An Earthy Mother sharing her experiences in today's world....

Monday, March 29, 2010

My journey and the stigma of single motherhood

During the course of my life, I have known many solo mamas- strong, witty women raising their children while the men-folk they bred with took a different path. I never thought of them as different, I never considered them lacking because a penis-toting man was not there standing beside them. I thought they were brave and stronger than even they knew. But I was not going to be a single mama, no thankyou. My parents have been together for over 30 years. I was going to be in a stable, everlasting, equal relationship.

When I became a mother, I fell in love with my son so deeply I was afraid I might love him too much. I knew I had to protect this small person from the perils in this world while keeping a balance with exposing him to the beauties of this world. I had a partner who was kind, and charming, and warm. He was a lovely man who I deeply loved. We worked together and there was harmony, music, love, mutual consideration and kindness. I was supported and life was perfect- well, almost. Small things started to make me wonder whether or not I was alone here... I researched choices extensively and when I presented them, they were accepted. We agreed on most subjects. What I felt was right was never questioned. I started to feel like I was the only person who actually cared; I started to wonder if perhaps I was much more invested in this small human than he was. I asked him and he shrugged his shoulders.

I considered this was just the way things were- as a woman, and a mother, of course I cared more. I loved more. I thought more. I put in more. But why? Was this really how most people lived?

I loved my son, and I yearned for more children. I wanted another baby, and he agreed. We were very fertile, it only took 2 months before I was pregnant again. My son was 9 months old, and I was ecstatic. Two babies to feed together, two babies to grow up together, two babies to lavish my love on.

I was incredibly sick for the first 20 weeks of my pregnancy. I could not function, I could barely move, I vomited every time I ate. I lived on ginger beer and apples. I still worked, because I had to- he did not. I still cleaned the house, because I had to. I coped, because I had to.

I wanted a homebirth, and he did not. I would not budge. I was going to have my baby at home. After a few months, he agreed. He had no choice. This is not a man's choice to make.

The turning point for me was one day as I was at work, breastfeeding my son over my 36 week belly. I was working 40 hours a week over 4 days. I was exhausted but I continued so I could pay for my homebirth. He was not working, he was studying. He was not helping me. I was not supported, I was not cared for, I was not in a partnership but more of a beneficial scenario for this man. I raised my concerns and he dismissed them, dismissed me. I was pregnant, I must be hormonal, I must not be clear-headed. He invalidated me and I let him.

After our daughter's birth, things became worse. He did not find work, despite me imploring him. I went back to work when my daughter was 3 weeks old, my 18 month old son also there with me- because I had no choice. If I wanted us to stay afloat, I would have to be the one to tread water. So I did. And when I came home with my two small people on public transport at 7pm at night to find him asleep in bed, the house a mess, and Uni subjects failed, I was livid. I was working myself beyond exhaustion, and he was sleeping.

When she was 6 weeks old, I decided enough was enough. We had a roaring fight, and I asked him to leave. He did. So we were alone, and I was the one who did everything. I had no help, no family, no close friends who lived in my state. I didn't even tell my family for months. Instead, I just did what I had to. He did not see his children for weeks at a time, he missed almost a month of her life when she was 4 months old.

I was deeply ashamed, but not that I was a single mother. I was deeply ashamed that I had chosen this person as the father of these two beautiful children. I was deeply ashamed that I had failed them, because I had not chosen better.

Over the next 18 months, we went through periods of trying to make it work. Well, I should say I went through periods of trying to make it work. We lived together. We lived separately. He refused to see a counsellor. He said we could just make it work. Yet it always came back to the same, lonely, unsupported place.

The thing that really interested me was the responses from others when they found out. There was deep pity, encouragement to seek couples counseling, teary eyes and pointed questions about "however will you cope?". I would talk about living in an unhappy relationship, supporting a man who didn't support me at all, earning the money and keeping the house clean and the fridge stocked and they would ask me how I would cope!!!

