Single Motherhood Again

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I became a single mother after my marriage of ten years collapsed. So I wasn’t like the mothers who know before they have their children that there isn’t going to be a father figure around the house. I always assumed that there would be, or I doubt that I would had children. Even so, I became a single mother. But there are those out there who saw my single motherhood as a choice anyway. One co-worker told me, “No one made you get a divorce.” No, but I shudder to think what my life–and the lives of my children–would have been like if I had stayed married. I may have chosen to get divorced, but I never saw that as a deliberate choice to become a single mother. I would rather have avoided that.

However, sometimes it’s better to be a single mother than to be unhappily married. My children have often told me that they think we were all better off the way things turned out. Not because their father was no good, but because the two of us together were a disaster. It was much better that both of us were separate but happy than together and miserable. That doesn’t mean that single parenthood was easy for either of us.

Custody and child support issues are real problems for single mothers. The paying of child support often motivates the payer to seek custody–or at least to threaten it. I would have gladly foregone the child support in order to quell the resentment my ex-husband felt over having to pay child support. But I couldn’t afford to. So I had to put up with it–and his periodic threats to seek custody–for over sixteen years. Once he was off the hook, so to speak, our relationship became much less confrontational.

I don’t think it’s ever easy to be a single mother. It’s really hard to be a parent period, and when you don’t have anyone to spell you, it can be crazy-making. Single mothers who work outside of the home (which is most of them) need affordable, quality child care, but that’s not easy to find. Sometimes the cost of child care makes it impossible for a single mother to work. (Which is something the “Welfare to Work” programs don’t seem to understand.) Even if she can pay for it, she may not be left with much disposable income, if any. She can’t afford necessities, let alone luxuries, because so much of her pay goes toward child care.

My co-worker (who happened to be a fundamentalist Christian) would probably not be sympathetic with the plight of the single mother, no matter how she got that way. In fact, he would probably have been even more judgmental toward women who choose to have children without an “on-site” father. Of course, he wouldn’t have countenanced an abortion, should a single woman become pregnant. I guess the only answer in his eyes would be adoption. But why should a woman put her child up for adoption when she’s perfectly willing to raise her child herself?

No matter the reason for a mother being single, she is still deserving of outside help. She is fortunate if she has family to help her, but not everyone does. When the government forces her to work (and often a judge will require it in the case of divorce), society needs to back up what it expects of her with programs that actually help instead of make matters worse. Even well-off working mothers are in need of flexible work schedules and paid family leave. To do anything less is to tell the world that this country doesn’t care about its children.

And to judge by its actions and attitudes toward single mothers, I’m not sure that it does.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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