Stop Talking About Single Mothers Unless You Have Some Solutions


It looks like the media found a new group to throw under the bus this week: single moms.

I really just want to say…keep our names out your mouth, yo…but I’m going to take a more diplomatic approach.

After The National Marriage Project released a report detailing the pros and cons of delayed marriage, a flood of articles emerged tackling the “crisis” of unwed mothers.

The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Think Progress, and a slew of blogs published essays discussing the decline in marriage rates and the rise of single parent households and what it means for America. In case you’re wondering, we’re doomed.

Before I get too deep into this let me first openly cop to my bias.

I am a single mother of an awesome 7-year-old son who recently told me to start calling him doctor because he’s going to be a paleontologist. Additionally, I believe in marriage (for those who want to be married) and know that being a single parent is really, really hard.

And while I don’t fit neatly into many/any of the statistics trotted out in most of the articles—I was raised in a two-parent home, I have a two degrees, I’m a professional, and I’m not poor—I still feel like my solo-parting sisters and I are under attack.

To be frank, the opening of The Atlantic’s article, “The Decline of Marriage and the Rise of Unwed Mothers: An Economic Mystery,” annoyed the shit out of me.

While the article made some good economic points, the opening paragraph aggravated every nerve in my body because it hinted at the soft bigotry of ignorance many often engage in.

Derek Thompson wrote:

This was the most shocking statistic I read this weekend: 58 percent of first births in lower-middle-class households are now to unmarried women. Meanwhile, two in five of all births are to unwed mothers, an all-time high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Maybe it’s me, but I don’t understand Thompson’s “shock” at the statistics.

Perhaps he hasn’t been paying attention to birthrates in the African American and Hispanic communities (and hell, even white ones)?

I sure couldn’t escape the SEVENTY PERCENT OF BLACK BABIES ARE BORN TO SINGLE MOMS!!! headlines that screamed out of news outlets over the past few years, or the fact that 53% of Hispanic babies are also born to unwed mothers (and 30% of white ones).

Single mothers and marriageOr maybe he missed Mike Huckabee’s harsh post-Oscar criticism of Natalie Portman a few years ago.

If he had been paying attention…he’d know.

The spike in unwed mothers isn’t new.

Unmarried women have been birthing babies since the beginning of time (uh, Hagar and Abraham or Murphy Brown, anyone?).

And while Thompson pretty much pinned the decline in marriage and the rise in single parents on the shift from women staying home to entering the workforce (which, really just applied to middle income white women), the real “problem” isn’t children being born in single parent households at all.

The problem is the conditions that lead many of my sistern to become single parents in the first place.

But coming up with solutions for systematic racism, failing schools, inadequate access to health care, the crushing cost of college, and access to jobs that pay a living wage would be too much like right (peace to Elizabeth Warren).

So asking why there are SO MANY single moms (uh…why are there so many single dads?) makes sense, right?

Pointing the finger at someone else is better than examining the conditions that lead to women unintentionally falling into motherhood.

And really, it’s not that lower-income women are out here whoring more than middle-class/professional women. A quick watch of HBO’s Girls, Sex & the City, or Girlfriends will tell you that higher-earning women are getting it in.

But the difference is women with higher incomes are better able to protect against getting preggo in the first place, and if they do unintentionally get knocked up they have more options—have a discrete abortion or raise their baby.

I know what you’re thinking; all women have these same options! But that’s not quite true.

unmarried women and marriage

While some would have you believe there’s a Planned Parenthood clinic on every corner in the hood ready to hand out abortions to any woman who walks through the door, there isn’t.

When I got pregnant with Le Kid, my first thought was I CAN’T have this baby!

I was unmarried (but in a long-term relationship), I had just been laid off from my job, I didn’t have health insurance, I was a semester away from finishing graduate school, I was living 3000 miles from home, and I was terrified.

I didn’t grow up thinking being a single mom was cool. I watched girls in my neighborhood get pregnant and drop out of school, and I knew that wasn’t going to be me. As a matter of fact, my mother raised me to wait to have sex until I was married (uhh…yeah).

So when those little lines appeared on the pregnancy test, I was shook.

While I didn’t necessary want an abortion, I didn’t feel like I was prepared—economically or emotionally—to be a parent either.

