Where did all the hate towards the term “single mother” come from? I mean, the term has been around for as long as I can remember, but only recently have I heard such controversy over it. It seems like all of a sudden a word that described a diverse group of people is now having its parameters tested to set tight limits. Although the focus on the family unit appears to be strengthening after a long period where the trend of single mother households was growing, I do not think this phenomenon has anything to do with one’s personal opinion on the actual merit of single parenting.
You need look no further than the top of the google search results to find Wikipedia defining single parent as “a parent who parents alone.” At first glance, it seems pretty uncomplicated, but they continue, “It means that there is an absence of the other parent as opposed to a co-parent.” They do then state that the meaning of the word is based on opinion. Why? Who’s opinion? A term that lacks any objective criteria is not a very good descriptive term. Should the way a divorced mother describes herself change based on other’s opinions? How can she know what opinions others hold, but most importantly, should she care?
Personally, I do not think the term mother needs a qualifier except in rare circumstances. I, myself could use the word step before I say mother, just like others may say adoptive or legal, but this is a personal matter and except for rare cases, I am just her mother. This child is in my care 365 days a year and even though I did not carry her or give her my DNA, I gave her my time, my love, my evil sense of humor and unfortunately, my anxiety. The only person who gets to challenge the fact that I call my daughter, my daughter and do not qualify it, is her, and unless you can argue that you physically gave birth to her, do not even waste your time, because her biological mother is the only person she will tolerate that from.
Unless one is in need of singling out a particular subset of the population, for example, a social scientist looking for widowed mothers to participate in a study, then how people refer to themselves is not any of their business. People can describe themselves however they see fit. Single mothers’ most likely use the term when they are out in the dating world to quickly clue a prospective partner in on the fact that they are, in fact single, but also a mother, or to quickly give someone a glimpse of their lifestyle. In general, there are major differences in lifestyles between married mothers and unmarried mothers, just like there are between singles who are married or not, or people with or without kids. As social creatures, whether we are married or have kids both play a major role in our daily lives. If you feel like the term single mother is not explicit enough and you are familiar enough with the person, you may ask for more details, but if you’re not, the details are not yours to have and, more importantly, you should probably find some hobbies or something to keep you occupied.
So to the bullies in the chat rooms telling people whether it is okay or not for them to define themselves as a single mother, I assume you are either a single mother yourself who is playing victim by comparison and measuring your victim status against those of strangers’ you have never even crossed paths with in public, or, maybe perhaps you just like to assume your opinion is more valuable than other people’s by your own decree and feel the need to compel the speech of others. Either way, your opinion is just that, an opinion, and although Wikipedia shares your opinion, Merriam-Webster does not. Neither do most social scientists, which is important because their definition actually impacts studies and any resulting policies rather than just how annoying a stranger is going to be on social media. Also, there are resources, books and even blogs specifically catering to issues single mothers face that specifically discuss co-parenting and other issues that arise from parenting after divorce. If you still feel the need to tell people how to refer to themselves, I’m sure they could return the favor and give you a few descriptive terms to go by.
What do you think? Is a single mom just a mother without a partner, or am I way off base? I’d love to hear your opinions on the matter.