Seven Comments Single Moms Don’t Want to Hear

How to avoid the stereotypes and support single mothers

I became a single mother after my son was born and my ex decided that fatherhood was not something he wanted. I pride myself on being independent and self-sufficient, and yet I still found the transition to single motherhood very difficult. Becoming a parent is a journey full of challenges for anyone, and doing it without the emotional, financial, or physical support of the other parent is especially difficult. 

Being a mom makes me incredibly happy, but that does not change the fact that it is hard work to shoulder all the responsibilities on my own. And I quickly learned that support – whether from close friends or new acquaintances – is what single moms need more than anything else. It's time to have an honest conversation about single motherhood, so we can discuss the ways even well-intentioned people subtly undermine us.

I know I'm not alone in this journey. There are women around the world raising strong, healthy, happy children on their own. My hope is that by taking a look at some typical comments directed at single mamas, we can all come up with new ways to support one another.

"I have to 'single mom' this weekend when my husband is out of town, so I get it."
Raising children is challenging, and doing it alone – whether for an hour, a weekend, or a lifetime – can be daunting. However, there are vast differences in parenting alone for a finite period of time and parenting alone all day, every day. A single mama not only does all the practical and logistical work of parenting, but she also takes care of finances, arranges childcare, makes health decisions, and handles unforeseen situations without the input of another parent. Parenthood is not a competition, but it's important to be aware of the unique challenges of single parents.

"How much assistance do you get?"
I mostly hear this question from people who don't know my story. It's reasonable to think that financial support can make single parenting easier, but often that's not the case. Many single moms don't get any financial assistance. Others do not get enough to truly make a difference. As a single mom, finances are tricky, whether or not you're getting any kind of assistance, and money is a private matter. At the root of it, this question can make a single mom feel that she is unable to provide adequately for her children.

"My husband is so annoying I wish I were a single mom sometimes!"
Although more and more women are choosing to be single moms, many of us did not choose this family structure. And the situation may be the result of broken relationships and tough decisions. For many of us, the loss of a traditional family unit is heartbreaking. This kind of offhand remark is often meant as a humorous comment about the difficulties of marriage, and the assumption is it's such a preposterous idea we know it's supposed to be a joke. But it's the reality for those of us who are raising children without a live-in partner. And it's definitely not funny.

"How did it happen?"
The path to single parenthood is an emotional one, no matter what the circumstances. And personally, I don't wish to share the intimacies of how I became a single mom because the experience was too intense to explain fully. Only those in the relationship need to understand what happened. It's also not unnatural to have a single parent household. Families come in all shapes and sizes, and ours is no less valid than another.

"I'm so sorry. I can't even imagine."
It takes empathy to acknowledge the challenges single moms face, and I appreciate the spirit of these kinds of comments. But they also make it seem so bleak to be a single mom, and single moms don't want pity. Sure, we have to juggle more responsibilities without a partner to share the load, but the experience is not without the same connection, love, laughs, and joy found in any two-parent family. And I deeply appreciate the journey because it has shown me what I am capable of accomplishing.  

"Do they have the same dad?"
As a mama of one, I don't have personal experience with this question, but many single moms with more than one child say they get asked this frequently. Imagine asking your married friends if their husband is the father of all their children. I'm guessing that is something you would never think to ask. An easy rule of thumb: If a question seems too intrusive or personal to ask a married friend, don't ask a single mom either.

"You're superwoman."
This is true, if being a superwoman means I can juggle work, parenting, household responsibilities, and recreational activities. But it's also important to acknowledge the support we get. As Bella DePaulo, author of Single Parents and Their Children: The Good News No One Ever Tells You, says we should be careful to not "overlook the important people that single mothers do have in their lives… [whether] in casual ways, or… in profound ways."

And you know who else is a superwoman? The woman who takes care of her grandkids. The one who stays at home with their kid while their spouse works. The mom at the park chasing after three kids. The one at the grocery store corralling kids in the checkout line.

At the end of the day, don't we all deserve this title?

Two things single moms appreciate hearing

"You're doing such a great job."
It's easy for self-doubt to dwell in the back of any parent's mind, and it's always supportive and encouraging to hear positive feedback from those who know and love us. We may not know that we are doing a great job, or it may help to have others reinforce the idea that we are. 

"Do you want to grab some coffee and head to the park?"
I love this question. It not only shows me that you want to hang out with me and catch up (or get to know me), but also that you understand my life revolves around my young child out of necessity. Toddler in a coffee shop? No, thanks! Babysitter? Sometimes not an option. But good conversation with a friend while my son works out his energy at the playground? Now that's my cup of tea.

By making the effort to get to know a woman beyond her role as a single mom, you give her the greatest gift of all: friendship and support as she tries to figure out how to give so much of herself, while still being there for her friends, family, and herself.