I feverishly called around looking for the magic place handing out free abortions only find out that I’d have to pay upwards of $400 for the procedure.

That was $400 I did not have. And the only people I might have been able to ask for the money (my parents), would have totally tried to talk me out of it.

But here’s an interesting tidbit: prenatal care was free.

And had I tried to get food stamps (I should have), and housing assistance (I should have done that too), that was available as well—providing my child’s father was not in the picture. Big ass catch 22.

Here’s my beef with most articles about single mothers, though. Instead of providing actual solutions about how to better educate, arm, and support women BEFORE they become pregnant, most tend to focus on what will happen after you get knocked up.

This is the short version: You will be poor. Your children will go to jail. You will never finish school. Your children will not go to college. You will die broke. You will be miserable. The end.

Single mothers and marriage

That’s how most narratives on single mothers go.

And yet this does not need to be the story.

I’m a huge dream encourager. And though I’m a single mom and understand the very real challenges we are up against raising a child on our own, I still believe being a single parent is not an excuse to put your dreams on hold. Go get them.

Because single moms have dreams, too.

But what many of us don’t often have is a village.

And while I appreciate the little aid the government doles out to women who ask for it (and many of us do not, by the way), it isn’t enough.

Women don’t need more Section 8 vouchers for crummy apartments in bullet-riddled neighborhoods; we need less crime—period.

We want safe streets and good schools and access to jobs that will help us afford HIGH QUALITY daycare (better yet, we want to work for companies with on-site daycare).

We want farmer’s markets and green spaces and homework help and SAT prep and free museums and field trips for our kids.

We want personal development workshops and business classes and GED prep if we need it.

We want what everybody else has–and often takes for granted–a chance.

We want an even playing field, not just rhetoric about how this is America and everyone must pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Many of us need boots.

Despite what you may hear, single moms want a foundation, a jumping off point, not just handouts that do little but keep us stuck in a dysfunctional system.

But will we get it? Will folks begin to encourage single mothers instead of shame them?

I guess that’s my job.

In the meantime I’m going to close this by relinquishing my soapbox to Gloria Malone, a former teen mom who recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times about the controversial ads geared toward preventing teen pregnancy.

She details her experience:

At 15, I was a good student and determined to apply to college. But after I had my daughter, my high school guidance counselor refused to see me and help me with my applications. She never expected me to graduate. Most people, even within my family, assumed I wouldn’t amount to anything and would be dependent on government assistance for the rest of my life.

But I wanted to be someone my daughter could be proud of. So every day, I woke up before the sun, drove my daughter’s father to work, my daughter to day care, and still managed to be in class at 7:50 a.m. before the bell rang. I also worked 35 hours a week at a cellphone store. I would leave school early through a co-op program that allowed graduating seniors to work and go to school at the same time. After getting out of work I would pick my daughter up from day care and go home. I was always tired, but more than anything I was determined.

I also had a few people who encouraged me not to listen to the stereotypes. People like my chorus teacher, who allowed me to show up a few minutes late to class, so I could pump breast milk first; my economics teacher, who congratulated me on having a healthy child and reminded me that he was proud of me for not giving up; and the nurse at my daughter’s doctor’s office, who told me I was doing a great job and to keep it up.

These bits of encouragement are what kept me going. Thanks to them, I graduated with honors and went on to community college. Today I am a student, an advocate for young parents and, above all, a proud mom.



Do you think these discussions about unwed mothers are helpful? What would you like to add? What do you wish people would actually talk about? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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  • Tomika Anderson

    Girl this joint right here ….. spot on. Kudos to you!

