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.
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.
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?