On the other hand, I had some women who barely knew me nodding their heads and looking at me with an "I told you so" glint in their eyes. I was too strong, too opinionated, too forceful. One of these women actually told me that I would "never find a man unless I toned it down and tried to be a little more demure." !!! What kind of world is this, where a strong woman is obviously single because the man she was with couldn't cope with her overwhelming dominance? (Please note the dripping sarcasm here.) These women always assumed he had left me. I liked to set them straight.

Suddenly, being a single mother was something I should be ashamed of, apparently. I was a blight on the community, ruining my children's lives, living off taxpayer dollars, using the system. I was reported to Centrelink for fraud, I received abusive text messages, I was hassled online. Women told me I was below them because I was single; as if being in a partnership made them better mothers, better women, better people.

What it boiled down to was that these women felt that I should feel less of a mother because I did not have a partner- well, more accurately, I did not have a man. Our society still sees women as objects, sub-humans, a gender who should be dictated to. Women continue this misogyny, directing it at other women, because they are so used to labelling themselves as wives, partners, fiances, girlfriends. A mother is not a good mother without a father for her children. Why? Why isn't a woman who stands on her own two feet and supports her children commended for her strength instead of looked down upon?

At school, the idea that you are a nobody without a boyfriend is still the norm. Girls who don't have boyfriends are somewhat amiss. It is the same for women at all stages of life; to be single and 20, 30, 50, is supposed to be something abhorrent. It is supposed to be an indicator that you have failed. And it was what I felt when my relationship first began to break down- I was ashamed that I had failed my children, that it was my fault.

What I now realise is that I have nothing to be ashamed of; I have not failed my children, he has. He failed me as well. Above all else, I should be proud. Because my children have the life they have because of my hard work and strength; they have shoes on their feet and organic food in their tummies because of me. They have beautiful wooden handcrafted toys and play silks. They drink pure water and they are not vaccinated. My daughter had the best birth possible because of me, and my son had the best birth he could expect in a hospital because I informed myself. My children have wonderful clothes gleaned from Op shops and bought on sale. They have hats and dresses and vests handknitted by me with wool I dyed. They sleep underneath blankets I made for them. They are happy little people who have everything they need in life, and more. And I am the person who made all of this possible. I am the person who made these choices for them. I am the mother who chose to fly solo because I know it is the best thing for us right now.

My children have a father, and he is a good father to them when he can be.

I am just thankful that my children have a great mother who wasn't afraid to stand on her own so she could give them the best life possible.


  1. ((big hugs))
    You are an awesome mother!
    I have been a single mother, I know exactly where you are coming from.
    I have been in that relationship and sometimes, I am still in it, in the next relationship I chose for myself.
    But like you, I do the best I can, and feel that I am raising the kids alone a lot of the time. I make all the major choices regarding them most of the time.

  2. Very well stated. I've been in a similar situation to what you describe since I became pregnant with my now-4-year old son, but not quite as bad as yours. I've struggled not because I don't want to be a single mom, but because I don't want to go through the rigors of a divorce. I've seen too many of my friends be torn apart by divorce, and if nothing else I know my son's father would fight tooth and nail for him, and I don't want to go through that. It would take more money, time, and energy than providing for our family has left me. You are a stronger woman than I, and I thank you for standing up as an example that it can be done.

  3. Thank you for so beautifully expressing what so many of us have lived.

  4. You are a wonderful example, thankyou so much for showing the strength of a real mother.

  5. All I can say is "Wow". I went through the same with my son's father, had to cut short my maternity leave at 4 weeks because he decided he didn't want to work anymore. You are a fine example of what a mother should be, single or not!

  6. Wow! I am so happy that you came to that realization. You are strong, and I applaud you for being the best role model for your daughter. Self-reliant. You rock!

  7. Thank you for writing this! This is beautifully written and it is so true that we feel like we have failed our kids because their father has failed them. WTF! Thank you for putting words to this energy that so many of us feel and have experienced. Thank you for having the courage to write this!

  8. Your story mimics my own. My father judges me for not being with my kids father. I left because he was abusing us. I needed support, help, understanding, someone to hold me while I cried. I finally found that and had two more Twins this time. And I thought I had a girl friend to support me through it. But alas he died of a heart condition and I could not allow her to stay in our lives either. The story is tooo complex.. But being a single mother of 4 sure does get some opinions!