  • Aisha Hodge-Jackson Mua

    There are too many scenarios where American society offers destructive criticism and nothing more; criticism without solution is not constructive. Single parents are no different than coupled parents – responsible parents want access to resources that will enrich their family. Period. We spend so much time refusing to talk about poverty; refusing to acknowledge the economic divide in favor of a perspective that assigns “poor life choices” as the cause of every societal ill. In our economic system poverty and wealth are both cause and effect. Poverty breeds poverty; wealth breeds wealth. It’s a systemic problem; self-fulfilling systems are generally difficult to penetrate. If statistics were used as a tool of science and not propaganda we wouldn’t be inundated with “studies” on the economic ramifications of the decline of a social institution; we’d be inundated with studies pointing to the large-scale cost of poverty and the need to do something about the parasitism of opportunistic wealth. Where are the definitions of “single” (i.e., presently unwed, never wed, unable to wed, uninterested in wedding)? Where are the indicators of age and financial fitness juxtaposed against parental status? “Studies” that look at one category of data, in this case social data, are aimed at sensationalism not remedy. You can’t identify a problem when you refuse to look at more than just perceived effect. A study of science vs. an exercise in shame would focus on establishing causal relationships at the root, not somewhere in an obscure chain of potentially unrelated circumstance. We are so accustomed to translating words into preconception that we fail to demand clarity, giving power to propaganda. The crisis we face is parenting amidst poverty and unapologetic leachate capitalism; the choices that should be examined are the ones that allow us to financially incentivize parasitism.

    • BritniDanielle

      YES! All of this….

      Thank you for reading and sharing that adept comment, sis!

    • Tiffany Patterson

      I want to take this comment and show it to Ann Coulter, President Obama, and everyone else who has something to say about single mothers! Excellent!!

      • BritniDanielle

        I don’t loathe many people, but she’s definitely one of them. She said something a few years ago about single moms that made me SOOOOOO upset!

  • Tiffany Patterson

    “But coming up with solutions for systematic racism, failing schools, inadequate access to health care, the crushing cost of college, and access to jobs that pay a living wage would be too much like right (peace to Elizabeth Warren).”

    That line right there hit the nail on the head!!! I almost did a praise dance. This rhetoric of blaming single mothers for the decline of society is really pissing me off! I am the product of a single parent. My father died when my brother and I were just toddlers, and my mom was left to do it on her own. Know what? My brother and I are both college educated, I have a master’s degree, and he is the proud married father of two children. So they can miss me with those stats about single parents when we know it really has to do with poverty, systemic racism, classism, and sexism. All these article prove is that we live in a patriarchal society that will continue to throw women under the bus (esp. Black women) when we are the one’s working and raising the children single-handedly, while the fathers do not get articles and pages and pages written about why they aren’t around.

  • Sonjia Lioness Mackey

    Many single women having children these days are called “SMBC” (Single Mothers By Choice). 9 times out of 10, this group of single, professional women with financial resources has gotten weary of waiting for Mr. Right. Instead of not having either a husband or kids, they’ve elected to pursue the path of having a child alone…with eyes open & data in hand to make an informed decision. I don’t think it’s fair for statistics to lump these same women into the category of, say, an unwed teen mother. They’re just not the same demographic…AT ALL!

    • Kec

      Omg…..yes! I am a 34 year old professional engineer. All these religious nuts and ol folks advice was to just keep on waiting and praying aka no actual solution no where. There are very real consequences to sitting up waiting and waiting. I knew by 35 I would be making it happen husband or not. Well here I am pregnant and fully capable of caring for it but I am cast into the same category as a teenager when I got my high school diploma and degree and a decent paying job. There are all sorts of ways women become single parents. Regardless the focus is that single women are failing all of society like we get pregnant on our own.

  • jan parker-padley

    Good post. After reading total tosh by people like Claire Khaw in the UK who states that single mums are all sluts and should be physically punished it is good to read some proper thinking people’s thoughts.

  • AngelQT

    Again, I love this post! In fact, I am an unmarried, black female, expecting her first child, and recently posted about this on my own blog. Truth be told, though I was shocked at the news that I would be a mom, I never thought twice about having the baby. I am a working professional with a lot of accomplishments. My current boyfriend and future child’s father is a good partner and will make a great dad. However, we don’t see marriage as a necessity right now. We would like to focus on being good parents to our child, and perhaps we will one day marry.

    I also said on my blog that I used to see single moms a victims of a deadbeat father. Now, I see them as women capable of being self-empowered and of making their own decisions. I am proud to be who I am, and the mom that I will soon become! :-)

  • Julio

    I was reading this article hoping to get some solutions…

  • Claire_Khaw

    Slut-shaming is the obvious solution. Who is a slut? A woman who has sex with a man not her husband. Time for us to go back to basics.