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Let’s bust a myth and bash a stereotype today.

I have one thing to say about single mothering: being single is NOT why mothering is hard.

I have made this point to several people on multiple occasions, and they still respond to my mothering complaints with, ‘of course, it’s so much harder to parent alone.’ So it bears repeating:

Being single is NOT why mothering is hard. (You can read many of my other posts on the topic of why mothering is hard.)

photo: Flickr rkramer62

photo: Flickr rkramer62

Because people can’t seem to hear this, whether they are married and parents, single and parents or childless, I conclude that ‘being a single mother is hard’ is a cultural truism. It’s a stereotype that doesn’t adequately describe the experience of being a single mother.

For some women, especially those who were in a partnership when they became mothers, parenting does seem harder when they become single.

But when I lived with the man I loved for the middle 3 years of my daughter’s life, and we functioned, essentially, as a two-parent family, parenting was harder than when I was single. In fact, when he and I split up, my relationship with my child improved dramatically.

You might argue that this was specific to issues with my partner, my child and me. And you might have a point. But here are the ways that single parenting is easier, and I think you’ll agree that they apply to a great many peoples’ parenting situations:

  • I make all the decisions, from which school my child attends (or whether I home educate) to whether she can have a snack after dinner.
  • This means I don’t have to compromise in ways that might be confusing or worrying for my child (or me or a partner).
  • No-one living in my home undermines my decisions. The usefulness of this cannot be overstated.
  • There are only two people in our house. A two-person relationship is far simpler than a set of relationships among more than two people. If ‘stuff’ is going on, it’s between her and me. It’s not complicated by how either of us feels about a third party, or how the third party behaves or what he believes, or by factors in my relationship with the third party.
  • I have a lot of childfree time. When my daughter is with her father (three days and two nights per week at the moment), I am basically a free and single person. Personally, I choose to use the time to work, socialise and contemplate my navel (crucial time for an introvert). If I were so inclined, I could use the time to date, or volunteer, or join a club. As a single mother, I actually have far more opportunity to be myself, in addition to being a mother, than I would have if I lived with a partner.

That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

I will concede a few downsides:

  • I make all the decisions. That’s a lot of responsibility, and I don’t always have all the wisdom and perspective and support that I need.
  • I have a lot of childfree time, but I have none of that Hallmark-card family time: picture a family of three wandering along a beach at sunset, the child holding both parents’ hands and everyone laughing.
  • No one supports us financially.
  • When my patience is at breaking point, there’s no one to step into the breach. (However, how often is a partner available at these moments? And I can assure you that these moments, uncomfortable as they are, also provide some of my greatest opportunities for becoming a better mother.)

So next time your single-mother friend explains her reality to you, please don’t assume it’s the singleness that’s hard. It might just be the mothering.