do, however, feel you’ve missed out on a whole category – single mothers who themselves were adulterous. In your post, it may fall in the “single mothers by choice” – but it is an active choice, though my own ex (who falls into that category) would argue that it was fate that she should fall for the boy she left me and our four kids for. (I say “boy” not through bitterness, merely as he is 16 years her junior and barely a few years older than our eldest daughter).

    Otherwise, spot on. In fact, it’s inspiring me to think about a hierarchy for single dads and whether or not that might be any different…

    • thesingleswan
      November 7, 2017 / 9:58 pm

      Oh, goodness me Glen, that sounds really tough. i am sorry. Your kids must be really struggling to get their heads round this one too. I hope you’re okay. Take care. Pen

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